Daisy Miller cover image

Daisy Miller and the psychological novella The Turn of the Screw (1898) form the highlight of Henry James’s career. Published in 1879 in The Cornhill Magazine, Daisy Miller gave Henry James his first significant success as a fiction writer. It brought him fame as a novelist in the genre of “international” novels, right at the time when the number of Americans who could afford to travel to Europe for the first time increased following the American Civil War. It also raised a storm of controversy due to the nature of the titular character.

Winterbourne, the American expatriate who ultimately rejects Daisy and her “new American” manners, is the protagonist of the work, rather than Daisy herself. While some viewed the character of Daisy Miller as a refreshing depiction of a young lady unhampered by the rigid social structure in Victorian-influenced America and Europe at the time, many saw her as a shocking example of the type of American that was infiltrating upper-class society, both in the New World and the Old.

Henry James, though born in the United States, lived most of his life in Europe, becoming a British citizen shortly before he died, embarrassed by the failure of the United States to enter into World War I. However, it is his embarrassment over the lack of manners of many of his countrymen as they toured Europe that James pours out in the pages of Daisy Miller. Rather than making Daisy a heroine, he lets her die, with Winterbourne returning to his life as before, despite his intention to leave Europe for America. This ambiguous ending continues to cause discussion among its readers as to James’s real intent in writing the novella. Instead of a “declaration of independence” from the moral code of the middle and upper classes, perhaps Daisy Miller was meant to be a warning to American travelers of the period.

Daisy Miller Summary

(Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Winterbourne is a young American who has lived in Europe for quite a while. He spends a great deal of time at Vevey, which is a favorite spot of his aunt, Mrs. Costello. One day, while he is loitering outside the hotel, he is attracted by a young woman who appears to be related to Randolph Miller, a young American boy with whom he was talking. After a while, the young woman exchanges a few words with him. Her name is Daisy Miller. The boy is her brother, and they are in Vevey with their mother. They came from Schenectady, Winterbourne learns, and they intend to go next to Italy. Randolph insists that he wants to go home. Winterbourne learns that Daisy hopes to visit the Castle of Chillon. He promises to take her there, for he is quite familiar with the old castle.

Winterbourne asks his aunt, Mrs. Costello, to meet Daisy. Mrs. Costello, however, will not agree because she thinks the Millers are common. That evening, Daisy and Winterbourne plan to go out on the lake, much to the horror of Eugenio, the Millers’ traveling companion, who is more like a member of the family than a courier. At the last moment, Daisy changes her mind about the night excursion. A few days later, Winterbourne and Daisy visit the Castle of Chillon. The outing confirms Mrs. Costello’s opinion that Daisy is uncultured and unsophisticated.

Winterbourne makes plans to go to Italy. When he arrives, he goes directly to the home of Mrs. Walker, an American whom he met in Geneva. There he meets Daisy and Randolph. Daisy reproves him for not having called to see her. Winterbourne replies that she is unkind, as he just arrived on the train. Daisy asks Mrs. Walker’s permission to bring an Italian friend, Mr. Giovanelli, to a party that Mrs. Walker is about to give. Mrs. Walker agrees. Then Daisy...

(The entire section is 732 words.)

Daisy Miller Summary

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Daisy Miller was James’s first commercial success; it made him immediately famous as the chronicler of “the international theme” and remains, after The Turn of the Screw (1898), probably his most widely known work. A characteristic example of James’s early fiction, which is indebted to the allegorical tradition of Nathaniel Hawthorne, the novella establishes a recurrent theme that would be reworked with increasing complexity as James’s career developed.

Frederick Winterbourne, an expatriate American resident for a number of years in Geneva, is on an excursion to Vevey, Switzerland, to visit an aunt. He encounters the Miller family, wealthy Americans touring Europe. While Mr. Miller has remained home in Schenectady to attend to business, Mrs. Miller, her son Randolph, and her daughter Daisy are sampling the pleasures of European tourist attractions.

Winterbourne is immediately attracted to the young, beautiful, and flirtatious Daisy, who innocently ignores the social conventions governing the conduct of young women in Europe. Daisy scandalizes Winterbourne’s aunt, Mrs. Costello, but charms and intrigues Winterbourne himself. Daisy extorts from him a promise to visit her in Rome in the coming winter, and the tale turns to their relations there.

In the intervening months, Daisy has taken up with a handsome Italian named Giovanelli, with whom she rendezvouses in the evenings—against the advice of both...

(The entire section is 578 words.)

Daisy Miller Summary and Analysis

Daisy Miller Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

Winterbourne, a twenty-seven-year-old American, has lived most of his life in Switzerland, specifically Geneva. Friends and family speculate (i.e., gossip) on his reasons for this location. Some state that he is studying; others say that he is “devoted” to an older lady there. The real reason is that, having gone to school there, he has many friends who live in Geneva. He has come to Vevey, a favorite tourist spot for Americans, to visit his aunt, Mrs. Costello, who at the moment is indisposed with a headache, as she often is. Sitting in the hotel gardens at the Trois Couronnes, he observes a nine-year-old American boy mischievously using his alpenstock to spear flower-beds, benches, and the trains of ladies’ dresses. The boy boldly requests Winterbourne to give him some sugar. In striking up a conversation with him, Winterbourne is told by the boy that “everything” is better in America. The boy’s sister then approaches the garden, and Winterbourne is intrigued. She ignores Winterbourne, however, and reprimands her brother on several points. Winterbourne learns that Daisy and her family are soon to go to Italy. The boy introduces himself as Randolph C. Miller and his sister as Daisy, but her real name is Annie P. Miller. Daisy eventually warms to Winterbourne and converses in an open, revealing, unrestrained manner. She explains that their family is from Schenectady, New York, where her father is a well-to-do merchant. Her father is not present in Switzerland; only she, her brother, and her mother are there.

Winterbourne is not sure if Daisy is a girl with bad manners or just a complete innocent. He regrets having lived so long away from America that he cannot make a proper judgment about American girls. He decides at last that Daisy is a naïve, though innocent, flirt. He points out the nearby Chateau of Chillon, made famous by the poet Lord Byron. He asks her if she has visited it yet. She explains that Randolph refuses to go and no one, not even their courier Eugenio, cares to stay behind with the obnoxious boy, so Daisy and her mother have not been able to see the castle. When Winterbourne offers to help, Daisy at first mistakenly believes that he offers to stay with Randolph. Winterbourne corrects the error and says that he meant that he would like to accompany her to Chillon, just the two of them, unless her mother would like to...

(The entire section is 994 words.)

Daisy Miller Chapter 2 Summary and Analysis

Winterbourne asks his aunt, Mrs. Costello, if she has met the Millers that are staying in the hotel. When Mrs. Costello determines that they are the family that is “familiar” with their courier, she announces that she has seen them and has no intention of meeting them. Winterbourne tries to point out that Daisy is pretty, dresses very fashionably, and is very charming. Mrs. Costello agrees with all this but says that she and the rest of the family are “common.” Winterbourne tells her that he is already acquainted with the family and that he is planning on visiting the Chateau de Chillon with Daisy. Mrs. Costello is shocked, and Winterbourne pleads innocence on what is now expected of “proper” American girls.

That evening, Winterbourne finds Daisy walking alone in the garden. When she asks about his aunt, whom he had mentioned that he wanted to introduce her to, he says that she is unwell and is not receiving anyone. Daisy correctly perceives that Mrs. Costello does not want to meet her at all. Daisy does not appear to be offended but instead is impressed that Mrs. Costello is very exclusive.

Mrs. Miller comes out to walk in the garden. Randolph has at last agreed to stay and talk to the waiter, though he will not go to sleep, so that she can get away. Though Daisy introduces her to Winterbourne, she ignores him, just as Daisy had done when the two young people first met. Daisy tells her mother that she is going to Chillon with Winterbourne, since Randolph refused to go. Winterbourne expects Mrs. Miller to disapprove strongly, and he invites her to go along. Mrs. Miller, however, tells them that they had better go alone. Winterbourne is very excited by this, not believing his good fortune to get Daisy alone. He proposes that they go out on the lake in the moonlight. Daisy seems willing, but in the end she and her mother go when Eugenio comes to announce that Randolph has at last gone to bed.

Two days later Winterbourne and Daisy go to Chillon alone. They decide to take the steamboat rather than the cars. Daisy talks the entire trip. Winterbourne still cannot decide if she is “common,” as his aunt judged her to be, or wonders if he is simply getting used to her commonness. In the castle, the two wander through it alone, Winterbourne having paid the guide to keep at a distance. Winterbourne tells her the history of the castle, and Daisy...

(The entire section is 986 words.)

Daisy Miller Chapter 3 Summary and Analysis

The next January, Winterbourne arrives in Rome at Mrs. Costello’s request. She also asks him to bring her “that pretty novel of Cherbuliez’s—“Paul Méré”. When he comes to Rome, he discovers that Daisy is worse than ever, going everywhere with “foreigners,” obvious fortune-hunters. Winterbourne again insists that Daisy is ignorant, but not bad. Mrs. Costello replies that the Millers are vulgar; she will leave the question of whether vulgarity is “bad” or not to the metaphysicians, but the Millers are bad enough to dislike.

Winterbourne hesitates concerning a visit to Daisy. He decides to go instead to a gathering at Mrs. Walker’s, a wealthy American lady whom he knew in...

(The entire section is 962 words.)

Daisy Miller Chapter 4 Summary and Analysis

At Mrs. Walker’s party, Mrs. Miller comes alone, telling Winterbourne that Daisy is with Giovanelli, playing songs at the piano, and that they will possibly come later. Mrs. Walker is outraged at Daisy’s inconsideration, vowing that she will not speak to her at all when she finally comes. When Daisy finally arrives she states that Giovanelli and she were practicing some songs that Daisy wanted Giovanelli to sing for the party. When Giovanelli does so, Daisy talks through his entire performance.

Winterbourne warns Daisy again that she should not be seen walking the streets (insinuating that she will be viewed as equal to a “street walker,” or prostitute) with Giovanelli. Daisy chooses...

(The entire section is 1030 words.)