Introduction

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.)