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What does it mean when Winterbourne makes the comment posted below in Daisy Miller by...

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belindabiddle | Student, Undergraduate | eNotes Newbie

Posted June 14, 2008 at 6:06 AM via web

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What does it mean when Winterbourne makes the comment posted below in Daisy Miller by Henry James?

Winterbourne meditated  a moment. "They are very ignorant--very innocent only. Depend upon it they are not bad."

Part 2, Rome, Chapter 3

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K.P.L. Hardison | College Teacher | eNotes Employee

Posted September 26, 2010 at 9:23 AM (Answer #1)

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"Pray what  is it that happens--here, for instance?" Winterbourne demanded.
"The girl goes about alone with her foreigners. As to what happens further, you must apply elsewhere for information. She has picked up half a dozen of the regular Roman fortune hunters, and she takes them about to people's houses. When she comes to a party she brings with her a gentleman with a good deal of manner and a wonderful mustache."
"And where is the mother?"
"I haven't the least idea. They are very dreadful people."
Winterbourne meditated a moment. "They are very ignorant--very innocent only. Depend upon it they are not bad."
"They are hopelessly vulgar," said Mrs. Costello. "Whether or no being hopelessly vulgar is being 'bad' is a question for the metaphysicians. They are bad enough to dislike, at any rate; and for this short life that is quite enough."

Winterbourne makes this thoughtful remark in Part 2, Rome, Chapter 3 of Daisy Miller while in conversation with his Aunt Mrs. Costello upon the occasion of his first coming to Rome where he is eagar to call upon Daisy immediately. Mrs. Costello tells him that Daisy has been acting unwisely and indecorously.

In that era it was critical that a young lady not be seen in any situation in which her conduct could be called into moral question. Nor could an English young lady be seen alone with foreign men when touring in Europe. This is because European national mores were thought to be in some instances more lax than English mores, thus making the young lady subject to suspicions about her behavior and morality. Such suspicions would lead of course to ostracism (exclusion) from English society (parties and gatherings) as represented by English upper class travelers in prominent European cities.

Having thus set the stage for understanding Winterbourne's comment, his Aunt, Mrs. Costello, is speaking to Winterbourne and berating Daisy for her behavior since she is going around Rome unchaperoned with Italian men and taking them with her to parties given by English society. Mrs Costello sums the matter up by declaring Daisy and her mother "dreadful people."

It is to this pronouncement that Winterbourne responds with the quote in question. He corrects Mrs. Costello's judgment by saying that at worst they are ignorant, i.e., unlearned and lacking in training or knowledge. This does not equate to dreadful, i.e., extremely bad. He further says that Daisy and her family are "innocent only," which means that the worst ("only") that can be said about them is that they are innocent, i.e., having simplicity and naivete and guilessness. This too does not equate with dreadful. These definitions explain why, then, Winterbourne ends by saying, "Depend upon it they are not bad." [definitions Random House Dictionary on Dictionary.com].

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