SummaryWinterbourne, 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 accompany them as well. Daisy agrees, when Eugenio comes to the garden to announce that luncheon is served and that Mrs. Miller requests the presence of her two children. Daisy tells Eugenio about Winterbourne’s offer. Eugenio is rudely though silently disapproving, more to Daisy than to Winterbourne. Winterbourne finds the servant offensive, especially when he gives Winterbourne a “look” that is interpreted to mean that Daisy has a habit of picking up men. Winterbourne gives his aunt as a character reference, and Daisy departs. Winterbourne views her departure, thinking that she has the carriage of a princess.
AnalysisThe two locations of Daisy Miller , Vevey and Rome, are symbolic of the lifestyles of the principle characters. Switzerland, specifically Geneva, was the home of John Calvin, the Protestant reformer whose teaching centered on sin, predestination (destined for either heaven or hell before birth), and a strict control of one’s behavior. Rome is the seat of the Roman Empire, where the rules were relaxed and also provided the scene of the deaths of many Christian martyrs. Winterbourne, as a resident of Geneva, is firmly grounded in the proper conduct of life. He is thus confused...
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about Daisy’s behavior. It is not so much that it goes against Christian doctrine as it goes against the social mores of the American expatriates in Europe. While Europeans are more reserved and self-restrained than the average American, in James’s stories, the Americans living in Europe are even more so. Daisy, as a “typical” American tourist (opinionated, overly open, rough in manners, ignorant of social conventions) is an enigma to the transplanted American. Winterbourne regrets that he has been so long away from the country of his birth that he no longer knows how a “proper” American is supposed to act. All that he knows is that, by European standards, Daisy’s conduct is not proper. It is not immoral per se, but it opens Daisy up to speculation about her character.
Randolph, however, is symbolic of the “ugly American,” the American who thinks everything is better in America, is obnoxious and destructive for the pure pleasure of it, and is unappreciative of the beauties of Europe, whence America herself sprang. Through Randolph, the reader can see that James’s view of his home country is rather negative. America is the rebellious teenager who runs away from home, then returns years later to find that his family has moved on without him to a better lifestyle than that to which he originally ran. At a time when more Americans of wealth were making the obligatory “Grand Tour” of Europe, the behavior of Americans among their more sophisticated European countries was a hot topic. James is clearly embarrassed by American behavior such as that exhibited by both Randolph and Daisy, and this novella is in a way his attempt to warn Americans to behave a little better if they plan on coming to Europe.
Winterbourne, through whose eyes the story is told, is something of an enigma himself. An American who has shed most American manners, he is shocked by how his countrymen behave. Yet he himself will at times be hypocritical. In Chapter 4, he is outraged that Daisy would visit the Coliseum alone with a man, unchaperoned, when he himself proposes the same thing with a trip to the Chateau of Chillon. This will also give rise to the double standard of what is appropriate to “ladies” of the time, as opposed to what is acceptable for gentleman to do.