SummaryWinterbourne 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 says he ought to come with them to Rome to be Randolph’s tutor. Winterbourne announces that he has to return to Geneva in a few days, which causes Daisy to become upset, accusing him of being “horrid.” In the end, she makes him promise to come to see her in Rome that winter, to which Winterbourne agrees, since his aunt will be there at the same time and has already asked him to visit her. When Winterbourne returns to his hotel and tells of his trip to his aunt, she finds the fact that Daisy went with her nephew alone to the castle more proof of her social unsuitability.
Analysis Henry James often introduces a character that seems to have deeper insight into the person of interest, such as Mrs. Costello’s judgment of Daisy. While Winterbourne as the protagonist would be expected to have the best understanding of Daisy, having actually talked with her at length, it is Mrs. Costello who seemingly pegs her “commonness” in a way that seems to have eluded Winterbourne. Winterbourne suspects that Mrs. Costello...
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may be right, but he is not prepared to submit the final judgment that his aunt has.
Daisy seems relentless in giving credence to Mrs. Costello’s judgment of her, at least in the context of the mores of the community in which she travels. Though outward appearance does not seem to make her “common,” nor does she move in such a way as to justify the label, her relationships to others reveal a lack of the social reserve that was felt to make a true lady. Oddly enough, however, she has that reserve in first meeting Winterbourne, though it comes off awkwardly, as if she knows that she is supposed to be reserved but does not know quite how to pull it off, instead seeming to be cold and rude. Her relationship with Eugenio, her courier, is too familiar according to the standards by which an employer treats an employee, and one of a different social class. Eugenio takes advantage of the Millers’s unfamiliarity of the requirements of the American expatriates in Europe to step across a line, making his displeasure in their behavior known.
Winterbourne’s behavior toward Daisy also seems to take advantage of her naïveté. Knowing that it was considered improper for a young lady to accompany a gentleman without a chaperone, he maneuvers the situation until he does just that. He goes out of his way to make sure that he and Daisy are alone at the Chateau de Chillon, though no inappropriate behavior is mentioned, or evidently even intended.
James endeavors to establish a tone of uncertainty about Daisy Miller. She is outwardly engaging and personable, yet often strays into the area of the annoying American stereotype. She can be excessively talkative, pouty, and self-absorbed. It seems as though she is a young girl playing a role that she has not come near to perfecting. Winterbourne assigns to her the classification of a flirt, yet she is a flirt with apparently no idea of the more serious ramifications that could lead to that behavior. Not only her reputation but even her physical safety could be violated if she does not know where to draw the line. This gives a tone of foreshadowing to this episode in Switzerland, leading to the tragedy that will come from her ignorance.