Daisy Miller, Henry James
Daisy Miller Henry James
The following entry presents criticism of James's novella Daisy Miller. See also, The Turn of the Screw Criticism.
Considered one of the greatest novelists of the English language, James was also an accomplished writer of short fiction. Shunning what he called "the baseness of the arbitrary stroke," James wrote carefully stylized stories, emphasizing introspection and moments of revelation over plot. The publication of Daisy Miller in 1879 earned him his first, and perhaps greatest, popular success. The novella contrasts the rigid social laws of Europe and the independent, unconventional spirit of a young American woman, Daisy Miller, who has been regarded by some commentators as an archetypal American woman. To this day the story continues to be widely anthologized and discussed for its complex and interesting characters and its examination of late nineteenth-century morality and manners.
Plot and Major Characters
In Vevey, Switzerland, a young American expatriate, Winterbourne, meets attractive, enigmatically naive Daisy Miller, an American traveling with her mother. Finding Daisy refreshing, Winterbourne escorts her to the Castle of Chillon. This outing annoys his aunt, Mrs. Costello, who believes Daisy to be uncouth and dangerous to the established social code. Meeting again in Rome, Winterbourne escorts Daisy on a walk with her new Italian acquaintance, Giovanelli, but the stroll is interrupted by Mrs. Walker, another American expatriate, who feels Daisy is ruining her reputation by associating with the handsome Giovanelli. Daisy rejects Mrs. Walker's advice, and is subsequently shunned by American society in Rome. After a harsh exchange of words with Winterbourne, Daisy pays a rash evening visit to the Colosseum. As a result, she falls ill with fever and dies a week later. At her grave, Giovanelli assures Winterbourne of Daisy's innocence and Winterbourne realizes his love for the dead American girl, his premature judgment of her, and his own blindness in the face of European convention.
In many early works James drew from personal experience and observation to focus on perhaps his most celebrated theme: the conflict between European and American culture. Daisy Miller is his best-known story in this vein; the title character is a young American woman oblivious to the social codes of the Old World. She is contrasted with the American expatriate character of Winterbourne, a man who harshly judges Daisy's alleged social transgressions at the expense of his love for her. His complex and deft portrayal is considered essential to understanding the tension between old and new, conventionality and individuality, Europe and America, and appearance and reality in the novella.
As with much of James's work, critical estimation of Daisy Miller has fluctuated. While early discussion focused on the accuracy of James's depiction of the generic "American girl," later critics have suggested that Winterbourne is the pivotal character of the story. According to these critics, by presenting Winterbourne's disapproval of Daisy's essentially innocent activities, James subtly admonished the narrow attitudes adopted by many Americans abroad. Other early discussion of Daisy Miller examined the reasons for Daisy's death, and commentators debated whether Daisy deserved her fate or Winterbourne's inaction caused her downfall. Daisy Miller's originality, stylistic distinction, and psychologically complex characters have led many modern critics to regard James as a subtle craftsman who skillfully reflected the late nineteenth-century concern with morality and social behavior.
SOURCE: "Defense of Daisy Miller," in Discovery of a Genius: William Dean Howells and Henry James, edited by Albert Mordell, Twayne Publishers, 1961, pp. 88-91.
[Howells, James's editor and literary agent for much of the author's career, was the chief progenitor of American Realism and one of the most influential American literary critics of the late nineteenth century. Through realism, a theory central to his fiction and criticism, he aimed to disperse "the conventional acceptations by which men live on easy terms with themselves" so that they might "examine the grounds of their social and moral opinions. " In the following essay, originally published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1879, Howells responds to critics who had dubbed Daisy Miller "an outrage on American Girlhood."]
To read the silly criticisms which have been printed, and the far sillier ones which are every day uttered in regard to Mr. James's Daisy Miller would almost convince us that we are as provincial as ever in our sensitiveness to foreign opinion. It is actually regarded as a species of unpardonable incivism for Mr. James, because he lives in London, to describe an under-bred American family traveling in Europe. The fact that he has done so with a touch of marvelous delicacy and truth, that he has produced not so much a picture as a photograph, is held by many to be an aggravating circumstance. Only the most...
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SOURCE: "A Note on the Genesis of Daisy Miller," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, April, 1948, pp. 184-86.
[In the following essay, Dunbar traces the development of James's novella.]
In his introduction, Henry James says that Daisy Miller originated in an anecdote about a young American girl which he heard in Rome in the autumn of 1877. However, two travel sketches which he wrote several years earlier help to explain the development of the story.
In 1872-73 James spent three months in Switzerland and six months in Rome, the two places which form the setting for Daisy Miller. In "Swiss Notes," contributed to the Nation for Sept. 19, 1872, he speaks of the moral individuality of Switzerland and of its want of a sense of humor. To support his own observation of the highly artificial character of life in Geneva, he refers to a novel by Cherbuliez: "A Swiss novelist of incomparable talent has indeed written a tale expressly to prove that frank nature is wofully out of favor there, and his heroine dies of a broken heart because her spontaneity passes for impropriety." James might have been stating the theme of Daisy Miller. The book to which he referred is Paule Méré, which he described the next year [in North American Review, October, 1873] as "an attempted exposure, rather youthful in its unsparing ardor,...
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SOURCE: "The Uses of Authorial Silence," in The Rhetoric of Fiction, The University of Chicago Press, 1961, pp. 271-309.
[In the following excerpt, Booth discusses the importance of Winterbourne as narrator.]
The events in James's early success, Daisy Miller (1879), might seem to be naturally suited to tragic or strongly pathetic effects. An innocent young American girl tours Europe, behaving in the open, casual, uncircumspect way that comes naturally to her. Her free ways with men are misinterpreted by the sophisticated, Europeanized Americans she meets. She is gradually ostracized, forced more and more into the company of Europeans. Finally she is driven to an act of extreme rashness, which leads to her death. Only then do her observers recognize their mistake about her. Tragedy would be relatively easy to come by in telling this tale. But as James tells us in his Preface, he did not want tragedy. Though Daisy's story was to him necessarily associated with a "brooding tenderness" and "shy incongruous charm," though she was "pure poetry," she was not in his view a proper object for full tragedy or even pathos. She was "a Study," provided for "mere concentration," on an "object scant and superficially vulgar"; though her story included pathos, it included also a kind of ironic play with the international theme, even a certain amount of "drolling." James is as much interested in the comedy...
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SOURCE: "Daisy," in Henry James: The Conquest of London, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1962, pp. 302-18.
[In the following excerpt, Edel discusses public reaction to Daisy Miller.]
"My London life flows evenly along, making, I think, in various ways more and more of a Londoner of me," Henry wrote to William at the end of January 1878. "If I keep along here patiently for a certain time I rather think I shall become a (sufficiently) great man. I have got back to work with great zest after my autumnal loafings, and mean to do some this year which will make a mark. I am, as you suppose, weary of writing articles about places, and mere potboilers of all kinds; but shall probably, after the next six months, be able to forswear it altogether, and give myself up seriously to 'creative' writing. Then, and not till then, my real career will begin. After that, gare à vous."
The passage reads as if Henry were proceeding according to a deliberate time-table. He must be patient for a "certain time"; he will make his mark "this year"; he will, after the next six months, be ready to begin to write in earnest. There was insight here into the inner calendar of his life. For what came to pass was that Henry wrote Daisy Miller during that winter; it was accepted by mid-April for the Cornhill Magazine—the journal of Thackeray and Trollope—and was published within six months....
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SOURCE: "Daisy Miller: A Study of Changing Intentions," in American Literature, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, March, 1964, pp. 1-11.
[In the following essay, Ohmann analyzes James's portrayal of Daisy Miller, contending that his attitude toward his protagonist changes over the course of the novella.]
Henry James's most popular nouvelle seems to have owed its initial prominence as much to the controversy it provoked as to the artistry it displayed. Daisy Miller caused a bitter dispute in the customarily urbane dining room of Mrs. Lynn Linton; it gave American writers of etiquette a satisfying opportunity to chastise native mothers and daughters (Daisy should have had a chaperone; dear reader, take heed); it brought Henry James himself, while he sat in the confines of a Venetian gondola, a round scolding from a highly articulate woman of the cosmopolitan world. The causes of argument, of course, were the character of James's heroine and the judgment her creator made of her. In late Victorian eyes, Daisy was likely to be either wholly innocent or guilty; James, either all for her or against her.
Today, Daisy's notoriety attends her only in her fictional world. We take her now as one of our familiars; we invoke her, in the assurance that she will come and be recognized, as an American figure both vital and prototypical. Thus Ihab Hassan, for example, joins her in his Radical...
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SOURCE: "The Genteel Reader and Daisy Miller," in American Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall, 1965, pp. 568-81.
[In the following essay, Randall examines the role of manners in Daisy Miller.]
In an age in which one president is critcized for having a Boston-Harvard accent and another has it held against him that his speech is that of the Pedernales Valley, the concern with manners is far from dead. Manners may be an expression of nationality, or section, as well as morals; and many are content to judge the person by them alone. In a stable society such as once might have been presumed to exist, this may have been possible. But society has not been stable in America or Europe for quite some time. Whenever two people meet, there is apt to be a comedy of misunderstanding, and when people from different cultures meet, the chances are considerably multiplied. Below manners lies personality, which must be reached somehow; we ignore it at peril to our civilization.
But the chances for misinterpretation are great, and the result is not always comic. So it might be instructive to look at a classic literary example of misjudging character through manners: the blunders of the ill-starred Winterbourne in trying to understand the elusive Daisy Miller.
In all fairness to Frederick Winterbourne, we must admit that the difficulty in judging character through manners is one of...
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SOURCE: "Daisy Miller, Tradition, and the European Heroine," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. VI, No. 1, March, 1969, pp. 45-59.
[In the following essay, Deakin places the character of Daisy Miller within the European tradition.]
When William Dean Howells selected Daisy Miller as the one Jamesian character to emphasize in his Heroines of Fiction, he did her two great services. First, he, as the dean of American critics, certified her important position in both the Jamesian canon and in the literary world at large. Second, he affirmed by both precept and example that she would be understood best not as an isolated phenomenon but as a part of a literary tradition. The reasons for Daisy's significance have been examined often enough; one need only add that since Howells stated his preference, other Jamesian heroines—Isabel Archer most forcefully, and, not far behind her, Milly Theale and Maggie Verver—have challenged his prescriptive choice. In contrast, Daisy's relevance as a phenomenon within some particular literary tradition does need to be studied. We do not know enough about what influences conditioned her conception.
If we follow Howell's precedent, then we find that this tradition is purely English and American, the heroines of which "are of easily distinguishable types, and their evolution in their native Anglo-Saxon environment has been, in no very great lapse...
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SOURCE: "Attitude and Illness in James' 'Daisy Miller'," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1969, pp. 51-60.
[In the following essay, Houghton explores the role of illness in James's novella, maintaining that many Americans visiting Europe become ill in the story "not so much because of any objective circumstances in the new environment but as a result of attitudes the Americans take toward that environment."]
Oscar Cargill's definition of James' "international novel" indicates how close James came in so many of his novels to presenting the psycho-physical experience we now refer to as culture shock. "If Turgenev had originated 'the international novel,' James was to perfect and more sharply define it. An 'international novel' is not simply a story of people living abroad, as in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, but it is a story of persons taken out of the familiar contexts of their own mores where their action is habitual and placed in an element, as in a biological experiment, where everything is unfamiliar, so that their individual responses can be examined" [found in the introduction to the 1956 edition of Daisy Miller]. Cargill, of course, is using the term "biological experiment" metaphorically, but in fact the experience of encountering a foreign culture where "everything is unfamiliar" often does have "biological" implications which go far beyond the...
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SOURCE: "Frederick Winterbourne: The Good Bad Boy in Daisy Miller," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 1973, pp. 139-50.
[In the following essay, Kennedy examines the character of Winterbourne, concluding that he is puritanical and hypocritical]
As James Gargano pointed out in his excellent article, "Daisy Miller: An Abortive Quest for Innocence," critical attention has concentrated obsessively on the heroine of James's most popular nouvelle and has consequently ignored the fact that its central character is, in fact, Frederick Winterbourne [South Atlantic Quarterly, Winter, 1960]. From the time of John Foster Kirk's denunciation of Daisy Miller as "an outrage on American girlhood" [found in Gargano's essay] the debate over the character of Daisy has rolled on inconclusively, but as soon as one recognizes that the only character in the story whom we see from the inside is Winterbourne, and that it is through him that we receive most of the evidence upon which any judgment of Daisy must be based, it becomes obvious that what one thinks of Daisy is to a large extent dependent on and in any case secondary to what one thinks of Winterbourne.
Gargano regards Daisy as a ficelle who "exists to test Winterbourne's ability to grow beyond his hitherto narrow and one-sided state into a fully realized human being," and the story as the drama of...
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SOURCE: "Jamesian Feminism: Women in 'Daisy Miller'," Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall, 1979, pp. 281-87.
[In the following essay, Barnett asserts that James proposes more options for women in Daisy Miller than in any of his other stories or novels.]
Although Henry James satirizes the idea of a women's movement in The Bostonians, his constant exploration of the tension between individual self-realization and social restriction often focuses upon the way in which society particularly shapes the behavior of women. A number of James's heroines must give up some degree of personal fulfilment and freedom because of social realities. The fine spirit of Isabel Archer is "ground in the very mill of the conventional," just as Marie de Vionnet, another valued heroine, must be sacrificed to Chad Newsome's social obligations of marriage and career. Kate Croy and Charlotte Stant struggle against the limitations placed upon them by their social position as women without means. Resignedly or ruefully, all of these women accept the terms of society, try to achieve self-realization within its confines, and remain within the system after their defeat. Only in Daisy Miller does James portray a woman whose innocent devotion to her own natural behavior causes her to flout society wilfully and persistently. The contrast between what Daisy wants and what other women in the novella have, and between...
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SOURCE: "'Daisy Miller': The Reader's Choice," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer, 1980, pp. 275-83.
[In the following essay, Kirk examines stylistic aspects of Daisy Miller, focusing on James's use of ambivalence in the characters of Daisy and Winterbourne.]
Any overview of the past century's critical responses to Daisy Miller reveals a radical shift in readers' sympathies with its characters. The genteel American audience of James's day was outraged and insulted by Daisy's liberated behavior, but modern sensibilities identify Winterbourne as the principal offender against human decency. They accuse him of being everything from an emotional cripple to an unfeeling criminal, and now count Daisy as his almost innocent victim.
This change of allegiance can be explained, of course, by a shift in cultural attitudes towards women and manners in general, and by the increased perceptiveness of modern interpreters. But the present critical consensus should by no means be considered the final assessment of the characters' relative worth. In Daisy Miller James has designed a story that will continue to challenge readers interpretive skills and cause their attitudes toward Daisy and Winterbourne to vacillate for a considerable time to come.
The author has constructed this study to promote his audience's confidence that they can...
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SOURCE: "Early James: Social Realism and the International Scene," in Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1990, pp. 12-35.
[In the following excerpt, Hocks maintains that Daisy Miller is truly the story of the making of a Europeanized American.]
Finally, the best known and perennial favorite among James's early stories is Daisy Miller (1878), a nouvelle that like "Madame de Mauves" employs third-person narration focused on a viewpoint character of "register." It occupies a special place in his canon for several reasons. First, its notoriety and popularity made James for a brief moment in his career a popular writer: Howells could have a character in The Rise of Silas Lapham refer casually to "Daisy Millerism"; society was even said by Howells to divide into "Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites"; and James was frequently identified on the title pages of his later novels as the author of Daisy Miller. The story, published in Cornhill Magazine by Leslie Stephen (Virginia Woolf's father), was pirated immediately, sold twenty thousand copies in pamphlet form in a few weeks, and spawned a play and even a Daisy Miller hat. The reason for this early and enduring interest is that James had fully identified and staked as his imaginative territory the plight of the international American woman whose free-spiritedness flouts European...
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SOURCE: "Reassembling Daisy Miller," in American Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 232-54.
[In the following essay, Wardley explores the role of flirtation in Daisy Miller.]
There is only one way to improve ourselves, and that is by some of us setting an example which the others may pick up and imitate till the new fashion spreads from east to west. Some of us are in more favorable positions than others to set new fashions. Some of us are more striking personally, and imitable, so to speak. But no living person is sunk so low as not to be imitated by somebody.
When, at the end of the nineteenth century, critics of the "New Woman" discovered in her the features of the androgyne—the person who "flirted with hermaphroditism"—their description might have applied just as well to the person who grew up alongside her, the male or the female adolescent. In this essay I argue that Henry James's Daisy Miller: A Study (1878) figures forth in Daisy the androgynous body constructed in popular nineteenth-century accounts of adolescence. If, as Frederick Winterbourne sees it, Daisy Miller oscillates between masculine and feminine identifications, she also oscillates between American and alien, savage and citizen, parvenu and natural aristocrat. Set in Switzerland and in Rome,...
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SOURCE: "Winterbourne and the Doom of Manhood in Daisy Miller," in New Essays on Daisy Miller and the Turn of the Screw, edited by Vivian R. Pollak, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 65-89.
[In the following essay, Weisbuch analyzes Winterbourne's flawed perception of Daisy and the world around him, and compares him to other bachelors in modern literature.]
Henry James is like the modern jazz masters in this: He begins with the simplest romantic themes, then builds intricacies upon them until the once-clichés speak to all the subtle richness of social existence. With Daisy Miller and her reluctant suitor Frederick Winterbourne, the theme is no more than "opposites attract," and the trick is that one pole of that opposition is so constructed as to make the attraction deadly. "Stiff" Winterbourne brings doom to Daisy and a different doom to himself; through him, James tallies the evils of a misconstructed masculinity.
It's a multifaceted opposition between the failed lovers, but at base simple as motion through the world. Daisy Miller moves. She "goes on," "goes round," "goes too far," well over a hundred times in the text. "She goes on," a particular persecutor remarks, "from day to day, from hour to hour, as they did in the Golden Age." No enthusiast of the dynamic, Mrs. Costello "can imagine nothing more vulgar." Too blithely regardless, alive,...
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SOURCE: "Fame, 1877-79," in Henry James's Apprenticeship, The Tales: 1864-1882, P. D. Meany Publishers, 1994, 133-58.
[In the following essay, Martin and Ober provide a thematic and stylistic analysis of Daisy Miller.]
This was the first of James's tales to be published in England, and it is his first nouvelle, perhaps his favourite form: in the Preface to The Lesson of the Master he waxes lyrical about "the beautiful and blest nouvelle." Among the many merits of the tale is its architectonic structure. None of the scenes is set in Geneva, but Winterbourne, the central intelligence, studies there, and its presence is powerfully felt throughout as a citadel of European protocol, though this is enforced, ironically enough, by none more strictly than the expatriate Americans: social proprieties and forms of courtship are "stiff," which is a nodal term, and Geneva is of course spectrally presided over by the figure of Calvin. In Rome, the setting for the second half of the tale, Genevan proprieties are reinforced by shades of Papal and Imperial authority, and it is there that the pathetically unorganized, unformulated American "sense of freedom", associated with "innocence" and embodied by Daisy, is pitted against this adamantine power. There is no doubt where our sympathies lie.
The unpretentious heroine's name is Annie P. Miller; her familiar name associates her with...
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Davidson, Cathy N. "'Circumsexualocution' in Henry James's Daisy Miller:" Arizona Quarterly 32, No. 4 (Winter 1976): 353-66.
Suggests that James's use of circumlocution to express Winterbourne's frustrations transforms Daisy into the "patron saint of repressed sexuality."
Draper, R. P. "Death of a Hero? Winterbourne and Daisy Miller." Studies in Short Fiction VI, No. 1 (Fall 1968): 601-08.
Contends that Frederick Winterbourne is a tragic hero and his final loss of spirit is the novella's theme.
Dunbar, Viola R. "The Revision of Daisy Miller" Modern Language Notes LXV, No. 4 (April 1950): 311-17.
Compares the 1909 revision of Daisy Miller to the original 1878 text.
Fiedler, Leslie A. "The Revenge on Woman: From Lucy to Lolita." In Love and Death in the American Novel, pp. 291-36. New York: Stein and Day, 1960.
Describes Daisy as an amalgam of the mythical "Good Good Girl" and the "Good Bad Girl."
Fogel, Daniel Mark. Daisy Miller: A Dark Comedy of Manners. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990, 118 p.
Full-length study of James's novella.
Hocks, Richard A....
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