Places Discussed (Cyclopedia of Literary Places)
*Vevey (vuh-VAY). Small resort city on the northeastern shore of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, a large lake in the Swiss Alps. Daisy Miller, a seventeen-year-old American girl from Schenectady, New York, is traveling with her mother and younger brother. The Millers are vacationing in Europe to acquire some culture and because that is what they think rich people do. They are staying at an elegant resort hotel. Also staying at the hotel is American Frederick Winterbourne. Winterbourne went to school at Geneva and spends most of his time with other wealthy Americans in Europe. It is Winterbourne’s consciousness that readers follow through the story. Miss Miller and Mr. Winterbourne meet casually on the grounds of the hotel because of Miss Miller’s young brother Randolph. Ordinarily it would be improper in high society for a young lady to make the acquaintance of a gentleman without being formally introduced by a mutual acquaintance. At a resort, however, people are more relaxed about social formalities. When Miss Miller suggests that she is eager to see the nearby Castle of Chillon, Winterbourne offers to accompany her. Afterward, Winterbourne leaves Vevey for another social engagement. All of the action in part 1 takes place at Vevey. Winterbourne and Miller agree to see each other in Rome, where many wealthy Americans will spend the winter.
*Castle of Chillon
*Castle of Chillon. Ancient castle in Vaud on the...
(The entire section is 552 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
Daisy Miller is a novella, a fictional form which combines the single focus of a short story with the more leisurely development of various themes typical of a novel. James, who preferred the French term nouvelle, liked the form because its "main merit and sign is the effort to do the complicated thing with a strong brevity and lucidity — to arrive on behalf of the multiplicity at a certain science of control." To achieve the double effect of intensity and expansion that is its defining characteristic, a novella usually has a small cast of characters, a rather circumscribed physical and temporal setting and a limited set of associated themes and motifs which are developed in a highly suggestive manner. This description perfectly suits Daisy Miller where the narrative focus is always on Daisy's behavior and how it is interpreted by others, a reiterated process of action and reaction that constantly acquires new and more profound significance.
Daisy Miller has four chapters, two of which are set in Vevey in June and two in Rome during the following winter and spring. Each chapter is structured in a series of scenes which become shorter and more numerous as the story progresses so that both the pace and the tension increase. In keeping with a technique characteristic of the novella as a form, James makes use of parallel scenes to develop the relationship between Daisy and Winterbourne and to accentuate the contrast between Daisy...
(The entire section is 1001 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
Daisy Miller centers partly on the role of convention in the human community and on the problem of reconciling the right to express one's individuality with the need to live together in harmony. This perennial dilemma has no easy solution and discussion of it will soon go beyond the question of whether Daisy is a flirt or behaves improperly. Another significant issue is the temptation to reduce people to intellectual concepts. Using James's development of this theme as a starting point, groups can consider how flexibly used generalizations facilitate communication while pigeon-holing people in ready-made categories denies their humanity. Also of interest in this sense are Winterbourne's "masculine" categories for labeling women. Finally, the story invites reflection on relations between parents and children.
1. Randolph Miller hails Daisy's first appearance with the announcement "She's an American girl!" What characteristics does James attribute to this figure?
2. Winterbourne is dismayed by his impression that Daisy's traits never quite "fall into an ensemble." Does she necessarily have to be either wholly admirable or deplorable according to his set of values?
3. Daisy's inner thoughts are never revealed. Is it possible to speculate about her values on the basis of her actions and speech?
4. Is Daisy an innocent victim of insensitive and narrow antagonists or is she largely responsible for her ostracization?...
(The entire section is 348 words.)
As a novel of manners, Daisy Miller fits into the tradition of fiction that presents the prevailing modes of conduct peculiar to a specific time and place and examines how they control the characters' perceptions and behavior. This tradition reached its earliest perfection in Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen, whom James admired intensely, and is best represented in America by Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence (1920). James's interest in the "international theme" was partly stimulated by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860) which focuses on American artists in Rome and deals with the differences between American and European manners and culture as well as with the themes of innocence vs. experience and naturalness vs. artificiality.
Daisy is a classic portrayal of the American girl as spontaneous, self-reliant, natural and generous in spirit. Her literary sisters include Jo March of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868) and Penelope Lapham of William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) as well as several of James's later heroines. For her independent character, her refreshing directness and her innocence, Daisy can also be related to the male protagonists of various American novels centering on adolescents encountering the limitations, corruption or violence of the adult world. Chief among these are Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Stephen Crane's The...
(The entire section is 227 words.)
James found the figure of "the American Girl" congenial to many of his important themes and refined and extended his depiction of her in Isabel Archer in The Portrait of a Lady (1881), Milly Theale in The Wings of the Dove (1902), and Maggie Verver in The Golden Bowl (1904). The international theme developed in these works also figures prominently in Roderick Hudson (1875) which is about a young sculptor who visits Rome and risks wasting his talent, in The American (1877) which tells the story of a wealthy American businessman who goes to Paris in search of culture and falls in love with an aristocratic woman whose family thwarts their romance and in The Europeans (1878) where the situation is reversed and two Americans born and raised in Europe return to their New England relatives.
(The entire section is 130 words.)
A cinematic adaptation of Daisy Miller was directed and produced for Paramount Pictures by Peter Bogdanovich in 1974. The film is visually very pleasing, has some memorable scenes such as Winterbourne's first encounter with Daisy in the hotel garden in Vevey and the party in Mrs. Walker's apartment in Rome, and is enlivened by fine performances by the supporting actresses Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Walker, Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Costello, and Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Miller. The overall result, however, is disappointing. The screenplay by Frederic Raphael remains very faithful to the original tale in terms of plot and dialogue but pushes the failed love story to the foreground and preserves little of James's social and psychological nuance. In addition, while Barry Brown convincingly conveys Winterbourne's divided attitude toward Daisy, Cybill Shepherd is miscast, or poorly directed, in the title role.
(The entire section is 140 words.)
Bibliography (Cyclopedia of Literary Characters, Revised Third Edition)
Graham, George Kenneth. Henry James: The Drama of Fulfilment. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. Concentrates on the tragicomedy of Winterbourne’s attempt to understand Daisy. Examines the interplay between the social and the personal, and the rational and the emotional.
Hoffmann, Charles G. The Short Novels of Henry James. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957. Examines how Daisy Miller presents European social codes as constraints on evil—and Daisy’s defiance as foolish American innocence of evil. Looks at the theme of appearance (Daisy’s corruption) versus reality (Daisy’s innocence).
Samuels, Charles Thomas. The Ambiguity of Henry James. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1971. Shows how Daisy Miller fits into James’s view of the guilt of innocence. Daisy is culpable, as are her persecutors—especially the fastidious Winterbourne, yearning for American purity in a fallen world.
Tintner, Adeline R. The Museum World of Henry James. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986. Concentrates on James’s use of the portrait of Pope Innocent X as analogy and contrast to Daisy’s innocence in the work. Points out the ironic ending: that Winterbourne will be subject to the gossip he sought to avoid.
Wagenknecht, Edward. Eve and Henry...
(The entire section is 236 words.)