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SOURCE: "Defense of Daisy Miller," in Discovery of a Genius: William Dean Howells and Henry James, edited by Albert Mordell, Twayne Publishers, 1961, pp. 88-91.
[Howells, James's editor and literary agent for much of the author's career, was the chief progenitor of American Realism and one of the most influential American literary critics of the late nineteenth century. Through realism, a theory central to his fiction and criticism, he aimed to disperse "the conventional acceptations by which men live on easy terms with themselves" so that they might "examine the grounds of their social and moral opinions. " In the following essay, originally published in the Atlantic Monthly in 1879, Howells responds to critics who had dubbed Daisy Miller "an outrage on American Girlhood."]
To read the silly criticisms which have been printed, and the far sillier ones which are every day uttered in regard to Mr. James's Daisy Miller would almost convince us that we are as provincial as ever in our sensitiveness to foreign opinion. It is actually regarded as a species of unpardonable incivism for Mr. James, because he lives in London, to describe an under-bred American family traveling in Europe. The fact that he has done so with a touch of marvelous delicacy and truth, that he has produced not so much a picture as a photograph, is held by many to be an aggravating circumstance. Only the most shiveringly sensitive of our shoddy population are bold enough to deny the truth of this wonderful little sketch. To those best acquainted with Mr. James's manner (and I believe I have read every word he has printed) Daisy Miller was positively startling in its straightforward simplicity and what I can only call authenticity. It could not have been written—I am almost ready to say it cannot be appreciated—except by one who has lived so long abroad as to be able to look at his own people with the eyes of a foreigner. All poor Daisy's crimes are purely conventional. She is innocent and good at heart, susceptible of praise and blame; she does not wish even to surprise, much less outrage, the stiffest of her censors. In short, the things she does with such dire effect at Vevay and at Rome would never for an instant be remarked or criticised in Schenectady. They would provoke no comment in Buffalo or Cleveland; they would be a matter of course in Richmond and Louisville. One of the most successful touches in the story is that where Daisy, astonished at being cut by American ladies, honestly avows her disbelief in their disapproval. "I should not think you would let them be so unkind!" she cries to Winterbourne, conscious of her innocence, and bewildered at the cruelty of a sophisticated world. Yet with such exquisite art is this study managed that the innocence and loveliness of Miss Miller are hardly admitted as extenuating circumstances in her reprehensible course of conduct. She is represented, by a chronicler who loves and admires her, as bringing ruin upon herself and a certain degree of discredit upon her countrywomen, through eccentricities of behavior for which she cannot justly be held responsible. Her conduct is without blemish, according to the rural American standard, and she knows no other. It is the merest ignorance or affectation, on the part of the anglicized Americans of Boston or New York, to deny this. A few dozens, perhaps a few hundreds, of families in America have accepted the European theory of the necessity of surveillance for young ladies, but it is idle to say it has ever been accepted by the country at large. In every city of the nation young girls of good family, good breeding, and perfect innocence of heart and mind, receive their male acquaintances en tête-à-tête, and go to parties and concerts with them, unchaperoned. Of course, I do not mean that Daisy Miller belongs to that category; her astonishing mother at once designates her as pertaining to one distinctly inferior. Who has not met them abroad? From the first word uttered by Miss Daisy to her rampant young brother in the garden at Vevay, "Well, I guess you'd better be quiet," you recognize her, and recall her under a dozen different names and forms. She went to dine with you one day at Sceaux, and climbed, with the fearless innocence of a bird, into the great chestnut-tree. She challenged you to take her to Schönbrunn, and amazed your Austrian acquaintances whom you met there, and who knew you were not married. At Naples, one evening—Eheu, fugaces labuntur anni; it is not worth while to continue the enumeration. It makes you feel melancholy to think she is doing the same acts of innocent recklessness with men as young and as happy, and what the French call as unenterprising, as you were once.
As to the usefulness of this little book, it seems to me as indubitable as its literary excellence. It is too long a question to discuss in this place, whether the freedom of American girls at home is beneficial or sinister in its results. But there is no question whatever as to the effect of their ignorance or defiance of conventionalities abroad. An innocent flirtation with a Frenchman or Italian tarnishes a reputation forever. All the waters of the Mediterranean cannot wash clean the name of a young lady who makes a rendezvous and takes a walk with a fascinating chance acquaintance. We need only refer to the darker miseries which often result from these reckless intimacies. A charming young girl, traveling with a simple-minded mother, a few years ago, in a European capital, married a branded convict who had introduced himself to them, calling himself, of course, a count. In short, an American girl, like Daisy Miller, accompanied by a woman like Daisy's mother, brought up in the simplicity of provincial life in the United States, has no more chance of going through Europe unscathed in her feelings and her character than an idiot millionaire has of amusing himself economically in Wall Street. This lesson is taught in Mr. James's story,—and never was necessary medicine administered in a form more delightful and unobtrusive.
The intimacy with the courier is a fact of daily observation on the Continent. A gentleman of my acquaintance, inquiring the other day for a courier he had employed some years before, was told that he was spoiled for any reasonable service by having been so much with American families, and that one family, after their tour in Europe was ended, had taken him home to South Boston as their guest, and had given a party for him!
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Daisy Miller Henry James
The following entry presents criticism of James's novella Daisy Miller. See also, The Turn of the Screw Criticism.
Considered one of the greatest novelists of the English language, James was also an accomplished writer of short fiction. Shunning what he called "the baseness of the arbitrary stroke," James wrote carefully stylized stories, emphasizing introspection and moments of revelation over plot. The publication of Daisy Miller in 1879 earned him his first, and perhaps greatest, popular success. The novella contrasts the rigid social laws of Europe and the independent, unconventional spirit of a young American woman, Daisy Miller, who has been regarded by some commentators as an archetypal American woman. To this day the story continues to be widely anthologized and discussed for its complex and interesting characters and its examination of late nineteenth-century morality and manners.
Plot and Major Characters
In Vevey, Switzerland, a young American expatriate, Winterbourne, meets attractive, enigmatically naive Daisy Miller, an American traveling with her mother. Finding Daisy refreshing, Winterbourne escorts her to the Castle of Chillon. This outing annoys his aunt, Mrs. Costello, who believes Daisy to be uncouth and dangerous to the established social code. Meeting again in Rome, Winterbourne escorts Daisy on a walk with her new Italian acquaintance, Giovanelli, but the stroll is interrupted by Mrs. Walker, another American expatriate, who feels Daisy is ruining her reputation by associating with the handsome Giovanelli. Daisy rejects Mrs. Walker's advice, and is subsequently shunned by American society in Rome. After a harsh exchange of words with Winterbourne, Daisy pays a rash evening visit to the Colosseum. As a result, she falls ill with fever and dies a week later. At her grave, Giovanelli assures Winterbourne of Daisy's innocence and Winterbourne realizes his love for the dead American girl, his premature judgment of her, and his own blindness in the face of European convention.
In many early works James drew from personal experience and observation to focus on perhaps his most celebrated theme: the conflict between European and American culture. Daisy Miller is his best-known story in this vein; the title character is a young American woman oblivious to the social codes of the Old World. She is contrasted with the American expatriate character of Winterbourne, a man who harshly judges Daisy's alleged social transgressions at the expense of his love for her. His complex and deft portrayal is considered essential to understanding the tension between old and new, conventionality and individuality, Europe and America, and appearance and reality in the novella.
As with much of James's work, critical estimation of Daisy Miller has fluctuated. While early discussion focused on the accuracy of James's depiction of the generic "American girl," later critics have suggested that Winterbourne is the pivotal character of the story. According to these critics, by presenting Winterbourne's disapproval of Daisy's essentially innocent activities, James subtly admonished the narrow attitudes adopted by many Americans abroad. Other early discussion of Daisy Miller examined the reasons for Daisy's death, and commentators debated whether Daisy deserved her fate or Winterbourne's inaction caused her downfall. Daisy Miller's originality, stylistic distinction, and psychologically complex characters have led many modern critics to regard James as a subtle craftsman who skillfully reflected the late nineteenth-century concern with morality and social behavior.
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SOURCE: "A Note on the Genesis of Daisy Miller," in Philological Quarterly, Vol. XXVII, No. 2, April, 1948, pp. 184-86.
[In the following essay, Dunbar traces the development of James's novella.]
In his introduction, Henry James says that Daisy Miller originated in an anecdote about a young American girl which he heard in Rome in the autumn of 1877. However, two travel sketches which he wrote several years earlier help to explain the development of the story.
In 1872-73 James spent three months in Switzerland and six months in Rome, the two places which form the setting for Daisy Miller. In "Swiss Notes," contributed to the Nation for Sept. 19, 1872, he speaks of the moral individuality of Switzerland and of its want of a sense of humor. To support his own observation of the highly artificial character of life in Geneva, he refers to a novel by Cherbuliez: "A Swiss novelist of incomparable talent has indeed written a tale expressly to prove that frank nature is wofully out of favor there, and his heroine dies of a broken heart because her spontaneity passes for impropriety." James might have been stating the theme of Daisy Miller. The book to which he referred is Paule Méré, which he described the next year [in North American Review, October, 1873] as "an attempted exposure, rather youthful in its unsparing ardor, of the narrowness and intolerance of Genevese society." The similarity of Daisy Miller and Paule Méré does not extend beyond the theme, but it seems probable that when James came to develop into a story the anecdote which he heard in Rome in 1877, his recollection of the moral atmosphere of Switzerland and his familiarity with Cherbuliez's novel on the same theme caused him to place the first half of his story in Switzerland. He had already identified this country as a place where one could become the victim of rigid social conventions.
A second article which seems related to Daisy Miller is "The After-Season at Rome," printed in the Nation for June 12, 1873. In it James speaks of spending an afternoon hour at the little Protestant Cemetery which nestles in an angle of the city wall. He mentions the graves of Shelley and Keats, and continues:
But to my sense, the most touching thing there is the look of the pious English inscriptions among all these Roman memories. There is something extremely appealing in their universal expression of that worst of trouble—trouble in a foreign land. . . . I may seem unduly sentimental; but I confess that the charge to the reader in the monument to Miss Bathurst, who was drowned in the Tiber in 1824: "If thou art young and lovely, build not thereon, for she who lies beneath thy feet in death was the loveliest flower ever cropt in its bloom"—seemed to me irresistibly a case for tears.
Daisy also is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome, a lovely flower cropt in its bloom, a young American pathetically dead in a foreign land. The anecdote James used as basis for his story was climaxed only by "some small social check, some interrupting incident, of no great gravity or dignity" [James, The Art of the Novel, 1934]. James's conclusion with Daisy's death, sometimes condemned by critics, may stem back to the author's afternoon hour of meditation in the Protestant Cemetery of Rome five years earlier. As a traveller who had "the novelist's faculty—observation raised to the degree of a passion," James gathered impressions which of course influenced his novels, and occasionally, as here, we are able to trace a connection between travel sketches and story.
There is a further and amusing connection between Cherbuliez's Paule Méré and Daisy Miller. Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne's aunt and one of the harshest critics of Daisy Miller, at one point in the story writes to her nephew:
Those people you were so devoted to last summer at Vevey have turned up here, courier and all. . . . They seem to have made several acquaintances, but the courier continues to be the most intime. The young lady, however, is also very intimate with various third-rate Italians, with whom she rackets about in a way that makes much talk. Bring me that pretty novel of Cherbuliez's—Paule Méré—and don't come later than the 23rd.
Since Paule Méré is an exposure of the narrowness and intolerance of Genevese society, of people like Mrs. Costello, her request for "that pretty novel" in the same paragraph in which she reveals her own intolerance can only mean that she has completely missed the author's intention, interpreting the story as an attack on Paule Méré rather than on her critics. This is another example of James's irony—an irony which might almost be called prophetic, in the light of the misinterpretation of Daisy Miller as an outrage on American girlhood by the editor to whom James first submitted it and by many readers.
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SOURCE: "The Uses of Authorial Silence," in The Rhetoric of Fiction, The University of Chicago Press, 1961, pp. 271-309.
[In the following excerpt, Booth discusses the importance of Winterbourne as narrator.]
The events in James's early success, Daisy Miller (1879), might seem to be naturally suited to tragic or strongly pathetic effects. An innocent young American girl tours Europe, behaving in the open, casual, uncircumspect way that comes naturally to her. Her free ways with men are misinterpreted by the sophisticated, Europeanized Americans she meets. She is gradually ostracized, forced more and more into the company of Europeans. Finally she is driven to an act of extreme rashness, which leads to her death. Only then do her observers recognize their mistake about her. Tragedy would be relatively easy to come by in telling this tale. But as James tells us in his Preface, he did not want tragedy. Though Daisy's story was to him necessarily associated with a "brooding tenderness" and "shy incongruous charm," though she was "pure poetry," she was not in his view a proper object for full tragedy or even pathos. She was "a Study," provided for "mere concentration," on an "object scant and superficially vulgar"; though her story included pathos, it included also a kind of ironic play with the international theme, even a certain amount of "drolling." James is as much interested in the comedy of those who misunderstand Daisy as he is in Daisy's pathetic end. Consequently, he works at reducing the pathos of Daisy's destruction. James never mentions in his own notes the chief means to this reduction, the misguided observer Winterbourne, but the drama of Winterbourne's chilly misunderstanding of her true nature is really more important in the finished tale than Daisy's own actions. Seen through his eyes she can hardly become emotionally important to us, though of course we must recognize that she is worth much more than he suspects. His slow caution and ready suspicions are admirably suited to make us aware of the pathos of Daisy, without giving our awareness too much emotional force.
Our interest is consequently centered on his belated recognition of her true quality, a recognition that is poignant enough, but "droll" as well. He learns that "she would have appreciated one's esteem," that he was indeed, as has been intimated earlier, "booked to make a mistake," and that he has, in fact, "lived too long in foreign parts"—so long that he can no longer distinguish the innocence of poor destroyed Daisy from true vulgarity or immorality.
It is difficult to imagine this story as told through any other view than his, since Daisy's drama is precisely the drama of being misunderstood. She is really, as James said, a "scant" object, in herself; her importance comes only from what she can suffer from and reveal about the more lucid but still bewildered expatriates. When Winterbourne discovers her alone with her Italian at night in the Colosseum, his "final horror is mitigated by a final relief." "It was as if a sudden clearance had taken place in the ambiguity of the poor girl's appearances and the whole riddle of her contradictions had grown easy to read. She was a young lady about the shades of whose perversity a foolish puzzled gentleman need no longer trouble his head or his heart." Winterbourne's loss produced by this wrong judgment is Daisy's loss as well. His faulty vision as a reflector is thus both a necessary cause in the overt action and a means of controlling the reader's interest in that action. But since it is a "droll" vision, it can soften the force of Daisy's tragedy without confusing us about the quality of it: yes, yes, it is a kind of tragedy, we admit, but we feel it as an ironic commentary on two kinds of American in Europe. Though there is a mixture of what James called "the tragedy and the comedy and the irony," it is a mixture of clearly distinguished ingredients, and the effect is masterful.
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Davidson, Cathy N. "'Circumsexualocution' in Henry James's Daisy Miller:" Arizona Quarterly 32, No. 4 (Winter 1976): 353-66.
Suggests that James's use of circumlocution to express Winterbourne's frustrations transforms Daisy into the "patron saint of repressed sexuality."
Draper, R. P. "Death of a Hero? Winterbourne and Daisy Miller." Studies in Short Fiction VI, No. 1 (Fall 1968): 601-08.
Contends that Frederick Winterbourne is a tragic hero and his final loss of spirit is the novella's theme.
Dunbar, Viola R. "The Revision of Daisy Miller" Modern Language Notes LXV, No. 4 (April 1950): 311-17.
Compares the 1909 revision of Daisy Miller to the original 1878 text.
Fiedler, Leslie A. "The Revenge on Woman: From Lucy to Lolita." In Love and Death in the American Novel, pp. 291-36. New York: Stein and Day, 1960.
Describes Daisy as an amalgam of the mythical "Good Good Girl" and the "Good Bad Girl."
Fogel, Daniel Mark. Daisy Miller: A Dark Comedy of Manners. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990, 118 p.
Full-length study of James's novella.
Hocks, Richard A. "Daisy Miller, Backward into the Past: A Centennial Essay." The Henry James Review I, No. 2 (Winter 1980): 164-78.
Overview of the novella's significance.
James, Henry. "Preface to 'Daisy Miller'." In The Art of the Novel, pp. 267-87. New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1934.
Describes the genesis and development of Daisy Miller.
Newman, Benjamin. "Daisy Miller." In Searching for the Figure in the Carpet in the Tales of Henry James: Reflections of an Ordinary Reader, pp. 7-18. New York: Peter Lang, 1987.
Asserts that "Winterbourne is portrayed as a wanderer, trying to find a place for himself in life, and it is this theme and the mood and style in which it is encased that provides the central focus for the reader, draws him close to the wanderers, and leads him to see them as fictional counterparts of James himself."
Page, Philip. "Daisy Miller's Parasol." Studies in Short Fiction 27, No. 4 (Fall 1990): 591-601.
Examines stylistic aspects of the novella.
Scheiber, Andrew J. "Embedded Narratives of Science and Culture in James's Daisy Miller:" College Literature 21, No. 2 (June 1994): 75-88.
Analyzes the influence of scientific theory on James's novella.
Schriber, Mary Suzanne. "Toward Daisy Miller: Cooper's Idea of 'The American Girl'." Studies in the Novel 13, No. 3 (Fall 1981): 237-49.
Traces the nineteenth-century fascination with the archetype of "The American Girl" as exemplified by Daisy Miller.
Wagenknecht, Edward. "Innocence Abroad: Daisy Miller." In Eve and Henry James: Portraits of Women and Girls in his Fiction, pp. 3-20. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978.
Discusses Daisy's innocence, and compares the novella with other stories by James.
Additional coverage of James's life and career is contained in the following sources published by The Gale Group: Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1865-1917; Contemporary Authors, Vols. 104, 134; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 12, 71, 74; Dictionary of Literary Biography Documentary Series, Vol. 13; Discovering Authors; Discovering Authors: British; Discovering Authors: Canadian; Discovering Authors: Most-Studies Authors Module; Discovering Authors: Novelists Module; Major 20th-century Writers; Short Story Criticism, Vol. 8; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2, 11, 24, 40, 47, 64; and World Literature Criticism.
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SOURCE: "Daisy," in Henry James: The Conquest of London, J. B. Lippincott Company, 1962, pp. 302-18.
[In the following excerpt, Edel discusses public reaction to Daisy Miller.]
"My London life flows evenly along, making, I think, in various ways more and more of a Londoner of me," Henry wrote to William at the end of January 1878. "If I keep along here patiently for a certain time I rather think I shall become a (sufficiently) great man. I have got back to work with great zest after my autumnal loafings, and mean to do some this year which will make a mark. I am, as you suppose, weary of writing articles about places, and mere potboilers of all kinds; but shall probably, after the next six months, be able to forswear it altogether, and give myself up seriously to 'creative' writing. Then, and not till then, my real career will begin. After that, gare à vous."
The passage reads as if Henry were proceeding according to a deliberate time-table. He must be patient for a "certain time"; he will make his mark "this year"; he will, after the next six months, be ready to begin to write in earnest. There was insight here into the inner calendar of his life. For what came to pass was that Henry wrote Daisy Miller during that winter; it was accepted by mid-April for the Cornhill Magazine—the journal of Thackeray and Trollope—and was published within six months. After that Henry was to be considered by the world "a (sufficiently) great man."
Almost the first thing Henry had done after returning from the Continent to his fireside in Bolton Street was to write the tale suggested by Miss Bartlett's [an acquaintance of James's] anecdote: that of the American girl snubbed in Roman-American society. The story reads today—has always read—as if it had flowed spontaneously out of the tip of Henry's pen: it has a splendid lucidity and a vividness of form and detail; a kind of ironic laughter echoes between its lines until it reaches its final, gently-sketched scene of pathos. The circumstantial detail of Daisy lives with extraordinary authenticity, for it was transposed directly from Henry's half-dozen years of Continental journeyings. The little crimson drawing room in the Via Gregoriana, where Mrs. Walker turns her back on Daisy—we have seen Henry there, in January of 1873, visiting the Tweedys; Vevey and the Castle of Chillon—this was where Henry and Alice joined the Bootts during their long-ago summer of Swiss travel; the Colosseum by moonlight, William's touch of the Roman fever, Giovanelli as a cavaliere avvocato, the Protestant cemetery—all spill over into fiction from felt backgrounds and Roman springtimes to give the tale its air of freshness and reality; there is no lingering and no explaining; the story moves with quiet, swift incident and an inexorable logic of its own.
That logic resides above all in the image of Daisy Miller. Miss Bartlett had no need to describe the young lady of her anecdote—Henry had seen her in her multitude, stepping confidently ashore from the trans-Atlantic liners, in fine dresses with flounces and ribbons, carrying her head high, talking in her thin, gay voice, possessed of the tournure of a princess. Young Daisy is a clear and dancing image—pure nineteenth century Schenectady or Utica, exposed to the bright Swiss summer sun on Lake Geneva and the turquoise skies of Rome. For all her brilliant array of dresses and her air of sophistication, she is garbed in the innocence of Eve, in all her nakedness, before the tasting of the apple.
He had first submitted the tale to the editor of Lippincott's in Philadelphia,* who returned it without comment. Henry was not certain why, and he found the absence of comment grim. He accordingly asked a friend (perhaps Leslie Stephen) to read the story; the opinion he got was that the editor had probably rejected it because he considered it "an outrage on American womanhood." Henry himself was not convinced: he thought that perhaps the story was simply too long. At any rate he submitted it to the taciturn Stephen of the Cornhill, who accepted it "with effusion." In fact it was sent to the printer at once, and Henry made his bow for the first time in an English magazine in the June and July 1878 issues. His failure to assure himself of American publication lost him the valuable magazine market in the United States: the story was pirated immediately both in New York and Boston and when Harper brought it out in their Half-Hour Series as a pamphlet it sold 20,000 copies in a matter of weeks. It was priced at 25 cents and this meant that Henry's royalties were negligible. "I have made $200 by the whole American career of Daisy Miller," he told Howells. The tale was destined, however, to be "the most prosperous child" of Henry's invention.
Daisy Miller had a sub-title. Henry called it "A Study," perhaps to suggest that he had written the equivalent of a pencil sketch on an artist's pad, rather than a rounded work. Later he said it was because of "a certain flatness"—suggested in the very name of his heroine. And indeed the slightness of the story has made a later generation wonder why it should have proved so attractive. A modern reader, unrehearsed in the history of manners, would wonder, for instance, at the social fuss which occurs merely because an American girl "dates" an Italian. The informality of the twentieth century can little understand the formality of the nineteenth; and the snobberies of Roman-American society seem exaggerated to the point of caricature.
The story of Daisy's short-lived adventure in Europe begins in Vevey at the Trois Couronnes, where the Europeanized American, Winterbourne, meets in the garden of the hotel the little American boy Randolph, who is boastful, unhappy, full of misplaced energy and a quite justifiable sense of being dragged about Europe when he would rather be at home. While the stiff and formal Winterbourne—through whose eyes we see Daisy—chats with the boy, his sister joins them, and presently they are talking quite familiarly to one another, even if they have not been properly introduced. Her name is Annie P. Miller but everyone calls her Daisy. She is a pleasing flirt: "Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not?" she asks. She expects young men to give her their undivided attention, and she arranges to go, unchaperoned, with her new acquaintance to visit the Castle of Chillon. Winterbourne's aunt, who knows all the proprieties, sniffs her disapproval, between migraine headaches: the best she will allow Daisy is that "she dresses in perfection—no, you don't know how well she dresses." For the rest, Winterbourne admits that the girl is rather "uncultivated." "She is very common," says his aunt.
Daisy is described to us, more often than not, in negatives; she is not insipid, and she is not exactly expressive; there is no mockery in her, and distinctly no irony. She has a bright, sweet, superficial little visage: her features are eminently delicate. "There isn't any society," she claims in describing her experiences of Europe, and she adds, "I have always had a great deal of gentlemen's society." Her misfortune is that she does not know the European definition of a gentleman and believes her own conception of one to be universal.
Later that year, in Rome, Winterbourne meets her again: we still see her through his eyes. As in the anecdote, she has acquired a charming Italian: his name is Giovanelli; he has a mustache, is attentive, and if he does not understand her flirtatious nature, he "must wonder at his luck." Winterbourne perceives quite clearly that Daisy is not interested in marrying him and that the Italian does not hope to marry her; but he enjoys her company, and she is pleased to have a "gentleman" dance attendance on her, as her boy friends did in Schenectady. It never occurs for a moment to Daisy that she is the subject of gossip, and that her behavior violates the European code: that young girls simply do not go about without a chaperon. When Mrs. Walker overtakes her and Giovanelli in the Pincian gardens and points out to her that what she is doing "is not the custom here," Daisy replies ingenuously enough: "Well, it ought to be, then!" The girl has no standards; she sets her own; she has never been given any; she does not even know what "standard" means. And even when she is snubbed in Mrs. Walker's drawing room, she does not comprehend the meaning of the gesture. She cannot accept the notion—it is fundamental to her nature—that conduct anywhere can be different from what she has known in Schenectady.
Winterbourne is unable to decide whether this bright, young, admirably-turned-out example of the new American generation is "honest" or frivolous, whether she is innocent or wicked. A true Jamesian male, he never quite makes up his mind. When he encounters Daisy and Giovanelli rambling late in the evening in the Colosseum he thinks his worst suspicions may be right. The story moves swiftly to its denouement. Daisy catches the Roman fever and dies of it; and by "the raw protuberance among the April daisies" in the Protestant cemetery, Winterbourne and Giovanelli exchange the remarks which are, so to speak, her epitaph. "She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable," says Giovanelli—whose name expresses youth and irresponsibility—and, he adds, "she was the most innocent." Winterbourne, whose name expresses the frosty stiffness Daisy had complained of in him, can only stare at the grave and decide that Miss Miller would have "appreciated one's esteem."
If the tale of the girl from Schenectady is now a piece of superseded social history, one aspect of it has assumed a new relevance: this is the unerring vision which James had of the total abdication, by the mass of American parents, of all authority over their children. The entire discussion of "permissiveness" in our time and the re-evaluation of progressive education makes James's picture of the two Miller children singularly relevant. Daisy is allowed to wander about Rome with Giovanelli at all hours of the night; it is she, not her mother, who exercises authority over the travelling group. Both, in turn, abdicate authority to Eugenio, the courier, who is treated as if he were a member of the family. Nine-year-old Randolph does as he pleases.
"Did you get Randolph to go to bed?" asked the young girl.
"No; I couldn't induce him," said Mrs. Miller, very gently. "He wants to talk to the waiter. He likes to talk to that waiter."
Daisy recalls that "it isn't so bad as it was at Dover."
"And what occurred at Dover?" Winterbourne asked.
"He wouldn't go to bed at all. I guess he sat up all night—in the public parlour. He wasn't in bed at twelve o'clock: I know that."
"It was half-past twelve," declared Mrs. Miller, with mild emphasis.
The logic of this is that nine-year-olds apparently must be talked into going to bed, instead of being simply put there; and Randolph's rugged individualism is but the pioneer version of a generation of spoiled young allowed to dominate the American scene. Henry had remembered well the glimpses he had had of children asleep in leather chairs, in the lobbies of Saratoga hotels, at a late hour of the evening. He was to continue, in his tales, to portray the consequences for a civilization of an absence of standards and codes, of a society knowing no rules, and of a "freedom" which consisted in a kind of meaningless pampering of the young—offering the future citizens of his country neither a sense of history nor a charted course in life and civilization.
He was to give forcible utterance shortly after Daisy to this picture of the new American generation in a tale of comparative manners, "The Point of View," in which a repatriated American woman at Newport writes:
The country is made for the rising generation; life is arranged for them; they are the destruction of society. People talk of them, consider them, defer to them, bow down to them. They are always present, and whenever they are present there is an end to everything else. They are often very pretty; and physically they are wonderfully looked after; they are scoured and brushed, they wear hygienic clothes, they go every week to the dentist's. But the little boys kick your shins, and the little girls offer to slap your face! There is an immense literature entirely addressed to them, in which the kicking of shins and the slapping of faces is much recommended. As a woman of fifty, I protest. I insist on being judged by my peers. It's too late, however, for several millions of little feet are actively engaged in stamping out conversation, and I don't see how they can long fail to keep it under. The future is theirs; maturity will evidently be at an increasing discount. Longfellow wrote a charming little poem called "The Children's Hour," but he ought to have called it "The Children's Century."
Seventy-five years after this was written, it is possible to say that the nineteenth—and the twentieth—century had indeed belonged and belongs to the American child.
Daisy Miller remains a remarkable story even if the manners it portrays are outmoded; it has a spare economy, a quick painting of background and a chasteness of narrative, in its summary sketching of American ignorance confronted by American rigidity abroad. It remains also the prototype of the "international" story. Henry was to write many more important and more brilliant tales, but Daisy Miller, like its name, is an early and fresh flower still blooming among his works, "the little tragedy," as Henry explained to a lady who wrote to him, "of a light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature being sacrificed as it were to a social rumpus that went on quite over her head and to which she stood in no measurable relation." The achieved pathos of this predicament softens Daisy's hardness of surface, and makes her a victim not only of parental and national ignorance, but of her own innocence. Winterbourne, at the end, can only wonder whether he hasn't lingered too long in Europe, whether a civilization—or absence of it—was developing in his native land which he did not know nor understand.
The story, as literary history knows, was an extraordinary success, but not the succès de scandale which legend has attributed to it. There was nothing in the public reaction to warrant any suggestion of "outrage." On the contrary: Daisy was distinctly liked by many American readers. She was a girl of spirit, and from the American point of view, as Edmund Wilson has observed, that spirit went marching on. She resisted the inflexibility of the Europeanized Americans and stood her ground as a "child of nature and of freedom." Only one reviewer seemed to feel that she was unreal; the others, in general, complimented James for his portrayal of certain types of Americans travelling abroad—types, they said, perhaps too often found in Europe. The vogue set off by Daisy continued for a long time afterwards: she became a perennial figure—and "a Daisy Miller" was to be a much-used descriptive phrase whenever some particularly charming, forward young lady from America showed up in Continental surroundings. For a time there were "Daisy Miller" hats in the millinery shops, and presently another book appeared titled An English Daisy Miller, by a magazine writer named Virginia W. Johnson. The little book was "Dedicated to American Women" and its general theme followed Henry's, substituting an English girl for the American. Henry's story was widely translated.
James had discovered nothing less than "the American girl"—as a social phenomenon, a fact, a type. She had figured in novels before, but never had she stood in fiction so pertly and bravely, smoothing her dress and asking the world to pay court to her. Hawthorne's American girl in Rome, Howells's American girl in Venice, had not been contrasted with Europe; and those Europeans who were reading Louisa May Alcott had a picture of the American girl largely in her domestic surroundings. The rustling young ladies on the verandahs at Saratoga, the busy beauties of "uptown" New York, the graceful, idle females of Newport, suddenly became Henry's great subject: and all by the simple turn of exhibiting them in their finery, as in all the stages of their timidity or insolence, their doubt or their triumph—at the moment of their encounter with Europe and their retusal to yield their heritage of American innocence. The magazines now clamored for his tales, and Henry addressed himself to making the most of his advantage: in fast succession there came from his little sitting room in Bolton Street "An International Episode," "The Pension Beaurepas," the short novel Confidence, and in due course such tales as "A Bundle of Letters." Henry James made himself the acknowledged master of the "international situation" and he was to use it on a large stage, with substantial characters, in major novels yet to be written. What he had begun, in Roderick Hudson and The American, as stories of American experience in Europe had now, by extension, been discovered by Henry to be social comedy—to have the possibility of being rendered with a light touch and with the exploration of all the ironic, pathetic, comic as well as tragic elements in the theme. "The Americano-European legend," Henry was to call it in the end. And it was his creation, his peopled world. He was to deal with the American girl and the American woman—and the American man as well—exhibit them for almost half a century in their march through foreign countries and their exposure to foreign societies. A critic in the Edinburgh Review was prompted early to reflect on the strange new types which James had brought upon his horizon: American men who corresponded not at all to the popular notion of travelling Americans, and certainly less Philistine than Englishmen abroad, looking at churches, admiring works of art, indulging in civilized conversation, and contemplating their fellow-Americans—Winterbourne, for instance; Daisy Millers who availed themselves in Europe of the liberality and license permitted to young unmarried women in the United States. Their unconventional behavior and their seeming indiscretions might scandalize Europeans, the reviewer felt; but he noticed that even when their passing flirtations were tinged by romance, they usually married for satisfactory settlements. American women in all their variety passed before Henry: the timid, the adventurous, the self-made, the divorcee in search of respectability, the heiress in search of a princedom, the demure maiden in the European pension engaged in an earnest quest for "culture" and self-betterment—and always the chase for the husband. And these were all but a series of sketches from which he would paint his larger, full-length portraits. In a late preface he was to define the various states which he depicted, the predicaments of these fresh, positive, beguiling ladies. They were innocent and they were democratic; they were woefully ignorant of any concept of society—any sense of the old hierarchies and standards; they suffered from an acute state of "queenship," being the spoiled darlings of American men who in the "young roaring and money-getting democracy" were busy with their own affairs, possessing none of the leisure the European males of the upper classes enjoyed in courtship. American men wooed strenuously and, when they married, spent their days creating fortunes for the use of the womenfolk. "An American woman who respects herself," says one of James's married ladies, "must buy something every day of her life. If she cannot do it herself, she must send out some member of her family for the purpose." Thus she explains one of her functions: and in a country of absentee husbands, women, in their reinforced egotism, assume supremacy: they take over education; they exercise such control as they can over the young. It is either excessive or excessively relaxed. James's concern for some years was to be with "the practical, positive, passionless young thing as we let her loose on the world."
To be sure much that James wrote was true of any newly-rich society; and the absentee husband existed in Europe as well—indulging in his adulteries while his wife indulged in hers. What was original for the Europeans was the general freshness and innocence of these products of the new society, their spirit of conquest, their belief in themselves and their ability for self-improvement; above all the strange new egalitarianism, which nourished the legend that an American could do anything. These newcomers to the ancient civilizations came from an order of wealth rather than of aristocracy; and James's picture of them contained a large measure of affection even while he satirized and criticized.
If Daisy provoked controversy it was precisely in the ranks of society. The drawing rooms of Boston and New York echoed to it. "There are many ladies in and around New York today," observed the New York Times in June of 1879, "who feel very indignant with Mr. James for his portrait of Daisy Miller, and declare it is shameful to give foreigners so untrue a portrait of an American girl." The foreigners did not need Henry James Jr. to give them that portrait; they were to see the American girls in their thousands down to modern times. "Harry James waked up all the women with his Daisy Miller, the intention of which they misconceived," Howells wrote to Lowell. "There has been a vast discussion in which nobody felt very deeply, and everybody talked very loudly. The thing went so far that society almost divided itself into Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites. I was glad of it, for I hoped that in making James so thoroughly known, it would call attention in a wide degree to the beautiful work he had been doing so long for very few readers."
Henry was to tell an anecdote many years later: how in Venice one day a lady friend observing two young American girls had spoken of them to him as "Daisy Millers." This was to lead to a remonstrance from a second lady who was with them in their gondola. She remarked that these crude creatures were the real Daisies, about whom James had not written, and that the one he had created was a distortion, because he endowed her with form and prettiness and pathos and bathed her in the beautiful light of his own imagination. Henry was quite prepared to agree. "My supposedly typical little figure was of course pure poetry, and had never been anything else; since this is what helpful imagination, in however slight a dose, ever directly makes for."
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4964
SOURCE: "Daisy Miller, Tradition, and the European Heroine," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. VI, No. 1, March, 1969, pp. 45-59.
[In the following essay, Deakin places the character of Daisy Miller within the European tradition.]
When William Dean Howells selected Daisy Miller as the one Jamesian character to emphasize in his Heroines of Fiction, he did her two great services. First, he, as the dean of American critics, certified her important position in both the Jamesian canon and in the literary world at large. Second, he affirmed by both precept and example that she would be understood best not as an isolated phenomenon but as a part of a literary tradition. The reasons for Daisy's significance have been examined often enough; one need only add that since Howells stated his preference, other Jamesian heroines—Isabel Archer most forcefully, and, not far behind her, Milly Theale and Maggie Verver—have challenged his prescriptive choice. In contrast, Daisy's relevance as a phenomenon within some particular literary tradition does need to be studied. We do not know enough about what influences conditioned her conception.
If we follow Howell's precedent, then we find that this tradition is purely English and American, the heroines of which "are of easily distinguishable types, and their evolution in their native Anglo-Saxon environment has been, in no very great lapse of time, singularly uninfluenced from without." Which all sounds most promising until we begin examining the American part of this tradition and Daisy Miller in particular, for then the usefulness of Howells' assertion becomes questionable. The tradition that Howells presents in his two-volume study is overwhelmingly English; what is American is but a fraction, or, as Howells describes it, "wilding off-shoots," whose main representatives—whose very substance really—constrict to only Hawthorne's heroines and Daisy Miller herself. We wonder about the importance and memorableness of Howells' other examples in that American tradition: Marjorie Daw, Miggles, Nellie Armitage, Aurora Nuncanou, Jane Marshall, Jane Field. We are even puzzled at how we can place them in this tradition Howells is postulating when, without his aid, we would first have to guess at the identity of many of them. Nor, when we try to place Daisy Miller in Howells' English tradition, can we find much resemblance between her and Emma Woodhouse or Jeanie Deans, Amelia Sedley or Dorothea Brooke, who seem representative in one way or another of the host he lists. Only occasionally, in, say Elizabeth Bennet or Catherine Earnshaw or Clara Middleton, does one find qualities in these English heroines that seem comparable to Daisy's; and we might further note that though Howells presents the two earlier heroines, curiously he did not like Meredith's novels and had not read The Egoist. So, though we can accept Howells' premises, his guidelines are not too helpful.
Looking to James for aid, we find his position not so explicit as we would wish. Certainly he was conscious of the need for tradition, especially for the literary artist: his admiration for Balzac and his study of Hawthorne are evidence enough. But to him Daisy was as ostensibly American as empirical evidence could make her; she was representative of an evanescent phenomenon that suddenly appeared on the European scene during the decade 1860-70 and then as quickly vanished. These facts taken at face value make Daisy an objective rendering of an existing reality without any marked relation to a literary tradition, American or otherwise.
But though one may wish to read Daisy Miller in this way, he must recognize too that the creative mind seldom works so simply, and certainly not James's. We should remember that several of James's early efforts in fiction, including that so obviously American novel, Washington Square, are adaptations of literary works by foreign authors. We should recall too that James's personal experience as a boy and a young man had, in large part, nullified for him any chauvinistic notion of what constitutes an individual's identity. His impulse was always to break beyond the national boundary, and when he could not do so physically, he found his escape through books. So what James brought to the creation of Daisy was a sense of life that, for his generation, was singularly emancipated and broadly informed. And though James may have styled himself a realist, the world of his mind, as evidenced in his fiction, is one replete with ambiguities and complexities, images and figures, that had been actuated, not by knowing the security and stability of living in one place, but rather by experiencing the tension and excitement of moving through the flux of new and continually changing environments. The one constant that remains is human nature, which in an important, ultimate sense is unweighted by larger, social or nationalistic identifications. All of this means that insofar as Daisy is concerned, James most probably would not have seen her simply as the product of Schenectady but, rather, would have taken what he needed in her creation from whatever sources were available—sources which for him were various. In Daisy Miller the result should be something less clear and simple than would at first appear, and the character of Daisy should exemplify some attributes that would transcend the limiting identifications of upstate New York or even of America.
The clue to this literary tradition we are seeking lies, I think, in James's placing Daisy in a scene neither English nor American, and in the insistence of both James and Howells that this character in this scene postulates the International Situation. For proof we note that James has set Daisy in an atmosphere reverberating with other names and other histories which impinge upon and color our response to Daisy—names and histories which do not belong just to the other characters in the story but rather are evoked by the setting or other referents. Thus we should recognize that Daisy is moving in and being influenced by a new and different world, not necessarily the same as the world of the transplanted American dowagers who surround her.
This is a world long since familiar to James both as fact and fiction. As a tourist he had attentively watched and noted what he needed for the realistic accouterment of a Daisy Miller. But just as important, as a "devourer of libraries" he had already observed many other fictive heroines move through this same setting—heroines who, because of similar forces and tensions conditioning them, may be found to resemble Daisy both in their attributes and their fates. It is significant that Daisy is American, but it is equally significant that the great crisis of her life is experienced in Europe. Expressed in terms of literary influence, one could say that James's affinities with the continental authors were, in his early maturity, stronger than what he felt for the English, and though the American Hawthorne certainly exerted his influence, he was but one against a whole array of other, equally significant but non-American writers. Thus one would expect that if a literary tradition helpful in enlarging our understanding of Daisy Miller is to be found, it would more probably appear in the novels of these European authors James admired than in the Anglo-Saxon tradition Howells postulated.
In his critical essays James has left an abundant record of his reading. Looking through them we are struck by the frequency with which he notes and delineates the fictive heroines he encountered. With persistence he expresses admiration for them while at the same time ignoring the masculine element he may have met. But even among the heroines he discriminates, selecting for special commendation those young maidens who demonstrate a flair of independent individuality that reminds one of Daisy. If we try to place these heroines in some kind of order, we soon become aware that it is not so profitable to try to determine when the young James read what novel. However, it is important to realize that James's interests tend to attenuate as the authors he read are removed from him chronologically; his favorites seem to be of his generation or, more often, that of his father, but certainly not much more removed than that of his grandfather. But even within this relatively short period of time, if we place in chronological order those fictive heroines who both fascinated James and have qualities comparable to Daisy's, we still can construct a tradition significant in both its fictive and its historic connotations.
The development of this tradition, and particularly of Daisy's place in it, is best seen if we approach it at that point in time most contiguous to Daisy. So we must start with Turgenev, whom James both admired and knew personally. His heroines appeared to James to be "one of the most striking groups the modern novel has given us" ["Ivan Turgenieff," The Art of Fiction and other Essays, 1948]. James's admiration even carried him to the point of asserting a similarity between the American and Russian characters: "Russian young girls . . . have to our sense a touch of the faintly acrid perfume of the New England temperament—a hint of Puritan angularity" ["Ivan Turgenieff," French Poets and Novelists, 1908]. In these heroines James found a strong will, an ability to resist, to wait, a sense of honor more exigent than that of the men they love. Their strength of character is so powerful that it exceeds their formal significance in their respective novels; though they are not centers of the novels in which they appear, they often dominate them.
The best examples are Marianna (Virgin Soil) and Elena (On the Eve). As future brides of revolutionaries, their assurance and sense of purpose commend them as embodiments of a Daisy-like independence of spirit. Dedicated to freedom, both personal and public, they resent oppression and inequality. "Justice satisfies but does not gladden them; while injustice, to which they are frightfully sensitive, stirs them up to the very bottom of the soul" [Ivan Turgenieff, The Novels and Stories of Ivan Turgenieff, 1904]. But, despite their unselfish devotion to commendable ideals, they irritate a public that thinks they set a bad example for other girls. They are iconoclasts. Unlike Daisy, who is usually accepted as at least representative of part of that American society from which she comes, Turgenev's heroines personify a disturbing new force in Russian society. Marianna is proud and surly: "rom her whole being there emanated a strong and daring, impetuous and passionate element." She longs for freedom "with all the force of [her] unyielding soul," a freedom to be realized only in a complete, selfless dedication to a noble cause [Turgenieff]. Elena, James's expressed favorite, has this same impetuous and passionate element. Like Marianna, she thirsts for the opportunity to do good, to help the poor, the hungry, and the sick. Leading an intense but lonely life, she ignores parental authority, asserting her independence at the age of sixteen. She dawdles in boredom until, through love and a new-found sense of purpose it embodies, she discovers a direction for her life. Finally, she realizes personal freedom through her dedication to the cause of political freedom which her husband symbolizes. The response of these two heroines to life is not formed so much by a groping ignorance as by an intuitive understanding of the forces that impel them to action. Their activities are not marked by the gaucheries and surges of pudency that usually characterize young innocence. Instead, they move with assurance to their fates. As literary cousins of Daisy Miller, they offer a sense of liberating humanity, a strength and moral beauty that to some extent informs James's own creation. But there is a difference: Daisy knows only a present, whereas Turgenev's heroines anticipate a future, even though over that future hangs the pall of death.
Moving back in time to Victor Cherbuliez, a French author whose heroine is actually cited in Daisy Miller and thus is the most obvious link with this tradition we are tracing, we find on examining his novel Paule Méré that the stories of James and Cherbuliez have much in common. They both explore the theme of social disorientation, examining the effects of rigid conventions on a young girl not sympathetic to them. Like Daisy Miller, Paule Méré relies for its clash of personal and social attitudes in part on regional and national distinctions, though it also derives some of its effect from the more romantic concept of the superior, liberated role of the artist in society. The male protagonists in both novels cannot resist the pressures of convention, thus exposing the unprotected heroines to the crushing power of these pressures. Both novels present a protest against these inhuman social forces, but both also contain the bitter recognition that they are invincible, destroying as they do the young innocents.
Paule Méré is the child of a Venetian dancer and a Genevan father of strict Calvinistic background, a background that informs, to an extent, Winterbourne's character in Daisy Miller. Since the paternal side of the family thought it best that the child be removed from the environment of the theater, she is given into the care of her father's parents on the condition that her mother not see her. The child is raised in this somber Geneva household, always cautioned against her tainted maternal ancestry, but always secretly drawn to the brilliant image of her mother. From her mother she has inherited a talent for and delight in aesthetic pleasures, but she is compelled to look upon them as sinful. Finding it impossible to suppress her artistic impulses, she seeks refuge with friends. Misunderstood by society and finally by the man whom she loves, she "dies of a broken heart because her spontaneity passes for impropriety" [James, Transatlantic sketches, 1888]. This innocent and ardent spirit must exist in a society whose password is Qu'en dira-t-on? She is imprudent, perhaps, but this is "la dernière vertu qu'apprennent les âmes généreuses" [Paul Méré]. For herself and those whom she loves, she insists on a faith in the integrity of one's spirit that would transcend conventions and appearances. But in the opinion of this society's religious leader, M. Gérard, Paule suffers from two incurable maladies, "le mépris des convenances et le goût du fruit défendu." Judging her most generously, this society can only say:
Voulez-vous savoir son plus grand dêfaut? Cette chere enfant a mauvaise téte. On a toujours les défauts de ses qualités. Sa droiture est cause qu'elle manque de souplesse; elle ne sait pas se plier aux circonstances ni patienter avec la vie, et quand la vie lui manque de parole, la chaleur de ses ressentiments trouble la justesse naturelle de son jugement.
In this society a young girl who respects herself can take seriously only "le tricotage, la couture et le catéchisme." It regards "l'enthousiasme, l'imagination, toute supériorité de l'esprit comme autant de dangers et de piéges tendus à la vertu." The weight of its disapprobation finally destroys Paule Méré.
But though James does give special prominence to Paule Méré, he could have found just as adequate an analogue for Daisy from the long list of feminine protagonists created by that earlier and greater artist, George Sand. He knew her novels and in his early criticism wrote admiringly of them. These heroines are often creatures of instinct and impressions, natural and simple in their responses. Rarely well-educated, they exemplify a self-learned, self-imposed creed that distinguishes them from other characters in these novels. Even Indiana, the simplest and weakest of them, has a will of iron, an incalculable force of resistance against any oppression, even to the point of death, the fate of many of these heroines. Forced back upon themselves by their unwillingness to accede to the demands of society, they have developed habits of introspection and self-examination. They are superior women in their dedication, their moral virtue, or their genius. Though rarely exhibiting great physical courage, "elles ont souvent le courage moral qui s'exalte avec le péril ou la souffrance" [George Sand, Indiana, 1948]. They are a compound of sentiment and intelligence. When they surrender to sentiment they suffer; when they are guided by intelligence they survive, but only at the risk of renouncing something cherished. To Consuelo, who embodies so much of the best in George Sand, this desire for renunciation is instinctive but is supported and made rational by her dedication to her art, an attitude congenial to James as person and as author. The situations of these heroines are often morally ambiguous. Unattached, at variance with society, they often suffer from the acts of men weaker or more conscious of convention than they. Surrounded by selfishness and intrigue, they are victimized by appearances and their own generous natures. Sometimes they succeed in retaining their social integrity, sometimes they fail, but, as their author intended, they always capture the sympathies of the reader. Unlike Cherbuliez, Sand does not make use of the International Situation, seeking no further than personal or family attachment for relevant social compulsion. Indiana is Creole, but socially this does little more than make her a provincial. Of greater significance is Consuelo's early attachment to Venice, for this city meant for both Sand and Cherbuliez an ambiance conducive to the development of the artist. It meant the same to James, though, oddly enough, it, like the rest of Italy, represents for these earlier authors a freer, more relaxed social order, whereas James finds there a sordid, cynical appearance of conformity as well.
Thus George Sand helps fill out the tradition we are tracing. But if we are to find its origins we must move beyond Sand to that other great literary feminist, Mme de Staël, who seems more clearly a seminal force, a shaper of literary trends and traditions. With her we are coming to the limits of James's interests. He mentions her less often and wrote no critical study of her; still he does make enough scattered allusions to her to indicate that he was familiar with her and her work.
Her novels Corinne and Delphine are these on the problems of the socially disoriented woman. Both novels could serve as exempla of the ironic epigraph found on the title page of Delphine: "Un homme doit braver l'opinion; une femme doit s'y soumettre." But if she must submit, still first she will always resist. This resistance is necessary, for, like George Sand, Mme de Staël intended her works as defenses of herself, as vindications of her own unorthodox opinions and actions. Consequently, in all circumstances these heroines are commendable. Even in adversity they can only be pitied, not condemned. To them, as to both George Sand and Mme de Staël, the villain must always be society.
Corinne is the literary antecedent most clearly useful to James. It is Mme de Staël's defense of the artist, stating as it does the romantic concept of the artist's inherent superiority, his strength of perception, his greater moral virtue and passionate attachment. Like Paule Méré, Corinne is of mixed nationality, thus affecting, as Cherbuliez and James do, a tension between two cultures. Her father is a British aristocrat, her mother is Italian. Though she combines qualities of both countries, she responds most evidently to Italy and its attributes of beauty, spontaneity, pleasure, and freedom. Here she can gratify her aesthetic interests and delight in knowledge. To her, Britain, in contrast, represents conventions, duty, and joyless obligation conceived of as morality. In that country a woman was thought to be of questionable virtue if she tried to assert herself, and for her efforts she could gain nothing. The opposite was true in Italy, for there Corinne was admired as an improviser in poetry and music, a talent that exemplified the imaginative élan governing her life. Accompanying this Orphic gift she had, like Faust, a desire for vast, profound learning which she could also gratify in Italy, but not in Britain. Every object that arouses Corinne's affection she can love with the same impetuous ardor, whether it be art and learning, or country, or the man she hopes to marry. With this affection she combines a constancy, an impulsive generosity that is too often misunderstood and exposes her to the disapprobation of a society which finally destroys her. This conclusion is possible because, as is characteristic of this whole literary tradition, Corinne, despite her allure and strength, cannot control the action of the novel, an action which turns not on her love for the hero, Oswald, but on the conflict he feels between his love for Corinne and his desire to obey the last wishes of his dead father. Caught between the liberating force of love and the constraint of filial obedience, he sacrifices Corinne to a conscience burdened with guilt and remorse. On her side, by surrendering to her love for Oswald, a love conceived romantically as overpowering and total, Corinne cannot forestall or turn away the fatal consequences of her devotion. Unlike Daisy, who dies a maligned innocent little aware of a threat to her freedom, Corinne is alert and committed but is also powerless in the grasp of her passion. As a victim of love, Corinne exudes an erotic sentiment characteristic of the Romantic Movement and reminiscent of a host of earlier heroines—a sentiment that, though later diminished and viewed negatively as scandalous impropriety, still informs Daisy Miller.
As support to this pervasive sentiment, a similar romanticism colors the setting of Corinne, to which James—who, like Winterbourne, could quote Byron, that symbol of social misanthropy, in the Colosseum—responded sympathetically. The Italian scene, in particular, is presented with an enthusiasm, a comprehension and sympathy, that James would have appreciated, for a relevant correspondence exists here between Corinne and Daisy Miller in both the choice of subject and its picturesque presentation. The most striking parallel is the emphasis placed on that magnet to the romantic spirit: the Colosseum. Corinne does not seek her fatal rendezvous there, as Daisy does, but she is attracted to it nonetheless, because if excites in her a confusing multiplicity of responses, all delightful to the romantic spirit. Corinne comes to it as to a church, kneeling before its huge black cross set in soil once accursed but now sanctified to the memory of the martyrs sacrificed there. There too she senses reverberations of old Rome and, among these crumbling ruins, even an escape into Nature. But no one effect dominates, for each melts into the other, especially when seen, as it is by both Corinne and Daisy, at night, the time favored by romantic devotees of this scene. At this place and time she can feel her soul "frissonne et s'attendrit tout à la fois en se trouvant seule avec la nature" [Corinne], and she can cry out in longing and ecstasy. The romantic sentiment felt for the Colosseum is still strong enough to draw Daisy to it, but the attenuation of its attraction becomes evident in Daisy's incapacity to see this somber scene as anything more than "pretty."
But the Colosseum is dangerous too, because here lurks malaria, a malignancy mysterious and inseparable from the beauty and charm of its environment. The fascination Corinne feels for the Colosseum is symptomatic of an impulse towards death to be found in the whole tradition from Corinne to Daisy Miller. This imminence of death foreshadowing the fates of so many of these heroines may be seen as perhaps the most dramatic evidence allying the tradition of the socially emancipated woman to the larger literary fascination with the gothic, erotically motivated theme of the persecuted woman. In the social evaluation with which we are concerned here, the urge towards death appears motivated by the exigencies of the victim's relation to society: society requires the sacrifice of its opponents. The larger tradition depends, rather, on a privately motivated cruelty: the villain must persecute and destroy his victim. Within the more limited tradition considered here, the tradition of the socially disoriented woman, the compulsion toward death seems to indicate a morbid scepticism about the efficacy of the individual's revolt.
As an influence on Daisy Miller, Mme de Staël's other novel, Delphine, does not seem so immediately significant as Corinne. It does, however, develop a concentration of interest upon the superior woman and her relations to society that establishes with clarity the tradition in which Mme de Staël's successors could work. Abandoning the romantic scene and the emancipated genius, the author concentrates here on Delphine as an example of natural goodness caught in the power of a society hostile to her. Delphine, an orphan and a widow, unfamiliar with a sophisticated society, schooled by her former husband to love philosophical inquiry and the natural impulses of the heart, is forced, as Mme de Staël felt she herself was, into an intimate relationship with a society she can not respect but is forced to fear. Singularly independent in her judgments, she finds it difficult to submit her sense of Tightness to the laws, let alone to the opinions, of society. If the true desire of her soul is not in accord with the proprieties of society, then those proprieties must be ignored. If she were to succeed socially she would be forced to lead a life "politiquement ordonnée" [Delphine], a life of calculated dissimulation. To live even comfortably in society Delphine must suppress everything that could distinguish her among women: her "pensées naturelles, mouvements passionnés, élans genereux de l'enthousiasme." The opinions of society are the consensus of the bourgeoisie— of mediocrity which "ne suppose rien au delà de sa propre intelligence, et regarde comme folie tout ce qui le dépasse." The author argues that in America, where Delphine's husband, M. d'Albemar, had served in the Revolutionary War, this constraint is mitigated and the laws and the customs are more humane. In part it is this spirit of revolutionary America, as conveyed through M. d'Albemar to his wife, that motivates Delphine's opposition to the society she finds in Paris. Natural, generous, impulsive, she responds as well to the liberating urge of the French Revolution. A society so freed, she feels at first, will acquiesce in her actions, motivated as those actions are by empathy and a desire to alleviate unhappiness and suffering. But she is disappointed. She is born too late. The Revolution manifested politically the personal ideals impelling Delphine into opposition to a society no longer stirred by the clarion of that Revolution. So she must die: society must claim its victim.
Here, caught up in the surge and violence of the liberating impulse rocking France, Mme de Staël projects into her autobiographical novels her sense of its significance as it affected her personally. In her, later in George Sand, transmuted in Cherbuliez, and transferred to a new scene and a new revolution in Turgenev; the impulse to freedom, the desire for individual emancipation, is continuous. What is conscious revolt in Mme de Staël becomes finally an accepted, natural, quiescently felt attitude in Daisy Miller. A revolutionary ideal has become a convention, but in the process it has changed, losing its enthusiasm and some of its power to stir men's hearts. By the time it reaches Daisy, this ideal is flattened and attenuated; it is diminished to deportment and manners. As a result, Daisy comprehends only dimly the ideal of freedom which she symbolizes.
This European aspect of Daisy's antecedents is a curious irony, considering the apparent cohesiveness of Daisy's American identification. But that cohesiveness is not the only reality of the story. What we have taken as Daisy's American indifference to propriety can also be seen as an acquisition, an adaptation of an older and larger foreign tradition. The independence she exemplifies, in part coddled in the social vacuum of the American Frontier, had also roiled up in defiance to the repressive stagnation of the more ancient, denser European social scene. If it was a response to an American ethos, it was also a revulsion from a European miasma; it was in either form an expression of a will to be free.
Thus, when a naïve, ill-prepared Daisy returns to the battleground which first gave meaning and purpose to her innocent free will, it is proper that she too resist as best she can. But it is also inevitable that, like so many heroines before her, she should be defeated by the same force that gave her, as an exemplification of this tradition, a reason for being. If she will not conform, society must punish her; it must, one could even say if he sees her death as something more than accident, claim her as a victim. For somehow we must find a justification for the enormous irony of her death. It seems something less than satisfactory to explain that death away by attributing it to chance, or to Daisy's perverse willfulness, or to Winterbourne's need to be taught a lesson. Is it not more satisfactory to accept the postulate of the tradition we have examined here and say that her death becomes a social and symbolic necessity? Writing in the American tradition that James knew, Howells had refused to recognize this necessity. In his novels he allowed those of his heroines for whom James expressed admiration a happier future with marriage and children at the end of it, and his precedent, not James's, was followed by later writers. By letting Daisy die, James allied himself to an essentially traditional, European resolution to a theme that by this time offered him the opportunity to break with it. But he chose not to and consequently succeeded in making Daisy Miller, at first so stark and slight a record of actuality, into a story of resonating cultural significance.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3146
SOURCE: "Attitude and Illness in James' 'Daisy Miller'," in Literature and Psychology, Vol. XIX, No. 1, 1969, pp. 51-60.
[In the following essay, Houghton explores the role of illness in James's novella, maintaining that many Americans visiting Europe become ill in the story "not so much because of any objective circumstances in the new environment but as a result of attitudes the Americans take toward that environment."]
Oscar Cargill's definition of James' "international novel" indicates how close James came in so many of his novels to presenting the psycho-physical experience we now refer to as culture shock. "If Turgenev had originated 'the international novel,' James was to perfect and more sharply define it. An 'international novel' is not simply a story of people living abroad, as in Hemingway's The Sun Also Rises, but it is a story of persons taken out of the familiar contexts of their own mores where their action is habitual and placed in an element, as in a biological experiment, where everything is unfamiliar, so that their individual responses can be examined" [found in the introduction to the 1956 edition of Daisy Miller]. Cargill, of course, is using the term "biological experiment" metaphorically, but in fact the experience of encountering a foreign culture where "everything is unfamiliar" often does have "biological" implications which go far beyond the physiological consequences of a mere change of climate, food, and drinking water. In James' Daisy Miller the experience of Europe affects adversely the health of a number of Americans visiting Europe, and it would appear that the Americans become ill not so much because of any objective circumstances in the new environment but as a result of attitudes the Americans take toward that environment.
The relation of illnesses to mental states in James' novels has been suggested by Napier Wilt and John Lucas: "Europe has the power to inflict pain, visit ill, work disaster only upon those Americans who arrived or remained in the wrong spirit" [Americans and Europe: Selected Tales of Henry James, 1956]. The "wrong spirit" is the belief that America is superior to Europe in about every way and that the American does well to resist, ignore, or retreat from any aspect of European life he does not immediately like. Several characters in Daisy Miller have the "wrong spirit," and as a result Europe visits ills upon them ranging from minor discomforts to a fatal disease. Those Americans like Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker, who accept Europe on its own terms, thrive while there. On the other hand, Americans like Mrs. Costello, Randolph, and Mrs. Miller take a negative attitude toward Europe. They survive their tour, although uncomfortably, by developing neurotic symptoms which keep to a minimum unpleasant or dangerous encounters with the unfamiliar European culture. Finally there is Daisy, whose sudden switch from a highly positive to a highly negative attitude toward Europe leads to her death.
Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne have the "right" attitude and remain healthy throughout the novel. Both are longtime residents of Europe. Whatever pain Europe may have inflicted upon them upon their arrival is now in the past. Mrs. Walker's health, happiness, and social success result in part from the fact that she came to terms with European culture. "Mrs. Walker was one of those American ladies who, while residing abroad, make a point, in their own phrase, of studying European society. . . . As a result of her study, Mrs. Walker has come to know the rules, she abides by them, and she cuts from her social circle anyone who endangers her own position by not following what she calls the "custom here." Like Mrs. Walker, Winterbourne is quite comfortable in Europe because while in Rome he does as the Romans do. His advice to others is to "go by the custom of the place." Winterbourne's adjustment is so complete that he apparently comes to prefer Europeans to Americans. We hear at the end of the novel that he probably will make a permanent alliance with "a very clever foreign lady."
Winterbourne's aunt, on the other hand, has not succeeded in adjusting to Europe or making Europe adjust to her, with the result that Europe is to her still a painful experience. Mrs. Costello suffers from sick headaches. A social climber who gave Winterbourne to understand that she exerted a considerable influence in social circles back home in New York, she evidently has not been socially successful in Europe. Too proud to associate with Americans touring the continent and yet not having been accepted by European society or the society of Europeanized Americans, she has developed sick headaches and withdrawn from society altogether. Upon his arrival at Vevay, Winterbourne goes at once to call upon Mrs. Costello, but "his aunt had a headache—his aunt had almost always a headache—and now she was shut up in her room, smelling camphor. . . . "
Mrs. Costello "admitted that she was very exclusive. . . ." This is her way of explaining her unconscious withdrawal to protect herself from further unsuccessful and painful social encounters in Europe. In her anxiety over her social position she has repressed her desire to enter European society. The headaches are a symptom of this repression.
Once present, the headaches become useful to Mrs. Costello. They serve as an acceptable, face-saving excuse for not succeeding in European society and for not risking further humiliations. She "frequently intimated that, if she were not so dreadfully liable to sick-headaches, she would probably have left a deeper impress upon her time." The headaches also serve to protect her from the unpleasantness of having to meet people like the Millers, whom she considers below her. Both Winterbourne and Daisy understand that Mrs. Costello uses her headaches to her advantage. When Daisy suggests a meeting between her and his aunt, Winterbourne is embarrassed:
"She would be most happy," he said; "but I am afraid those headaches will interfere."
The young girl looked at him through the dusk. "But I suppose she doesn't have a headache every day," she said, sympathetically.
Winterbourne was silent a moment. "She tells me she does," he answered. . . .
"She doesn't want to know me!" she said suddenly.
Winterbourne's reply to Daisy at this point summarizes the relation between Miss Costello's headaches and what Mrs. Costello has come to call her "exclusiveness": "My dear young lady," he protested, "she knows no one. It's her wretched health."
The three members of the Miller family in Europe suffer in varying degrees from ill health, and the illness of each appears to be related to the attitude each takes toward Europe. To Randolph the only good thing about the trip to Europe was the ship, but "it was going the wrong way." Daisy tells Winterbourne, "He doesn't like Europe. . . . He wants to go back . . . he wants to go right home." Randolph tells Winterbourne, "My father ain't in Europe; my father's in a better place than Europe." Later Randolph tells Winterbourne that he hates Rome "worse and worse every day!" Randolph's teeth are coming out, no doubt from natural causes, although Randolph blames Europe even for this: "I haven't got any teeth to hurt. They have all come out. . . . I can't help it. It's this old Europe. It's the climate that makes them come out. In America they didn't come out."
Randolph's strong disapproval of Europe, however intense, is not accompanied by deep anxieties and neurotic symptoms that occur in the travelling adults. He is too young to have arrived in Europe with any special hopes or expectations and so he is not shocked or bitterly disappointed by the fact that Europe has nothing to offer him. He is also too young for Europe to expect much from him and so he is not faced with the kind of decisions which might set up conflict within him. Still, since Randolph does want to return home, the longer he stays in Europe the more likely he too will be subject to frustrations and the development of neurotic symptoms. There is some evidence that this may be happening already. Randolph does not sleep well. Daisy tells Winterbourne that Randolph "doesn't like to go to bed" and that she believes Randolph doesn't "go to bed before eleven." Later when Daisy and Winterbourne join Mrs. Miller, the three discuss Randolph's sleeping habits:
"Anyhow, it ain't so bad as it was at Dover," said Daisy Miller.
"And what occurred at Dover?" Winterbourne asked.
"He wouldn't go to bed at all. I guess he sat up all night in the public parlour. He wasn't in bed at twelve o'clock: I know that."
"It was half-past twelve," declared Mrs. Miller, with mild emphasis.
"Does he sleep much during the day?" Winterbourne demanded.
"I guess he doesn't sleep much," Daisy rejoined.
"I wish he would!" said her mother. "It seems as if he couldn't."
Like Mrs. Costello, Randolph instinctively protects himself from Europe by keeping to a minimum his exposure to the place:
"Your brother is not interested in ancient monuments?" Winterbourne inquired, smiling.
"He says he don't care much about old castles. . . . He wants to stay at the hotel."
Mrs. Miller does not like Europe any more than Randolph, but as an adult she can not indulge in the outspoken criticism of Europe which provides some therapeutic release for Randolph. Mrs. Miller is not well, and her "illness" appears to be an adaptive symptom to keep to a minimum further encounters with foreign ways. Like her son, Mrs. Miller does not sleep well. When Winterbourne asks Daisy at one point if her mother had gone to bed, Daisy says, "No, she doesn't like to go to bed. . . . She doesn't sleep—not three hours. She says she doesn't know how she lives. She's dreadfully nervous." Later in Rome, Winterbourne says to Mrs. Miller, "I hope you have been well since we parted at Vevay," and she replies, "Not very well, sir." Randolph volunteers the information to Winterbourne that Mrs. Miller has the dyspepsia and that the whole family has it, him most of all. Mrs. Miller then blames her illness on Europe: "I suffer from the liver. . . . I think it's this climate; it's less bracing than Schenectady. . . ."
It is, of course, not the climate but the total impact of Europe upon her which causes Mrs. Miller's suffering. Her blaming the European climate reveals only her general attitude toward her total experience of the continent. That her illness is psychosomatic, caused by her negative stance toward Europe, is underscored by James in this same scene after Winterbourne has had "a good deal of pathological gossip" with Mrs. Miller and attempts to change the subject by asking her how she liked Rome. "Well, I must say I am disappointed," she answered. "We had heard so much about it; I suppose we had heard too much."
Mrs. Miller's illness stems from the anxieties attendant upon her having to face daily, even hourly, the strange and unfamiliar. She labels her illness "dyspepsia" and then uses her discomfort to ward off further pain. She withdraws from Europe as much as possible. Early in the novel, Daisy informs Winterbourne that they were all going to the Chateau de Chillon "but my mother gave out. She suffers dreadfully from dyspepsia. She said she couldn't go." Later Daisy tells Winterbourne that her mother doesn't like "to ride around in the afternoon" and on still another occasion she tells him that her mother "gets tired walking around." When Daisy and others are talking with Mrs. Walker about a forthcoming party and also about Daisy's new Italian boy friend of uncertain character, Mrs. Miller senses she is about to encounter another array of new experiences and problems she has never had to face back home. Her instinctive response, like that of Mrs. Costello and Randolph, is to retreat from danger: "I guess we'll go back to the hotel." She and Randolph do so, leaving Daisy to face alone a decision which turns out to be a life and death matter.
The picture James gives of Daisy's psycho-physical state in Europe is quite different from that of the others. The novelties of Europe charm rather than threaten her. Consequently, she has no occasion to be anxious and she does not develop the neurotic symptoms which insulate Mrs. Costello, Randolph, and Mrs. Miller from Europe. Daisy, on the contrary, is "carried away" with enthusiasm for Europe and wants to widen rather than narrow her experience of the place. Until very near the end of the story she enjoys good health. When she does finally become ill, her illness is not a protective psychosomatic symptom which comes from within, but a disease contracted from without. Her fatal illness, however, does resemble the illnesses of the others in one important way: it is causally related to a negative attitude she finally takes toward Europe.
Mrs. Costello, Randolph, and Mrs. Miller develop neurotic symptoms which prevent their experiencing Europe in any significant way. While they will return to America as innocent and ignorant of Europe, as they were when they arrived, at the same time they do survive to return. Daisy's lack of apprehension over surface differences, on the other hand, allows her to enjoy Europe and good health for a long time, but her health and happiness last only until she discovers, with startling suddenness, a fundamental difference between American and European values which she can not accept. Unlike the others whose ailments help to spare them from any direct confrontation with Europe, Daisy, with a father in America and a mother back at the hotel with dyspepsia and with no knowledge of the realities of European traditions and taboos, unknowingly drifts into a crisis situation unprecedented in her experience.
The crisis comes in the scene in which Daisy is about to take a walk on the streets of Rome in the company of the questionable Mr. Giovanelli. Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker know that what Daisy is about to do is dangerous from many points of view, but their warning to her is put so delicately that Daisy does not get their meaning. She understands that considerable pressure is being put upon her not to walk with Giovanelli, but she does not understand why. She thinks they may be concerned over her health. Before Mrs. Miller left for the hotel, she had warned Daisy, "You'll get the fever as sure as you live. Remember what Dr. Davis told you!" When the more sophisticated Mrs. Walker tells Daisy that walking at this "unhealthy hour" under these circumstances is "unsafe," Daisy still thinks she is talking about catching Roman fever. Daisy does not realize that Mrs. Walker is speaking metaphorically and is warning her against doing something which would not only be potentially dangerous to her health but which also would be damaging to her reputation. Mrs. Walker then makes her meaning explicit: "You are old enough, dear Miss Miller, to be talked about."
In one terrible moment Daisy understands what all the fuss has been about. She understands for the first time the full sexual and moral implications for Europeans and Europeanized Americans of what she is about to do. It is a traumatic and psychologically violent moment for Daisy. She is at once confronted with the facts of European life and the facts of life in general, facts which she had previously been ignorant of or had unconsciously avoided. A gradual unconscious withdrawal from her dangerous and painful predicament is not an alternative open to Daisy. It is an either-or matter: she must either walk with Giovanelli or not walk with him, and the decision must be made here and now on the streets of Rome with Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker on one hand and Giovanelli on the other awaiting her decision.
Shocked, outraged, and hurt by her discovery, Daisy is in no state of mind to weigh the matter carefully and deliberately. As Frederick Hoffman points out, decisions made under such circumstances are likely to be impulsive and irrational, even self-destructive:
An uninhibited drive toward satisfaction of unconscious wishes (or expenditure of libidinal energy) would lead to death. The wish needs instruction in the shock of reality; if the character of the inhibition is moderate, the shock will lead to readjustment; if the reality is too suddenly and too brutally enforced, the effect will be a traumatic shock, leading to one of several forms of compulsive behavior.
Daisy chooses complete freedom rather than cultural and moral relativism and walks with Giovanelli. It is the dangerous rather than the protective choice and her walk leads to illness and death.
Daisy's resolve to make a moral principle out of not comforming to European customs finally leads her to the scene of her most daring indiscretion, the Roman Colosseum. It is there she receives through Winterbourne the final condemnation by society of her character and it is there she contracts the malaria which leads to her death. The causal relationship between her death and her attitude toward Europe is clear, since Daisy would not be in the Colosseum with Giovanelli at this unhealthy hour if she were not intent on flouting European standards of conduct.
In this climactic scene, the contrast between sickness and health is used ambiguously by Daisy and Winterbourne to refer both to Daisy's physical state and to her moral condition. When Winterbourne first sees Daisy there, his first thought is of "the craziness, from a sanitary point of view, of a delicate young girl lounging away the evening in this nest of malaria" and he warns her of the great danger she is exposed to. But since Winterbourne is also much concerned with and aware of Daisy's moral state, he is also telling her that he thinks she is being corrupted by this Roman and that she will suffer from this. He tells Daisy that "you will not think Roman fever very pretty. This is the way people catch it." Since Daisy's discovery of the realities of European culture came through her ultimately understanding metaphorical meanings, particularly those related to health and sickness, she is now alert to the double meaning in Winterbourne's warning and answers him in kind: "I don't care . . . whether I have Roman fever or not!" But Daisy is very fond of Winterbourne and still cares about his opinion of her. She wants him to know that he has been mistaken to judge her morals by her manners, her character by appearances only. Extending the metaphor further, she conveys this final message to him: "I never was sick, and I don't mean to be! . . . I don't look like much but I'm healthy!"
What Daisy says is true only in the sense she is still innocent sexually, but she has by now contracted malaria and so is fatally ill. James' novel also suggests that anyone who ignores or defies society to the extreme that Daisy did is "sick" also in the psychological sense, sick even unto death.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4155
SOURCE: "Frederick Winterbourne: The Good Bad Boy in Daisy Miller," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 1973, pp. 139-50.
[In the following essay, Kennedy examines the character of Winterbourne, concluding that he is puritanical and hypocritical]
As James Gargano pointed out in his excellent article, "Daisy Miller: An Abortive Quest for Innocence," critical attention has concentrated obsessively on the heroine of James's most popular nouvelle and has consequently ignored the fact that its central character is, in fact, Frederick Winterbourne [South Atlantic Quarterly, Winter, 1960]. From the time of John Foster Kirk's denunciation of Daisy Miller as "an outrage on American girlhood" [found in Gargano's essay] the debate over the character of Daisy has rolled on inconclusively, but as soon as one recognizes that the only character in the story whom we see from the inside is Winterbourne, and that it is through him that we receive most of the evidence upon which any judgment of Daisy must be based, it becomes obvious that what one thinks of Daisy is to a large extent dependent on and in any case secondary to what one thinks of Winterbourne.
Gargano regards Daisy as a ficelle who "exists to test Winterbourne's ability to grow beyond his hitherto narrow and one-sided state into a fully realized human being," and the story as the drama of his attempt and ultimate failure to overcome the conditioning of Calvinistic Geneva such that he can acquire the ability to recognize, believe in, and appreciate that state of natural innocence, the existence of which is denied by the Puritan ethical code of the Europeanized Americans in Geneva and Rome. In "The Genteel Reader and Daisy Miller" [in American Quarterly, Fall, 1965]—the best essay yet written on the work—John H. Randall III argues persuasively that Winterbourne is James's vehicle for a scathing satirical attack on the inhumane and sentimental mores of "the genteel nineteenth-century American Puritan reader," that all Daisy wants is to be treated with the consideration and respect due to any human being, and that instead of this she elicits from Winterbourne snobbish cruelty and a heartless exclusion from human sympathy. [In his article, published in the American Quarterly, Fall 1965] Randall sees these reactions of Winterbourne to Daisy as the result of an "over-indulgence in the picturesque which gives him a distorted view of reality and helps prevent him from acting like a man," and from the failure of Winterbourne to treat Daisy as a human being he extrapolates his theory that James is attempting to reveal the extent to which the values of his genteel readers are savagely inhumane rather than, as they imagine, cultured and civilized.
Both Gargano and Randall regard Winterbourne, therefore, as a representative figure. Gargano sees him as sufficiently less rigid than his aunt and Mrs. Walker to be capable of redemption from their stultifying code of respectability, and for Randall he is the embodiment of the distorted values not only of the Europeanized Americans, but of Daisy Miller's original American readers in general. Yet James expends considerable energy in the first half of the nouvelle depicting the individual characteristics of his protagonist, and although Winterbourne does perform a representative function to some extent, most of the interest and significance of his relationship with Daisy derives from those very aspects of his character and attitudes which deviate from the norms embodied in Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. Any attempt to categorize Winterbourne as a representative type must, therefore, both logically and in justice to the care with which he is characterized, begin with his individual attitudes, personality, and behavior. Indeed, it is in his individualistic interpretation of the code of behavior which Daisy ignores, rather than in any strict conformity to it, that he reveals himself to be in some ways both a more vicious and, as far as Daisy is concerned, a more dangerous character than anyone else in the story.
From the start there is an ambivalence about Winterbourne which arouses uncomplimentary suspicions about him. He lives in Geneva and has "an old attachment for the little metropolis of Calvinism" where he has made and kept "a great many youthful friendships," so one assumes that he does not find the Puritan mores of the city and its inhabitants in any way oppressive. Yet we learn simultaneously that he is "extremely devoted" to an older, foreign lady who lives in Geneva, and "about whom there were some singular stories." It appears, therefore, that Winterbourne, although attached to the center of Calvinism, is having an affair there, an affair, moreover, which he and the lady concerned are at pains to hide from any degree of public exposure since "Very few Americans—truly I think none—had ever seen this lady." And so, beneath an outward appearance of conformity to the social conventions of the Puritan ethic, Winterbourne hypocritically pursues his individual sociomoral freedom.
This inconsistency in his character is evident again immediately after the narrator has given us the background information about him. Daisy's brother, Randolph, approaches Winterbourne and asks for a lump of sugar: "Yes, you may take one," he answered; "but I don't think too much sugar is good for little boys," a comment which reflects in miniature Winterbourne's own situation in Geneva, and simultaneously shows us for the first time the stiff pomposity of his speech. It is revealing to compare the ensuing conversation with Randolph, who, as his mother later says, is not much like an infant, to the dialogues between Pemberton and Morgan in The Pupil; Winterbourne suffers by the comparison, for, unlike Pemberton, he consistently talks down to the boy and treats him as an object of amusement rather than as a person. This is apparent again a few pages later when, during his first conversation with Daisy, Winterbourne uses Randolph to elicit information about his sister. The description of this—Winterbourne learned more about her "by catching hold of her small slippery brother and making him stand a few minutes by his side."—does not in itself reflect too badly on Winterbourne, but in retrospect it can be seen as the first of a series of occasions on which he uses people, without regard for their own wishes, to attempt to insinuate himself into Daisy's favor.
He uses his aunt's name and the promise of an introduction to her to persuade Daisy that he is respectable and a gentleman; then, when Mrs. Costello refuses to associate with the Millers, we are told that:
for a moment [he] almost wished her sense of injury might be such as to make it becoming in him to reassure and comfort her. He had a pleasant sense that she would be all accessible to a respectful tenderness at that moment.
In other words, he sees the possibility of using the rejection for the same purpose as he had intended to use the promised introduction, and the passage continues: "He felt quite ready to sacrifice his aunt—conversationally"; "conversationally," but no more, for to sacrifice her further than in conversation behind her back would be to preclude the possibility of being able to use her again, in some way or another, in the future—capital should be invested, not squandered. It may seem at first appearances rather extreme to view Winterbourne's feelings for his aunt in this harsh light, but we are never given any reason to suppose that he has any affection for her, rather the opposite since he is prepared "to admit" to Daisy that "she was a proud rude woman," and the only reason given for his attendance on her is that "He had imbibed at Geneva the idea that one must always be irreproachable in all such forms," especially, one suspects, if that aunt is "a widow of fortune." When he first meets Mrs. Miller Winterbourne's first recorded observation of her, an assumption that "she opposed such a course" as the projected excursion to Chillon, is immediately followed by: "but he said to himself that she was a simple easily-managed person and that a few deferential protestations would modify her attitude." Again, the wishes, desires, approval or disapproval of the other person have no influence on Winterbourne, whose only interest in them is to discover the easiest way to prevent them from obstructing his pursuit of his own pleasure, and it is noticeable that he intends to use his manners and cultivated speech, "a few deferential protestations," to overcome Mrs. Miller's supposed disapproval. Finally, at the Castle of Chillon, Winterbourne tips the custodian generously with the desired result that he "ended by leaving them quite to themselves"; an arrangement of no great significance in itself, but noticeable as yet another example of Winterbourne's habit of using people in a manner that is superficially harmless, but basically unscrupulous. It is clear, moreover, that both his moral hypocrisy and his repeated exploitation of others are used by Winterbourne primarily to establish and maintain himself in such a position in his relations with women that he can enjoy a far freer degree of intercourse with them than either society, or he himself, in public, would possibly condone.
Although illegitimate children and clandestine love affairs are a constant feature of James's novels, he is delicate, often to an exasperating extent, in his treatment of sexual matters. It would take a psychologist to explicate properly Winterbourne's sexual character and its probable behavioral manifestations in any given context, but there is sufficient evidence for even the nonspecialist to see that, in keeping with the contrast between his appearance of social conformity and his hidden deviance from Puritan norms of behavior, the respectable surface of Winterbourne's attitudes and behavior towards Daisy covers a licentious nature which he reveals several times despite his efforts to suppress it. John Randall has shown how Winterbourne's inhumane social behavior is a result of his viewing reality with the warped vision of a Puritan romantic, and this same characteristic makes him, in sexual terms, superficially and in his own view of himself, a gentlemanly romantic lover, a gallant knight clad in the armor of righteousness, but in reality a potential sexual monster who regards Daisy "as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs," as she herself puts it, or, in other words, as an object to be sexually devoured.
In the original edition of Daisy Miller it is said early on of Winterbourne that "He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it." In the New York edition, however, this sentence has been amended to read: "He took a great interest generally in that range of effects [Daisy's complexion, nose, ears, and teeth] and was addicted to noting and, as it were, recording them." The substitution of "great interest" for "great relish" weakens the sentence in a manner which James cannot have recognized, for the irony of the statement is subtly suggested in the original contrast between the lip-smacking, fleshy word "relish" and the subsequent claim that this interest in women is limited to the esthetic and intellectual activities of observation and analysis—which itself seems unlikely in a twenty-seven-year-old male. The real key, however, is that we already know that Winterbourne's attentions to women are not limited in this way, for he is having an affair with an older woman; and although it is the narrator who asserts that his interest is in observation and analysis it seems reasonable to take this as Winterbourne's own view of the matter, for it is characteristic of his practice of self-deception.
Perhaps what is most revelatory of Winterbourne's social and sexual attitudes towards people is his reductionism. Just as he speaks to the precocious Randolph as "little boy" in the abstract, as it were, and instantly classifies Mrs. Miller as a "simple, easily-managed person," so his most constant occupation throughout the nouvelle is his attempt to find the appropriate formula for Daisy Miller. When he acknowledges at the end that he has made a mistake with regard to her, he means simply that his final classification of her as a young lady "about the shades of whose perversity a foolish puzzled gentleman need no longer trouble his head or his heart. . . . That once questionable quantity . . . was a mere black little blot" was a mistake, and that she was in fact a "nice girl" after all. But this mistake is of little importance, for the real error of judgment is the assumption that one can reduce people to the level of objects with appropriate species labels, and Winterbourne is puzzled by Daisy simply because the individuality which she shares with all other human beings is given, in her case, such strong outward expression that we can see that his reasoning about her is inevitably wrong because it is based on a false premise. Winterbourne himself never perceives this fact, and so he returns, symbolically, to Geneva at the end of the story.
But why is Winterbourne so obsessively determined to categorize Daisy in the first place when his interest clearly extends beyond what would be aroused by an anomaly in his mental filing cabinet? It seems clear that he is from the first strongly attracted to her sexually. He is very struck by her physical charms; he jumps at the chance to take her to Chillon and is insistent to the point of indiscretion, in view of the presence of Mrs. Miller, that she carry through the proposal of a row on the starlit lake. But Daisy confuses and perplexes him because he conceives of women as belonging to three types; they are "low," in which case they may command one's sexual attention in private, but not one's public recognition or respect; or they are ladies, or "nice girls," who command one's respect but with whom sexual relations are impossible; or, thirdly, they are "persons older than Miss Daisy Miller and provided, for respectability's sake, with husbands—who were great coquettes; dangerous, terrible women with whom one's light commerce might indeed take a serious turn." This third type again reveals the hypocritical double standard which Winterbourne observes; the husbands provide outward respectability while the wives engage in amours, and the tone and phrasing of the last clause suggest that Winterbourne regards a man's liability to become involved with such women in a rather fatalistic way; there is no suggestion that one should take physical or mental steps to avoid such entanglements and, indeed, one assumes that Winterbourne's own "foreign lady" in Geneva is in this class.
In the middle of his first conversation with her Winterbourne "was inclined to think" that Daisy is "a pretty American flirt"; and as she accepts his proposal to go with him to Chillon and in turn proposes that he take her for a row, his estimate of her character becomes increasingly light. As his aunt says when he refers to Daisy as "a very innocent girl," he does not himself sound convinced of this. "She is a young lady," says Mrs. Costello, "who has an intimacy with her mamma's courier," and Winterbourne pounces on the last phrase and repeats it as a question in a way which suggests that his interpretation of the word "intimacy" is as extreme as possible, which is a reflection of his idea of Daisy's character. And again and again in the first half of the story it is made clear that Winterbourne already regards Daisy as a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer respect, but whom he has no intention of avoiding, rather the opposite. He reveals this when he asks his aunt to confirm his notion of Daisy as "the sort of young lady who expects a man sooner or later to—well, we'll call it carry her off." Mentally comparing Daisy with his "pretty cousins in New York" whom he has heard described as "tremendous flirts," but whom Mrs. Costello would never dream of allowing to go on a sightseeing expedition with a young man without the company of a chaperone, he decides that "she did go even by the American allowance rather far"—the reader is left to make his own estimate of how much Winterbourne thinks, and clearly hopes, "rather far" might be. When Daisy and her mother retire for the night Winterbourne is left feeling very puzzled, "but the only very definite conclusion he came to was that he should enjoy deucedly 'going off with her somewhere." The next morning, we are told, Daisy has appointed to meet him in the hotel lobby, which is not "the place he would have chosen." We learn further that "he could have believed he was really going 'off with her," that he would have preferred the greater intimacy of a private carriage to the public steamer by which she chooses to travel, and that he is worried lest she embarrass him socially by talking loudly, laughing too much, and wanting to move around the boat.
Three conclusions emerge from this evidence. Firstly, Winterbourne decides, despite his protestations to Mrs. Costello, that Daisy is not a nice girl and consequently he procedes to try to treat her as one treats such women; that is, he wants to meet her and travel with her privately rather than publicly, since in public she might embarrass him, all the world can see that they are together, and there is less possibility for intimacy. Secondly, having reduced Daisy to a representative of a familiar type, having, by observation, satisfactorily analyzed her, his interest in her should, theoretically, cease to exist, since his interest in women is supposed to be esthetic and intellectual, but instead, on the contrary, he now starts treating her as an object for the gratification of his own sensations—the freight for his skiff and a female whom he feels no compunction about lying to about the existence of his lady friend in Geneva. Thirdly, he has wish-fulfillment mental images of Daisy as the object of an abduction and of himself as the abductor, and far from appearing cheerful and jolly on the trip to Chillon he is so preoccupied with this autoerotic image of himself that Daisy comments on his appearance of gravity and says: "You look as if you were taking me to a prayer-meeting or funeral."
[In his Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960] Leslie Fiedler has argued that Daisy is an example of the archetypal character, "the Good Bad Girl," who is always, whatever she does, essentially "virginal though indiscreet." Examined from the same angle Winterbourne may be classified, by analogy, as the Bad Good Boy, whose external behavior is so proper that the rigidly strict Mrs. Costello is "greatly pleased with him," but whose repressed libidinal instincts and romantic self-deceptive, squinted vision of reality makes him potentially a very dangerous character with whom no careful mother would be wise to trust her daughter.
Only two characters in the story, however, ever give any sign of recognizing Winterbourne for what he is, Mrs. Costello, and, interestingly enough, Daisy—but then Daisy, innocent or not, is in the best position to judge since she is the object of Winterbourne's sexual attention. In the course of his first conversation with his aunt, Mrs. Costello warns Winterbourne:
I really consider you had better not meddle with little American girls who are uneducated, as you mildly put it. You've lived too long out of the country. You'll be sure to make some great mistake. You're too innocent.
To which Winterbourne "protested with a laugh and a curl of his moustache, 'My dear aunt, not so much as that comes to!'" Whereupon she quickly and acutely retorts: "You're too guilty, then!" And Winterbourne does not reply. Later that evening Daisy proposes the row by starlight which Winterbourne so pressingly insists on accomplishing, and when she gives up the project and retires instead to bed her parting words to him are: "I hope you're disappointed or disgusted or something!" which is exactly how one would expect Winterbourne to react; disappointment in the loss of the sensation of guiding "through the summer starlight a skiff freighted with a fresh and beautiful young girl," disgusted at being disappointed, and also, superficially and in accordance with his professed respectibility, disgusted at the whole idea in the first place. Again, in Rome, when Winterbourne accuses Daisy of being a flirt and then expresses the wish that she would "flirt with me, and me only," she replies perceptively "you're the last man I should think of flirting with. . . . you're too stiff," for a man like Winterbourne cannot flirt, he cannot enter into a relationship with any woman in a light-hearted way because, as a Puritan romantic, his consciousness of sex is too intrusively obsessive. Finally, Daisy's apparently casual characterization of Winterbourne in the Colosseum as "one of the old lions or tigers" who ate the Christian martyrs again reveals her recognition, which may be subconscious, of his potential sexual ferocity.
This study has concentrated on the first half of Daisy Miller because it is at Vevy that the character of Winterbourne is revealed. What happens in Rome follows up the character delineation by showing how such a person behaves in a given set of circumstances. James Gargano has written: "In the presence of Daisy's critics, he [Winterbourne] defends her in a manner which reveals a desire to strengthen his own faltering belief in her." It is clear that Winterbourne's defense of Daisy is ambiguous and unconvincing, but it seems that this is because although he himself unconsciously disbelieves himself, his conscious mind has to produce some justification of his continuing interest in her as a substitute for the sexual truth which the Puritan consciousness refuses to recognize. Similarly, he justifies to himself an intense dislike of Giovanelli, which is in reality simple sexual jealousy, by immediately classifying him, although unjustly as it turns out, as "a music-master or a penny-a-liner or a third-rate artist," and the jealousy which is the hidden motive for this vituperation of the cavaliere avvocato (gentleman lawyer) is revealed in Winterbourne's next words "damn his fine eyes!" His attempts to defend Daisy before her critics may also be seen, therefore, as a subconscious refusal to give up his own sexual hopes of Daisy, for as long as her relations with Giovanelli can be seen as innocent there is still a chance for Winterbourne, but this is complicated by the fact that he cannot believe Giovanelli to be innocent also, and he attributes to him his own licentiousness; hence the unconvincing nature of his defense of Daisy's conduct. When he finds them together in the Colosseum at midnight these attempts to convince himself collapse and, in keeping with his character, his sexual jealousy breaks out in scornful contempt of the object of his frustrated attention, not because he now regards Daisy as a low woman, for he has done this all along, but because he is convinced that Giovanelli's relationship with her is sexual, and that his own sexual ambitions have consequently been frustrated irrevocably.
Finally, the discovery of Daisy's innocence causes Winterbourne to feel ashamed of himself. He expresses this as a failure to recognize that "she would have appreciated one's esteem," in other words he recognizes that she was, after all, a lady, or "nice girl," and therefore to be respected, or esteemed. He still fails to realize, however, that his guilt feelings, which he broods over intermittently all winter, drive from his having pursued as a sexual object one who turned out to be a lady, or one of the sexually untouchables; "She would have appreciated one's esteem" is, therefore, once again his conscious reason for a feeling the real roots of which are more complex.
It seems unlikely that James realized what sort of person he was creating in the character of Winterbourne, and it is probable that he set up the ambivalence in his personality in order to use him as a vehicle for an essentially social theme, as Gargano and Randall suggest. But man is a sexual as well as a social animal and it is natural that Winterbourne's sexual as well as his social nature should be revealed in a study of his relationship with a pretty young girl. Sociomorally he is a hypocrite whose conformity to the Puritan ethic and social code of "respectability" is a public display of virtue beneath which he practices his private vices. It is consistent with this character, therefore, that he should display the same pattern in his sexual nature. Outwardly he is a gentleman, romantic but asexual, with whom any virgin should be safe on a desert island, but the mask of the Puritan romantic hides the fires of a repressed libido which seeks to devour the objects of its sexual attention as the lions and tigers of old did the Christian martyrs. In contrast to Daisy, the Bad Good Girl, he is the archetypal, dangerous Good Bad Boy.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3636
SOURCE: "'Daisy Miller': The Reader's Choice," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 17, No. 3, Summer, 1980, pp. 275-83.
[In the following essay, Kirk examines stylistic aspects of Daisy Miller, focusing on James's use of ambivalence in the characters of Daisy and Winterbourne.]
Any overview of the past century's critical responses to Daisy Miller reveals a radical shift in readers' sympathies with its characters. The genteel American audience of James's day was outraged and insulted by Daisy's liberated behavior, but modern sensibilities identify Winterbourne as the principal offender against human decency. They accuse him of being everything from an emotional cripple to an unfeeling criminal, and now count Daisy as his almost innocent victim.
This change of allegiance can be explained, of course, by a shift in cultural attitudes towards women and manners in general, and by the increased perceptiveness of modern interpreters. But the present critical consensus should by no means be considered the final assessment of the characters' relative worth. In Daisy Miller James has designed a story that will continue to challenge readers interpretive skills and cause their attitudes toward Daisy and Winterbourne to vacillate for a considerable time to come.
The author has constructed this study to promote his audience's confidence that they can choose the right side in the contest between the central characters. James flatters their discernment by providing a variety of literary allusions that are distinctly uncomplimentary to Winterbourne. Mrs. Costello's request that her nephew bring her that "pretty novel of Cherbuliez's—Paule Mëré—" is a delicate revelation that Winterbourne's aunt, and by extension Winterbourne, read books with the same insensitivity that they read people.
For the reader upon whom nothing is lost, James begins and ends his story with certain Byronic allusions which reflect negatively on Winterbourne for his attitude and conduct toward Daisy. Their tour of the castle of Chillon reminds one not only of Bonnivard, the Genevan freedom fighter, but also of "The Prisoner of Chillon." Byron's Bonnivard, freed from six years' confinement, ends the poem expressing these sentiments about his release:
At last men came to set me free;
I ask'd not why, and reck'd not where;
It was at length the same to me
Fetter'd or fetterless to be,
I learn'd to love despair.
And thus when they appear'd at last,
And all my bonds aside were cast,
These heavy walls to me had grown
A hermitage—and all my own!
And half I felt as they were come
To tear me from a second home:
With spiders I had friendship made,
And watch'd them in their sullen trade,
Had seen the mice by moonlight play,
And why should I feel less than they?
We were all inmates of one place,
And I, the monarch of each race,
Had power to kill—yet, strange to tell!
In quiet we had learn'd to dwell;
My very chains and I grew friends,
So much a long communion tends
To make us what we are:—even
I Regain'd my freedom with a sigh.
James surely intends one to identify Bonnivard's ambivalent attitude toward his imprisonment and emancipation with Winterbourne's own preference for a repressed emotional life. The American expatriate's brief escapade with Daisy at Chillon is the only real departure from his wonted life style, and ironically, he must free himself from Daisy before being reshaped in his accustomed mold. If Winterbourne has learned to love the spiders and mice of his Havisham world, how will he ultimately view the healthy Daisy except as an intruder on his privacy? Or going one step further, if, like Byron's Bonnivard, he has begun to coexist peacefully with the creeping things of darkness, Winterbourne may have actually become inimical to creatures of light and life.
James rounds off Daisy Miller by associating Winterbourne with Manfred's reminiscence of the Coliseum by moonlight. The evocation of another Byronic hero this time serves by contrast to highlight Winterbourne's timidity. His fear of contagion from the Coliseum and his general unwillingness to hazard faith in Daisy clash nicely with Manfred's daredevil posture. But Manfred also resembles Winterbourne to the extent that Byron's protagonist has in some mysterious way killed a woman he loved, "Not with my hand, but heart, which broke her heart; / It gazed on mine, and wither'd." James goes to some pains to show the murderous effect of Winterbourne's callous remark to Daisy that "it makes very little difference" what he formerly thought about her or her supposed engagement to Giovanelli. Daisy's reply that she no longer cares whether she has Roman fever or not indicates at least a broken will, if not a broken heart.
Although it takes a careful and experienced reader to catch these clues which James plants as evidence against Winterbourne, once observed, the author's literary intelligence appears to have indicted his protagonist on a charge of criminal homicide. But Winterbourne's harsh treatment from recent critics and from James as well still does not convict him or close his case. Murder is a serious accusation, and the too reticent Winterbourne deserves to have his side fairly heard.
In fact, James also provides some basis for his defense. At the very least, a good lawyer might plead Winterbourne's crime as involuntary manslaughter rather than premediated murder, and at the very most, an exceptional advocate could move for dismissal of the charges against Winterbourne on the grounds of self-defense, indeed, justifiable homicide.
To prove Daisy a dangerous and predatory American female is difficult because all the evidence for or against her, of course, comes to the reader at second hand, some of it hearsay. In addition, those characters who speak or act against Daisy, like Mrs. Costello or Mrs. Walker, are portrayed as distinctly unpleasant snobs. Still, James does make it possible to view Daisy as a girl on the make who selfishly attempts to use Winterbourne to satisfy her social and psychological needs.
When we first encounter Daisy at Vevey, we learn that before her encounter with Winterbourne, she has had little contact with European society; she has been unable to attract the attention of gentlemen. But by his response to her aggressive and unpredictable behavior, particularly over the proposed moonlight row to Chillon, Winterbourne accidentally reveals to Daisy the way to achieve what she wants. In a sense, this puzzled and fascinated young man is her first successful experiment on the continent, and since her provocative behavior works on him, she presses her strategy as far as possible, both in Vevey and later in Rome.
This is a natural role for Daisy because she is a spoiled child, used to having her own way, and much like a grownup version of Hawthorne's Pearl, she cannot be made "amenable to rules" either. She does not seem capable of an outright quarrel with social strictures and can only be genuinely shocked by Mrs. Walker's cold shoulder. She has not realized how unacceptable her behavior has become. But she does know how she got her first gentleman and obstinately presses her initially rewarding strategy too far. Daisy loses the attention and "esteem" of Winterbourne, whose admiration and solicitude she perhaps needed the most. In a social sense, he could, by his association, provide her with the respectability that she had sacrificed for the sake of her strategy.
Daisy also tries to use Winterbourne to compensate for certain emotional and intellectual deprivations that she has suffered. First, Daisy has been indulged completely in a material sense, but is obviously very much ignored by both her absent father and her mother, who has been "invisible" until forced to give her daughter "the advantage of her society" as Daisy is dying. Obviously, the center of attention is her untamed brother, Randolph, whom she finds "real tiresome" because he limits the family's activities in Europe. Randolph is "very smart" and intended for college. Whatever Daisy's intellectual limitations, she has not been sufficiently educated to give Randolph instruction even though he is only nine. Daisy requires Winterbourne's guiding devotion and well-educated authority to make up for what she has been denied by her parents. "Daisy went on to say that she wished Winterbourne would travel with them and 'go round' with them; they might know something, in that case." As the sophisticated interpreter of the European scene, he can be her sympathetic mentor.
But Daisy is the classic case of a personality who, having been denied so much, demands too much by way of compensation. She not only tantalizes Winterbourne to gain his attention, but she also tries to remake him in her own image. Whatever good Daisy might do Winterbourne by relaxing his stiffness and lowering his public inhibitions is merely incidental to Daisy's need to reduce a detached authority figure to an undisciplined passion. In addition to using her relationship with Giovanelli to make Winterbourne jealous, on one occasion after another Daisy gibes Winterbourne about his stiffness and formality. When he finally bridles a bit, Daisy replies that if she had "the sweet hope of making [him] angry," she would taunt him further. Since Daisy's own absence of restraint can be attributed to her parents' lack of guidance, what better revenge than to inflict her own weakness on an agent of power and control? Winterbourne, then, is potentially useful to Daisy not only as a source of needed affection and attention but also as a surrogate target for her aggression against uncaring authority.
When Daisy finds that she cannot manipulate Winterbourne completely and he rejects her as immoral, she behaves exactly like the spoiled child, who, unable to have its own way with its parents, threatens them by endangering itself—by holding its breath or hitting its head, for example. Going to the Coliseum in the first place and then not caring whether she has Roman fever or not are just such self-destructive tactics, but in this case, the child hits its head too hard and dies.
Daisy, however, nearly manages to control Winterbourne from her grave in the Protestant Cemetery. The occasion of her death and funeral allows Giovanelli to reveal her innocence and Winterbourne's mistake. But Winterbourne's real error is not recognizing that Daisy is too infantile to meet the requirements of adult sexual behavior; he does not see that her needs are more and less than sexual. But Winterbourne at least reasserts his own maturity when he returns to Geneva and "a very clever foreign lady," who suffers neither from the emotional or intellectual stuntedness of Daisy Miller.
Winterbourne's only other error in regard to this typical American girl is having no fear of her and thinking her a "very light young person." "I may affirm that with regard to the women who had hitherto interested him, it very often seemed to Winterbourne among the possibilities that, given certain contingencies, he should be afraid—literally afraid—of these ladies; he had a pleasant sense that he should never be afraid of Daisy Miller." But the very affection that Daisy inspires in him simply makes Winterbourne more vulnerable to her vengeance against the authority that he represents to her. The observation of Winterbourne's "cynical compatriot" that pretty American women "were at once the most exacting in the world and the least endowed with a sense of indebtedness" perfectly describes Daisy's dangerous ambivalence to her suitor. Her needs for emotional and intellectual stimulation from sources of power appear to be insatiable and are incompatible with her simultaneous desire to take revenge on authorities who neglect her.
Viewed from this psychological vantage point, Daisy could well be an unpredictable and dangerous little beast with an appetite for expatriate American males. James at least has not allowed her to remain the completely innocent Christian martyr eyed by the Winterbourne lion in her own flattering simile. "'Well, he looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs!'" Daisy herself appears to be more tiger than lady.
I have played the devil's advocate here not to exonerate Winterbourne, nor to strike an even balance in the evidence of the case, nor even to adjust a certain bias in recent criticism of the tale, but to indicate that James has given his reader another side to be on. However, the variety or validity of readers' efforts to form alliances with the characters of Daisy Miller is not nearly so important as the method which the writer uses to provoke his audience to make such choices. Involving readers in fiction is for James more than simply appealing to individual temperaments. Inquiring into possible responses to Adam Bede, he writes:
In every novel the work is divided between the writer and the reader; but the writer makes the reader very much as he makes his characters. When he makes him ill, that is, makes him indifferent, he does no work; the writer does all. When he makes him well, that is, makes him interested, then the reader does quite the labour. In making such a deduction as I have just indicated, the reader would be doing but his share of the task; the grand point is to get him to make it. I hold that there is a way. It is perhaps a secret; but until it is found out, I think that the art of story-telling cannot be said to have approached perfection.
James does make the reader of Daisy Miller labor, and his method of doing so may illustrate a nearly perfect storytelling technique.
The novelist's strategy consists first of interlacing Daisy Miller with strong suggestions of order and explanation which tempt the audience to make deductions and arrive at solutions regarding the events and characters of the tale. Its characters are radically opposed, its plot is straight-forward, and its settings are clearly delineated. James's readership is immediately confronted by the story's two-part structural clarity. Geneva's association with a constricting Puritanism set against the expansive and sensuous richness of Rome presents the audience with a choice of contrasted settings. Perhaps Vevey, as a kind of middle ground, suggests compromise or resolution of opposites.
In addition, Daisy Miller exhibits three thematic layers; a reader can quickly discern its social, moral and psychological levels. In even succession, questions arise over Daisy's etiquette, her reputation, and finally her motives. And as previously pointed out, James's well placed literary allusions appear to stress the moral corruption of certain characters in contrast to the natural virtues of another—a favoring of American over European values reinforced by the author's use of some obvious symbolism present even in the names of characters, "Daisy" and "Winterbourne." Daisy Miller invites its audience to focus selectively on or among two or three well-defined alternatives.
Clearly, an initial contact with the story can inspire a reader with the confidence to attempt an interpretation; however, James also puts up strategic barriers against comprehension. He includes disorienting and disorganizing ingredients that prevent a sense of final resolve or satisfaction in the audience. The author obfuscates matters by making everything in the tale happen in the distance of Winterbourne's perspective. And Winterbourne is not reliable—he is confused about Daisy; Daisy is confused about Europe; and Giovanelli, Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker all misjudge Daisy. The difficulties which the characters have correctly perceiving the actors and events in their story both create and mirror the reader's own stumbling blocks to understanding Daisy Miller.
Nor is the nouvelle's setting as substantially constructed as it might first appear. James's introduction of the "Trois Couronnes" at Vevey is excessively roundabout. Initially, this unnamed hotel is only one of "an unbroken array of establishments . . . of every category, from the 'grand hotel' of the newest fashion, with a chalk-white front, a hundred balconies, and a dozen flags flying from its roof, to the Swiss pension of an elder day, with its name inscribed in German-looking lettering upon a pink or yellow wall, and an awkward summer-house in the angle of the garden." Then, from this jumble, James singles the establishment out as being more luxurious and mature than its neighbors. It is like an "American watering place," but then it is not. Indeed, when it is finally labeled the "Trois Couronnes" with all that title's association with orthodox numeration and hierarchy, the narrator introduces a nameless "young American" and does not know whether his protagonist is more concerned with the analogies between the "Trois Couronnes" and American hotels or the differences between them. Clarification alternates with muddle, and certainty with ignorance so that even in the outward exactness of the story's opening description, James has managed to blur the identification of part of the setting as well as Winterbourne's sense of national affinities.
But if Winterbourne is confused about American characteristics and personalities, we might assume that his extensive European experience has enabled him to understand and deal accurately with a variety of international environments. Instead, Rome seems to bring out the very worst in Americans, like Winterbourne or Mrs. Walker, conditioned in any way by Geneva's precepts. The "bloom and perfume" of a Roman spring gives a Calvinistic predisposition to see the worst in human nature all the excuse it needs to do so, and thus, Winterbourne misconstrues a fallen Daisy. The neat arrangement of James's setting in fact provokes disordered impressions for both the author's characters and his readers.
Distinct thematic elements also merge with disturbing results for the reader who tries to maintain a grip on them. "'They are hopelessly vulgar,' said Mrs. Costello. 'Whether or no being hopelessly vulgar is being "bad" is a question for the metaphysicians. They are bad enough to dislike, at any rate; and for this short life that is quite enough'." And if Mrs. Costello mixes the story's social dimension with the moral, Winterbourne's lame efforts to understand the real Daisy after she is ostracized by her compatriots ends in a jumble as well. "He was angry at finding himself reduced to chopping logic about this young lady; he was vexed at his want of instinctive certitude as to how far her eccentricities were generic, national, and how far they were personal. From either view of them he had somehow missed her." Winterbourne's question could well prompt the reader to inquire whether Daisy Miller is public comedy or private tragedy. But as her erstwhile suitor is deaf to the true Daisy, even the most refined critical ear misses a dominant tone for her multifaceted history.
In light of these many discordant elements, it should be obvious by now that any interpretive stance for or against either Daisy or Winterbourne, no matter how temporarily satisfying, cannot stand up to thorough scrutiny for long. The best that can be said for my elaborate case against Daisy, for example, is that James includes just enough suspicious evidence to warrant a psychological investigation, but the substantiation of specific charges against her must depend on my own imaginative justification. Likewise, of course, efforts to make a solid case against Winterbourne must follow the same uncertain procedure as my speculative use of Byronic allusion.
James's strategic presentation of the characters, settings, and themes of Daisy Miller gives the reader just enough suggestion of possible interpretive solutions to pull him into a trial analysis of the tale. But almost simultaneously, the author disconcerts that same reader and playfully pushes him away from any fulfilled sense of having completely understood his thematic intentions for the story. Then, out of what must be a sense of increasing frustration, the reader may, without any actual justification, supply his explanation of the tale's significance. Thus, by initial fascination or final frustration, James manages to "interest" or engage the reader of Daisy Miller with what is, secret or not, highly effective story-telling.
Although this literary strategy could not serve for a figure in the Jamesian carpet (his later style added another dimension to his art and could repel or attract readers almost entirely by itself), the author's stratagem in Daisy Miller is like an interworked pattern in some mosaic which must be observed from a certain angle to be visible. James's successful trompe d'oeil can only be understood as a process which the reader experiences through a progressive interaction with the tale. If one were to stand away from the story and view it critically after the fact of close reading, the figure would disappear. One would be left merely with a static perception of competing values; one would tend to downplay the forces of disorientation in the work or write them off as enriching ambiguities or ironies. And one might inevitably be lured into an ethical judgment of Daisy Miller's characters and certain convictions about James's attitude towards them.
But perhaps we have all along had more respect for James's reputation for authorial detachment and impersonality than many critics of Daisy Miller. Or perhaps we have already been convinced of the limitations that must be placed on testing fictional characters by standards applicable to fully responsible human beings. What we do not sufficiently understand, I think, are the tactical maneuvers which novelists, even very detached ones, employ to tempt readers to treat fictional constructs as real people, literary meanings as actuality. I have attempted to reveal one such strategy employed in Daisy Miller, but this strategy is so successful at creating a sense of "felt life" in the story that readers will be drawn back again and again to adjudicate the claims for and against Daisy and Winterbourne, for and against naive extroversion or sophisticated introversion. Suggestions of symmetry and order will urge them on, just as the ever-present agents of disorder will make their certainties and conclusions but temporary conjectures. James has arranged that the critical reader of Daisy Miller, just as much as Winterbourne, is "'booked to make a mistake'," and this reader, also like Winterbourne, could easily remain unaware of the real sources of his error.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1693
SOURCE: "Early James: Social Realism and the International Scene," in Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction, Twayne Publishers, 1990, pp. 12-35.
[In the following excerpt, Hocks maintains that Daisy Miller is truly the story of the making of a Europeanized American.]
Finally, the best known and perennial favorite among James's early stories is Daisy Miller (1878), a nouvelle that like "Madame de Mauves" employs third-person narration focused on a viewpoint character of "register." It occupies a special place in his canon for several reasons. First, its notoriety and popularity made James for a brief moment in his career a popular writer: Howells could have a character in The Rise of Silas Lapham refer casually to "Daisy Millerism"; society was even said by Howells to divide into "Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites"; and James was frequently identified on the title pages of his later novels as the author of Daisy Miller. The story, published in Cornhill Magazine by Leslie Stephen (Virginia Woolf's father), was pirated immediately, sold twenty thousand copies in pamphlet form in a few weeks, and spawned a play and even a Daisy Miller hat. The reason for this early and enduring interest is that James had fully identified and staked as his imaginative territory the plight of the international American woman whose free-spiritedness flouts European respectability. He also had focused swiftly on the antagonism between Daisy and the Europeanized "gang" abroad and had rendered convincingly the "moral muddlement" of the expatriate American Frederick Winterbourne, James's viewpoint character and a man attracted to Daisy's "natural elegance," yet who eventually sides with her antagonists, Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello, both Europeanized Americans. Newly abroad from Schenectady, New York, Daisy's principal "crimes" are that she ignores class structures and customary behavior, whether at Vevey or in Rome, and both speaks and walks freely with whomever she likes, in essence treating all she meets as equal human beings. Eventually she dies of malarial or "Roman" fever after exposing herself through evening walks in the Colosseum with Mr. Giovanelli, a simple man disapproved of by the ardent American colony of matrons who assume custodial standing over Daisy and her family and who define expatriate morality. Daisy thus dies a sacrificial victim like the Christian martyrs who have preceded her.
To tell the story this way, however, is to fail to represent James's skillful complication of the conflict, his dialectical inquiry, or at least what has been called his "middle point of view." The key to any sophisticated reading along the line James intended is to focus as well on Winterbourne, since his is our point of view, whereas Daisy remains, as she should, the "phenomenon" into whose consciousness we are not permitted to enter, yet whose continual and insubstantial "chatter" and love of a "fuss" qualify her stature otherwise as free spirit and genuine expression of nature opposed to artificial forms of respectability. Both Winterbourne and Daisy are in James's language "queer mixtures" of contradictory elements and "booked to make a mistake" with each other because the reactions of each to the other are culturally and socially predetermined. He lives in Geneva and has lived in Europe since a boy of twelve, about the same age as Daisy's rambunctious brother, Randolph. Daisy's beauty and natural good taste in clothes no less than her enthusiasm and spontaneity do not change the fact that, like her mother and her absent, "downtown" father too busy working to come abroad, she inhabits an intellectual vacuum: mother and daughter in central and southern Europe can share as conversational topics only Randolph's antics and Schenectady's Dr. Davis, and Daisy believes Europe is "nothing but hotels." Although much attracted to her, Winterbourne recognizes eventually that she is "nothing every way if not light"—a "lightweight" in Jamesian lexicon usually meaning someone without sufficient consciousness. Daisy's own "queer mixture" incorporates her "natural elegance," commensurate with the flower for which she is named, and it includes her nighttime martyrdom symbolized by the same flower, the "day's eye," which is eclipsed at night; but it also comprises her "chatter," stubbornness, foolishness, and, on occasion, a sort of tactless crudity. The emphasis in Daisy Miller remains at the level of social determinism, and it is in that respect fundamentally what its companion tale immediately following it is called, "An International Episode," but with an extremely crucial difference necessary for grasping James's internationalism. In Daisy Miller he portrays the conflict and mutual misunderstanding that arises not between Americans and Europeans but between the "natural" American free spirit and the complicated response to that spirit by the Europeanized American, Winterbourne, who is at once attracted and repelled by it, as well as by the other Europeanized Americans who are merely repelled and think Daisy "of the last crudity" and a "little abomination."
In fact, Winterbourne's tale, if as James's "register" it is his tale—is really about the making of a Europeanized American, his ultimately siding with Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello against Daisy, his rejection of his own attraction to her "natural elegance" or what he earlier calls her "queer little native grace." That sad and deleterious process of rejection completes itself by the very end, when he returns to Geneva and to a "very elever foreign lady," the antithesis of a Daisy Miller. His name of course insinuates such moral culpability, for the chilly Winterbourne does in a real sense "kill" the innocent and vulnerable Daisy, especially when he espies her at the Colosseum with Giovanelli and turns against her: Daisy herself cries out, "Why it was Mr. Winterbourne. He saw me and he cuts me dead!"—her colloquialism doubling as James's metaphor for the death of a flower. Winterbourne's moral failure is underscored by James in numerous ways, including the young man's eventual reaction of "horror"—the very word used of Daisy by Mrs. Costello early on—and also his "relief" at finally deciding that Daisy "had no shades [and] was a mere black little blot." Shades and nuances comprise a virtual microcosm of James's own epistemology and aesthetic practice, and therefore as "register" Winterbourne's relinquishing of "shades" at this critical moment in the story in effect pits him against everything James stands for as a writer and humanitarian sensibility.
There are very many other such instances where James's verbal patterns serve to indict Winterbourne. He himself admits that he has "lived too long in foreign parts" when he realizes from the lips of Mr. Giovanelli, ironically the one real European of the story, that Daisy was "the most innocent." One of the innumerable verbal signifiers for Winterbourne's flawed character occurs when James with exquisitely deceptive simplicity says of him that at the Colosseum he sought "a further reach of vision, intending the next moment a hasty retreat." This is yet another instance in James of "reflexive" or "ricochet" language: for while the literal meaning is that Winterbourne intends to leave the monument quickly lest he become infected with the malarial disease, the deeper meaning, conveyed in subsidiary metaphor, is that in the course of his story Winterbourne first expands his "vision" by his positive response to Daisy and then "retreats" from his enlarged horizon by rejecting her. In point of fact, James drives home this kind of moral reflexivity when he writes of Winterbourne's Colosseum repudiation of Daisy's "shades," "He stood there looking at her, looking at her companion too, and not reflecting that though he saw them vaguely he himself must have been more brightly presented." Any reader who assumes this is only a description of Winterbourne's visibility in moonlight simply does not comprehend James's Emily Dickinson-like layering of the figurative within the literal. Not only is the young man "shown" in the fullness of his own moral deformity, he even fails to realize that Daisy at that moment is visually enshrouded in the tenebrous "shades" he has just now abruptly denied to her character.
Although Daisy Miller remains a comedy of manners, James's later revisions coat it with a symbolic and poetic overlay, one that not only emphasizes her charm and spontaneity and the disagreeableness of her censors, but also stresses her obvious ties to nature, ties that, inevitably, also betoken her subjugation to its laws and processes. The "Roman fever" or "miasma" she catches in her innocence is worldly evil, which is pervasive, whether she knows it or not. Her instincts against conformity are most valid when she tried to coax Winterbourne out of his "stiffness," just as his are most valid when he senses that, with all her vibrant parts, she yet fails to "compose." It is not Daisy's directness, her fresh beauty, or obvious lack of ulterior design in her negotiations with people, any more than, say, Billy Budd's, that tell against her. Rather, she is unfortunately as devoid of a real inward life, as she is of any guile. That void is filled up instead with capriciousness, chatter, and the unexamined desire for a "fuss." Daisy's will is at once strong and weak by virtue of the indistinctness of her aims and the absence of any critical reflection of them.
Thus the story remains a true dialectical inquiry from the early James and a penetrating examination of the internationalism that would be the hallmark of his finest novels throughout his career. Although it remains implicit, the iconography of this tale and of James's international theme tells us that nature requires art, activity and energy require meaning and consciousness, innocence requires experience, freedom demands an awareness of life's limitations, and spontaneity must always inhabit a world of history and custom. James's great early success in Daisy Miller with his distinctive social realism and his figure of the young American woman does not prevent our seeing in retrospect that we have also a case of quasi-tragedy through cultural implantation; or, to put it another way, a social comedy of errors with a darkening and lyric edge. This retrospective view is also reinforced by our awareness that in The Portrait of a Lady Henry James was soon to deepen his generic Daisy Miller type into Isabel Archer and make her, rather than a male character, the reflecting consciousness of her own "history."
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7389
SOURCE: "Reassembling Daisy Miller," in American Literary History, Vol. 3, No. 2, Summer, 1991, pp. 232-54.
[In the following essay, Wardley explores the role of flirtation in Daisy Miller.]
There is only one way to improve ourselves, and that is by some of us setting an example which the others may pick up and imitate till the new fashion spreads from east to west. Some of us are in more favorable positions than others to set new fashions. Some of us are more striking personally, and imitable, so to speak. But no living person is sunk so low as not to be imitated by somebody.
When, at the end of the nineteenth century, critics of the "New Woman" discovered in her the features of the androgyne—the person who "flirted with hermaphroditism"—their description might have applied just as well to the person who grew up alongside her, the male or the female adolescent. In this essay I argue that Henry James's Daisy Miller: A Study (1878) figures forth in Daisy the androgynous body constructed in popular nineteenth-century accounts of adolescence. If, as Frederick Winterbourne sees it, Daisy Miller oscillates between masculine and feminine identifications, she also oscillates between American and alien, savage and citizen, parvenu and natural aristocrat. Set in Switzerland and in Rome, Daisy Miller chronicles the behavior of Americans abroad. But it also depicts a displaced landscape of North American immigration and the nativist's anxiety about the American girl's intimacy with a handsome Italian. Although Daisy's "archetypal," near "mythic" influence has long been recorded, as has her migration from nouvelle to etiquette manual, no study has sufficiently accounted for her staying power as an American type. Part One of this essay begins to reinterpret Daisy Miller's impressive reach by suggesting that her story be read in light of certain transformations in education in the postbellum and post-Darwinian US. Part Two attempts a more detailed explication of Daisy Miller to show that as Winterbourne steps in to reeducate the flirtatious Daisy, she elicits anxieties about cultural difference (with "her mystifying manners"), sexual difference ("and her queer adventure"), and the integrity of the "American Man." Part Two begins with the controversy surrounding female flirtation into which James's "pretty perversion" was received.
Although William and Henry James agreed that the way to educate the American character was to become a person whose example works "contagiously in some particular," they appear to have disagreed over the methods of their own childhood education. In A Small Boy and Others (1913), Henry compares the flood of random impressions "picked up" while roaming unchaperoned among the "society, manners, type, characters, possibilities and prodigies and mysteries of fifty sorts" in Paris to the supervised Swiss schooling he was to receive in Geneva.
Such were at any rate some of the vague processes—I see for how utterly vague they must show—of picking up an education; and I was, in spite of the vagueness, so far from agreeing with my brother afterwards that we didn't pick one up and that that never is done, in any sense not negligible, and also that an education might, or should, in particular, have picked us up, and yet didn't—I was so far dissentient, I say, that I think I quite came to glorify such passages and see them as part of an order really fortunate.
Henry's autobiographical reflection, like William's description of the psychology of imitation from his Talks to Teachers (1892) above, has its place within a greater transformation in the model of education in the US, a transformation chiefly associated in the antebellum period with the philosophy of Horace Mann, but strongly informed at a later date by the evolutionary science and social thought characteristic of the fin de siècle. As the education historian Lawrence Cremin reminds us [in his American Education, the Metropolitan Experience: 1876-1980, 1988], virtually every field of knowledge came under the influence of science in general and Darwinism in particular at the century's end, and pedagogy was no exception. Having abandoned the Calvinist doctrine of innate depravity and its emphasis on conversion, and having adopted a meliorist vision of the plastic character of children, progressive pedagogical reformers incorporated neurological and physiological accounts of human evolution into their studies of the effects of nurture, instruction, and the environment on the developing child. In The Child and the Republic, Bernard Wishy identifies Jacob Abbott's best-selling Gentle Measures in the Management and Training of the Young (1871) as a transitional text, one exemplifying specific changes in nurture books between 1860 and 1880 and legitimating child study by marshaling what seemed to be the "impressive evidence of evolution." While "bad tendencies" in children might stem from hereditary predispositions, "bad habits of action" followed from inadequate or unwholesome training. According to the neo-Lamarckian evolutionary doctrine informing much of the optimistic nurture literature, proper habits instilled in children through proper training would gradually be organized as instincts, ultimately passing by transmission to the next generation as permanent improvements. The nature of the child's future—and the perfectibility of "the race"—hinged on the process of the child's development, and no student of that process could now overlook either the body's inheritance or what, more crucially, the "young of the human species . . . first a young animal . . . then a young human" picked up.
Abbott's Gentle Measures precipitated many systematic and highly specialized institutional studies of the child.
The psychologist G. Stanley Hall, perhaps best known for his two-volume study of adolescence (1904), published the pamphlet The Study of Children in 1883, the popularity of which helped to foster local child-study clubs which gradually expanded into organizations like the National Congress of Mothers (1897). A national "child-saving movement," identified by at least one historian as a middle-class moral crusade, extended the child-reformer's power outside of the private home to rescue and restore "the spirit of youth" sapped by "the city streets." The child-savers, Anthony Platt informs us, whose targets were the "urchins," "wayward waifs," and "problem children" of the urban environment, borrowed from the medical profession the "imagery of pathology, infection, immunization and treatment," and constructed the categories of juvenile "dependency," "delinquency," and "deviance" with the assistance of the pseudoscience of nineteenth-century American criminology.
The rhetoric of the child-saving movement drew attention to the role of the body in contracting the "contagion of character." But the physical image of character-building as contagion carried within it certain liabilities, among them the possibility that those who are "effectively contagious," those in a position to "inoculate seventy millions of people with new standards," may mistakenly pick up a "vicious fashion or taste." James's protestation to his brother Henry that an education should "have picked us up" reveals his reliance on the intervention of the sufficient, and the sufficiently charismatic, model. Abbott too had already recorded that it was "not the arguments" that affected the impressible child "but the person who led them"—the person, progressive philosophers G. H. Mead and John Dewey would later agree, the child "wished to resemble." But, as Karen Halttunen points out [in Confidence Men and Painted Women: A Study of Middle-Class Culture in America, 1830-1870, 1982], undesirable individuals were no less infectious or imitable than those considered proper models; "evil influence" was publicized by some antebellum moralists as endemic to urban settings and so potent "that a young man could be contaminated merely walking the streets." By the end of the century, analogies drawn from medical science offered an "increasingly plausible idiom in which to formulate . . . almost every aspect of an inexorably modernizing world," from prolonged exposure to industrialization to the effects of immigration. [In Talks to Teachers on Psychology, and to Students on Some of Life's Ideals, 1958], William James and his colleagues concluded that modern American subjects had unprecedented opportunities to form "bad habits," "bred of custom and example, born of the imitation of bad models"—like the bad habits that had already produced in "our characteristic national type" an appalling "absence of repose." Prescribing an antidote to the "wear and tear and fatigue" of American life, James also offers his more general formula for the mechanism of social evolution in the absence of desirable models: "Become the imitable thing." If calm is your ideal, and if you seek "harmony, dignity and ease," then "individually achieve calmness and harmony in your own person." If you do, then "you may depend upon it, that a wave of imitation will spread from you, as surely as the circles spread outward when a stone is dropped into a lake."
But the kind of orderly human improvement psychologists like James were describing suddenly faced a more unpredictable obstacle in the impressible students themselves, more specifically, adolescents. Although Hall's two-volume work Adolescence: Its Psychology and Its Relations to Physiology, Anthropology, Sex, Crime, Religion and Education (1904) was, his biographer reminds us, probably the first systematic study of puberty in the modern world, the components of Adolescence were already considered commonplace at the time of its publication. If childhood was characterized by a great plasticity in psyche and physiology, a self "susceptible to drill and discipline," adolescence was considered a volatile stage of development, a stage Hall associated with the changes determined by evolution. While in Hall's recapitulationist scheme the child "comes from and harkens back to a remoter past," and between ages nine and twelve relives an "old and relatively perfected stage of race maturity," adolescence (from about fourteen to twenty) interrupts this time in "paradise." The adolescent is "neo-atavistic," and in him or her not only do the "later acquisitions of the race," like the social instincts, "slowly become prepotent", but male and female within an individual body and psyche "struggle for prepotency."
This process has a peculiar resolution with startling implications: where boys pass through puberty, girls never entirely leave adolescence—or its gender struggle—behind. Woman, "at her best, never outgrows adolescence," and, in turn, adolescence is so identified with femininity as to be classified the "feminine stage." Arrested in her development, a woman is something of an immature man; this, Hall believed, links her to the members of the "adolescent races," for example, Indians and blacks, who "in most respects, are children, or, because of sexual maturity, more properly, adolescents of adult size." Adolescence is ineluctable, but this does not mean that it always unfolds according to plan; the storm and stress of female periodicity in particular, understood in terms of disequilibrium and physiological crisis, demanded special surveillance. Thus Hall contributed his influential voice to an argument favoring sexual segregation in education and a unique curriculum for girls that took the dynamics of the menstrual cycle into account. He also called for the rehabilitation of maternal care and supervision, having noted that the American daughter has been left to pick up "her cue" on her own. Criticizing mothers and daughters both, Hall addressed at least three historical changes in modern American life: the increasing presence of mature, native-born, middle-class women in extra-familial occupations and professions; the demand for identical educational opportunities for the sexes; and the novel appearance of adolescents as an independent social group in urban environments, a group whose members posed a challenge to their elders' authority. As historian Joseph Kett observes [in Rites of Passage: Adolescence in America, 1790 to the Present, 1977] the group typically embodying the greatest threat to the established order was a group of adolescent boys ("lads from fourteen to twenty-one" are the "busiest instigators" of lawless conduct). Yet much attention was paid to the potential of wayward female adolescents to jeopardize the future of "the race," which inherits its tendencies from them.
Studies like William B. Forbush's The Boy Problem: A Study in Social Pedagogy (1902) or The Boy and his Gangs (1911), by J. Adams Puffer, (two texts introduced by Hall) do reveal a vocational investment on the part of child-savers—particularly the so-called boys-workers—in the psychodynamics of the masculine experience of adolescence. Yet at least part of this interest remained in the feminization implicit in the adolescent process, a feminization suffered by "street arabs" and the James brothers alike. At stake in the James brothers' debate about the methods of their own European education is the issue of the dangers posed to unsupervised males at the stage in their development when "cohesions between the elements of the personality loosened" and "perversions multiplied." What risks are run when the evolving human male himself passes through adolescence, the "feminized stage" of development? What consequences are imagined, for Henry James, in pursuing an education in Paris "splendidly 'on my own'" (Autobiography)? If Richard Poirier is right that William James's advocacy of culturally marginalized subjects (mystics, mental patients, saints) reflects the psychologist's attempt to "release himself, and the rest of us, from any settled, coherent idea of the human," we might ask how the figure of an unsettled, incoherent gender identity complicates this attempt. Or, as it is expressed in Daisy Miller: A Study (1878), how does an adolescent American flirt affect an American man, who, in attempting to reeducate her, is reacquainted with the marks of a familiar struggle?
The itinerary of Daisy, who explicitly "'picks up'" not only a "good-looking Roman, of vague identity" but also a particularly "terrible case of the perniciosa" as she travels unchaperoned in Rome, dramatizes the "vague processes of picking up an education" that the novelist recollects, and his brother repudiates. A product of his boyhood schooling in Geneva and now a resident alien of that city, the "American man" Frederick Winterbourne determines that the "name" of American flirts of the Daisy variety is "incoherence." "She was composed," he notes, "of charming little parts that didn't match and that made no ensemble." Daisy Miller is alternately "innocent," "ignorant," "uncivilized," and "crude." She suffers from a "want of finish," but Winterbourne flatters himself that she comes to Europe, and to him, as to a finishing school. Daisy's little brother Randolph, an "urchin of nine or ten," must also be saved. Although with his "pale complexion" and "poor little spindle-shanks" Randolph resembles an urban beggar—"'Will you give me a lump of sugar?' he asked in a small sharp hard voice"—Randolph is not a criminal but a victim. Like his sister's, Randolph's education has been unsystematic and peripatetic; he has been subjected to a broken string of "foreign" tutors when he has not been left to get his lessons "in the cars." With a voice "immature, and yet somehow not young," the small boy exhibits all the symptoms of an unwholesome precocity. With a mother who embodies a "very different type of maternity" from that of the matrons to whom Winterbourne is accustomed, the uncivilized Miller children are metonymically linked to a number of types he regards as sinister—the parvenu, the alien, the savage, to name only three—and they possess strange manners and customs. But as long as he reads in even "so 'strong' a type" as Daisy not intractable difference but negligible training ("it was only her habit, her having no idea whatever of form . . ."), he remains committed to the project of Daisy's improvement. When he concludes that Daisy is, after all, perverse, and of a "perversity" pathogenically represented as a "black little blot," he retreats to Geneva.
The potential illegibility of cultural or national or class affiliation makes characters like Winterbourne anxious. He is introduced in the promiscuous international setting of a comfortable Swiss resort that could pass for an inn at Saratoga, where German waiters resemble "secretaries of legation," Russian princesses mingle with Polish tourists, and he himself is mistaken for a German by Daisy, unpersuaded that he is a '"real American'." But it is less the apparent portability of class or national or ethnic characteristics—the possibility that anybody, even the ignorant Daisy, can pick an identity up and assume it in masquerade—than the instability of gender that confuses the American man. Daisy's European tour is the rite de passage of an aspiring young woman of her class. This rite of conspicuous acculturation loses none of its significance as a passage into adult sexuality: for not only does the tour prepare her, like a regimen of etiquette lessons, for a well-made match, but Daisy's itinerary also obliquely represents what Freud would later describe as the "difficult development to femininity"—before the libido, that is, has "taken up final positions." To suspect that Daisy Miller is as yet incoherent or incomplete is to suspect that the "charming little parts that didn't match and that made no ensemble" are not only the parts of her dress or speech. "We may not know exactly what sex is," Havelock Ellis would conclude [in The Psychology of Sex, 1933], "but we do know that it is mutable, with the possibility of one sex being changed into the other sex, that its frontiers are often uncertain, and that there are many stages between a complete male and a complete female." Winterbourne's suspicions help to explain his "odd attachment" to the "little capital of Calvinism" and his ultimate preference for a hermeneutics in which a "perversity" of Daisy's order can have no ambiguous gray "shades."
Daisy's physiological riddles and contradictions are complemented by her "fearful, frightful" flirtations. In Daisy's particular case, the oscillations and indirections of flirtation correspond to what Ruth Bernard Yeazell refers to [in the Yale Journal of Criticism, 1989] as the "imagined indirections of female desire," moving always, in Ellis's words, "in a zigzag or a curve." According to Yeazell, the courtship plot that structures certain nineteenth-century English novels also informs the findings of Charles Darwin and Ellis, who would discover "inscribed in Nature a familiar narrative of courtship—a narrative about female resistance and female choice." For Darwin and Ellis, Yeazell explains, feminine courtship behavior is dictated by the "sexual modesty of the female animal," a modesty rooted in her "sexual periodicity" and expressive of the (biological) fact that the "time for love is not now." If we leave behind momentarily the sexologists' evolutionary explanation to seek a more local motivation for Daisy's oscillations, one presents itself not in the organic changes in the maturing female body but in the cultural demands those changes occasioned in the nineteenth-century US. [In Dimity Convictions: The American Woman in the Nineteenth Century, 1976] Barbara Welter has already recognized in Daisy the "archetype of American adolescent girls" reluctant to submit to the initiation into adult womanhood sometimes referred to as "'breaking the will' of the wayward tomboy" by curbing her behavior and "calming her down" around the time of menarche. Poised, like Louisa May Alcott's Jo March, on a liminal threshold, Daisy Miller resists the forfeiture of an unchaperoned autonomy as a single American girl for what she suspects is the "dreadfully pokey time" of a married American woman.
But in Winterbourne's eyes, Daisy oscillates not so much between two gendered roles as between two gendered bodies. It is to sexual difference or, more properly, the failure of sexual difference that Winterbourne's gaze returns, reinforcing Alexis de Tocqueville's observation that gender is the linchpin of the social and political, as well as the psychical, organization of the democracy, a preventive of promiscuous mergings. In studying Daisy (he was "addicted to noting, and, as it were recording, her nose, her ears, her teeth"), Winterbourne adds to, as he himself evinces, a "girl fetish" in the postbellum US, the widespread cultural project Martha Banta has defined as "imaging American women." There is of course more to this project than fetishism. But in responding to Daisy's adolescent incoherence by attempting to assemble her "charming little parts," Winterbourne does seem to seek reassurance that his own coherence—imagined as a final sexed subjectivity—is unassailable. '"It is well for the world,'" William James noted, '"that in most of us, by the age of thirty, the character has set like plaster and will never soften again'." Mr. Winterbourne, Daisy says of the twenty-seven-year-old man, has "no more 'give' than a ramrod." His completeness is here marked, as I have said, by a fixed sexed subjectivity. But to begin to question that fixity, as the mere appearance of the apparently mutable Daisy seems to, is to begin unsettling his identity with respect to more than sex. As Randolph Miller vivaciously inquires, '"Are you an American man?'"
With the publication of Daisy Miller: A Study, Henry James contributed indirectly to changing conceptions of education in the US by emphasizing both the role of the evolving body in the educational process and the volatile character of the adolescent experience. Daisy Miller is of course better remembered for its contribution to the controversy surrounding the cultural practice of flirtation in modern urban environments. As Daisy Miller dramatized the pedagogical problem of picking up influential, imitable models, Daisy Miller was appropriated by numerous social critics as a negative model of the American girl who flirts with "any man she can pick up." Flirtation, like education, operates in the manner of contagion, as Daisy "picks up" a lethal case of Roman Fever along with Mr. Giovanelli. Flirtation puts the body at risk of exposure to noxious influences, literalized in the malaria ("bad air") to which Giovanelli is immune. Although it takes place in Europe, James's narrative of 1878 offers a setting for examining the cultural conditions in the metropolitan US, when the opportunities for multiethnic or interracial affiliation and amalgamation—expressed in Daisy's presumed flirtation and eventual "intimacy" with the Roman man—radically increased. So, too, in the context of the Woman Movement, did the opportunities for public exercises of a potentially autonomous feminine will. It was not that coquetry had been previously unequivocally regarded or that it was not perceived to have (sometimes fatal) consequences. It was, rather, that near the end of the nineteenth century the imagined content of those consequences changed, and female flirtation, like female education, became a subject worth studying.
In the early twentieth century, sociologist Georg Simmel considered flirtatious behavior a form of power and devoted an essay ("On Flirtation," 1909) to flirtation's contemporary significance. Simmel cites an anonymous French sociologist who argues that flirtation might derive from the "ancient . . . phenomenon of 'marriage by abduction,'" or it might be the novel product of the "advance of culture," wherein the "large increase in the number of provocative phenomena"
[has] produced an erotic repression in men. It is simply not possible to possess all of the attractive women—whereas in primitive times, such as [sic] abundance of attractive phenomena just did not exist. Flirtation is the remedy for this condition. By this means, a woman could give herself—potentially, symbolically, or by approximation—to a large number of men, and in this same sense, the individual man could possess a large number of women.
Men engage in flirtation, but to flirt means to be able to refuse and concede at once, and "refusing and conceding are what women, and only women, can do in a consummate fashion." After Darwin, we can understand flirtation as the "consummation of the sexual role that belongs to the female throughout the animal kingdom: to be the chooser." The "oscillating impulses" of the female of the species betray her reluctance to close the deal, for in the act of making the deal women are, momentarily, the "masters." This mastery is temporary and its contradictory logic—"saying no and saying yes"—is a kind of temporizing.
For when a woman flirts, Simmel writes, she flirts with freedom and power: "nce she has decided, in either direction, her power is ended."
Simmers "On Flirtation" contributed to an ongoing conversation about the place of flirtation in the history of female oppression, a conversation sustained in part by feminist intellectuals. In one view, flirtatious female behavior strategically resisted, however temporarily, male prerogatives; from another vantage point, flirtation indicated a pernicious social condition. Charlotte Perkins Gilman's 1898 evolutionary analysis of the white middle- and leisure-class woman's "sexuo-economic" position assumes that flirtation and self-ornamentation—women's speech, body language, and dress—are the products of our "peculiar inversion in the usual habit of species," in which the "males compete in ornament and the females select." Flirtation is not the mark of the female's role as the chooser, but an indication that her role has been usurped. Where once men and women were equals in the economic relation, women are now kept by their mates. Coquetry, outré self-ornamentation, even the fetishization of such body parts as the ankle and foot—these are all the means to the female's end of attracting the male on whom she relies for her very survival. Gilman's commitment to Lamarckian evolutionary thought led her to the conclusion that the feminine weaknesses which arose from these conditions would pass through maternal transmission to the next generation, gradually degrading the entire race. Gilman's solution was economic independence for the female of the human species, her full participation in the industrial market outside the "painfully inadequate limits" of the private home. It would follow from this that the self-supporting female of the future would redefine femininity itself. Thus the women of the Utopian landscape of Gilman's Herland baffle the visiting bachelors who find them not at all "provocative"; their ornamentation and dress, the male narrator notes, "had not a touch of the come-and-find-me element."
Daisy Miller's behavior exhibits either the self-determination of the flirt ("'I've never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me or to interfere with anything I do'") or the illusory nature of her mastery. James's study of the "specimen" Daisy appeared to some grateful advice-givers to be prescriptive; it inoculated "innumerable" American girls, who "learned more from it than they would through a volume of well-intentioned maxims." Although William Dean Howells notes with regret that by 1880 Henry James had wiped all the charming Daisys off the face of Europe ("In 1870 you saw and heard her everywhere on the European continent; in 1880 you sought her in vain"), the author of Good Manners for All Occasions, Mrs. Sherwood, was unsentimentally relieved to report two decades later that Daisy Miller is "almost an extinct species."
But identifying Daisy's genus and educating by her bad example was not the only cultural work Daisy Miller performed; it also offered instruction in the classification of other differences as readers studied along with Daisy something like an ethnography of human types. In her salon Mrs. Walker collects "several specimens of diversely-born humanity" to serve as the "text-books" in Daisy's training, in hopes that the American girl will soon "instinctively discriminate" against the "unmistakably low foreigners" among whom she now ignorantly selects. If Daisy hears Winterbourne refer to Giovanelli as "that thing," the reader knows the Italian as an "it"—"it had a handsome face, a hat artfully posed, a glass in one eye and a nosegay in its buttonhole"—or sees him segmented, almost zoologically, into parts: "flashing teeth, all manners and a wonderful moustache." But here the naturalist's voice is interrupted by the language of manufacture; so consciously assembled are the Italian's traits that he can be "set . . . in motion," as if wound by a key: "[H]e curled his moustaches, and rolled his eyes, and performed all the functions of a handsome Italian at a dinner party." Like ethnic markers, the grammar of class seems easy to read; the description of Daisy's garrulous mother owes something to the phrenological system, and it anticipates Thorstein Veblen: her "unmistakable forehead" is "decorated with thin, much-frizzled hair" perched above a "dead waste of temples," and she wears "enormous diamonds" in her ears. Daisy is introduced to the arcane and silent symbolics of the ladies of Mrs. Costello's expatriate Protestant tribe. Mrs. Costello's sick-headache and Mrs. Walker's cold shoulder are daily lessons: "'They'll show you the cold shoulder,'" Winterbourne explains. "'Do you know what that means?'" The reader is initiated immediately into an anthropological approach to a character's subjectivity through Winterbourne's tutelage: "'How pretty they are!" he says to himself when he first spots the solitary American girl. But if his habit of scanning bodies for the marks of their national or class or even species specificity is a defense against accidentally mingling with alien life forms, his totalizing gaze is ultimately disconcerting. To record Daisy's teeth, well-shaped ear, and habits of speech, or Giovanelli's eyeglass, motions, and moustache, can only reflect the arbitrary assembly of the American's own identity and unmask its prosthetic quality.
In an environment in which identifying marks are easily discarded, adopted, or traversed, sexual difference guarantees distinctions. But even sexual difference is less reliable than it first seems, at least during the polymorphic stages of adolescence. Sexual difference is legible only as it manifests itself (and is thereby shored up) in traditionally gendered forms of social conduct. As Hall observes in Adolescence, "both sexes have within them the germs of the other's quality," and this fact "makes it incumbent on each to play its sex symphony with no great error." Thus it is an "important office of convention, custom and etiquette to preside over this balance between the relationship of the sexes at large." Modesty, for example, fulfills this important office neatly, for modesty is "at root mode, and woman is its priestess." In identifying modest behavior with femininity, Hall echoed the findings of contemporary sexologists who concluded, as, again, Yeazell reminds us, that modesty had its evolution in an instinctual response rooted in the sexual periodicity of the female, who could be judged "her own duenna" and trusted to "venture out into the world alone." This may help us to explain Leslie Fiedler's peevish intuition [in his Love and Death in the American Novel, 1960] that Daisy Miller is "innocent by definition, mythically innocent," but it renders unaccountable Daisy's explicit immodesty—the fact that she makes a spectacle of herself, as Mrs. Costello puts it, or that Daisy, like the rest of her family, is "bad enough to blush for." But Hall answers this contradiction readily: "while boys in general are more prone to the overt forms of showing off, they often incline in early adolescence toward modesty, and girls, usually a little more retiring at this period, now become for a time less so." This "initial forwardness of girls may be a rudiment of the age when woman was the active agent in domesticating man and developing the family father." A young woman's immodesty may be explained away as an atavism, the exception that proves the rule of a characteristic female modesty. But the reappearance of such a rudimentary trait calls for careful guidance through the adolescent passage, for not only is the individual female's acquisition of a proper gender identity at stake, but so too is the balance between the sexes at large. Daisy's crash course in manners, morals, and modesty, then, is meant as an inducement to play her "sex symphony with no great error."
But the expression of modesty, understood at once to articulate and to guarantee sexual difference, also prevented undifferentiation of other kinds. Daisy Miller engages in what a few American social critics called "public flirtation," about which public opinion was divided: while such flirting constituted an "innocent promiscuity" by most US standards, one observer records with disapproval that in "Barnum's Museum couples strolled around the galleries with their arms intertwined; and in the small dark museum theatre they could be observed embracing." Like Barnum's immodest couples, Daisy and Giovanelli exhibit in the dusky spaces of St. Peter's and the secluded nooks of the Doria Palace a liaison better reserved for the interiors of private homes. Mrs. Walker is alarmed at the education Randolph Miller is imbibing from his sister's intrigue, as if her conduct might excite in him a dangerous precocity. Daisy threatens to erode the distinctions between private and public spaces further when she elects to "walk about the streets of Rome" or, rather, as she protests to Winterbourne, about the Pincio, which "'ain't the streets.'" To walk, or as the ironically named Mrs. Walker tellingly puts it, to "prowl" unchaperoned at twilight will ruin Daisy's reputation. In so saying Mrs. Walker echoes a turn-of-the-century rule of thumb among members of her class that a "lady was simply not supposed to be seen aimlessly wandering the streets in the evening or eating alone," that such acts were in themselves potentially fatal forms of exposure.
In the US, debates about the need for chaperones revolved around the perception that "the innate propriety of the American woman and the chivalrous nature of the American man" no longer erected a barrier against strangers who "might be wolves in sheep's clothing." This perception responded to the appearance of the confidence man in modern urban settings, but it also evoked the image of the alien species (the wolf disguised as a sheep) or "foreigner," as the American colonists in Rome insist on referring to natives like Giovanelli. Thus the American girl's blithe interaction with "third-rate Italians" also conjures the picture of cross-cultural or interracial mixing, of undifferentiation of a vaguely criminal kind. This displaced American spectacle helps account for the expatriates' repeated anxiety that Daisy Miller will be "carried off or "carried away" by the wonderfully moustachioed Giovanelli, a phrase suggestive of a marriage by abduction or a selling into white slavery, as well as of Daisy's own "'lawless passions.'"
It is explicitly in terms of an immigrant appropriation of the American woman, a woman figured as the "conservative storehouse" of a homogeneous American culture, that Henry James addressed the members of the graduating class of Bryn Mawr in 1904, appealing to each to fortify herself against the incursions of alien cultures and the temptation to pick up alien ways. Her best protection rests in resisting any such innovations by learning to emulate instead the "proper" speech, manners, and customs of former models until they are acquired as a "second nature." In this commencement address (later published as "The Question of Our Speech") and in the essays assembled in The Speech and Manners of American Women (1905), James betrays his suspicions not only about the heterodox mixing of cultures and customs at the turn of the century but also about the seemingly unstable nature of female character, as I have argued elsewhere. Daisy's desire to walk the streets links her to another nineteenth-century female "lost to modesty," the urban prostitute. More American men than American women reported themselves the victims of street crime. Thus, it seems less for the sake of female education than for that of male protection, when, as if paraphrasing his brother William's "Talks to Students," James urges his women listeners to transform themselves into models who transmit a "beneficent contagion." like the "early Victorian and mid-Victorian [governess] of English girlhood." The English governess is extinct, but the modern woman can become like her in becoming a "closed vessel of authority," closed against "sloppy leakage." But this image is remarkable even for James, who ends his address at Bryn Mawr invoking martyrdom and heaven, suggesting that there is something costly, because moribund, in so thorough an internalization. Under its terms, the model woman resembles Mrs. Costello, constantly smelling camphor in order to stem contamination from others. The model metropolis looks like the Protestant cemetery near the wall of Imperial Rome, the ultimate cordon sanitaire between American and foreign bodies.
It is not the familiar foreign body, however, that threatens American integrity; Giovanelli, as Mrs. Walker proves, is easily studied. Not so the unfamiliar, adolescent American girl, whose polluting powers, and whose vitality, are aptly articulated by the color red. Daisy's debut in Vevey is heralded by Randolph, who precedes his sister dressed in red stockings and a "brilliant red cravat." When Winterbourne first reunites with Daisy in Rome, she is once again associated both with the small boy who precedes her and with a shade of red: "An instant later his pretty sister crossed the threshold" of a "little crimson drawing-room." Although Daisy's coming to Italy and coming of age initially strike Winterbourne as the right occasions on which to exert a kind of tribal claim on the "pretty young daughter of English race," Daisy's arrival arouses in Mrs. Costello an almost apotropaic response. To her, Daisy Miller is a "little abomination," and Mrs. Costello's vigilance in keeping herself out of Daisy's pernicious orbit carries within it the authority of taboo: "'I wouldn't if I hadn't to, but I have to.'"' If the American colony must cordon itself off from the adolescent, it is less because Daisy's intimacy with Giovanelli flirts with the possibility of mixture than it is because she already plays host to apparently incompatible categories and identities. As if taking their cue from Mrs. Costello, James's readers generally agree that Daisy, or "Annie P. Miller," as it says on her cards, is the "improbable sister to the hard-riding, hard-shooting, sometimes cigar-smoking heroines of the dime novel, related through Molly Wopsus of Joaquin Miller to Annie Oakley." Crossing the threshold into Mrs. Walker's salon, the girl from "that land of dollars and six-shooters" crosses the border between genres, between the American western and the Continental nouvelle. Perhaps in this gesture James's story also suggests that the pedagogical authority of Mrs. Walker's well-mannered agenda, and of the novel of manners behind it, is about to succumb.
But perhaps Daisy Miller works instead to alert its audience to the different disciplinary requirements of the adolescent, in whom male and female "struggle for prepotency." Assessing the symptoms of the urchin Randolph's inadequate training—his sleeplessness, his craving for sweets, his spotty schooling—Winterbourne's attention eventually fastens on the small boy's peculiar likeness to his big sister. Randolph, a precocious nine-year-old, and Daisy, about eighteen, are together in the adolescent struggle. More than the color red links brother to sister—she also shares his phallic traits. Where Randolph thrusts his "long alpenstock" into the "flowerbeds" or "trains of ladies dresses," Daisy flaps the "largest fan [Winterbourne] ever beheld" as she pokes her nose into numerous houses. Put simply, Randolph is his sister's "telltale appendage," and in a vision capturing Daisy's erotic androgyny, even her polymorphic perversity, Winterbourne watches her descend a staircase while "squeezing her folded parasol against her pretty figure."
As if to orchestrate Daisy's femininity in the midst of such confusion, Daisy Miller resuscitates a familiar nineteenth-century plot, even to its sentimental conclusion of the (perhaps voluntary) death of the young woman betrayed in love. As the suggestions of both seduction and miscegenation develop, Daisy assumes an unambiguously gendered place in a plot generically inflected by the captivity narrative and the gothic novel. Daisy seems "carried away," whether in a cabinet of the Doria Palace seated not only with Giovanelli but also, as if the cabinet were a confessional, in the "papal presence" of Innocent X, or on her visit to the Palace of the Caesars, where Giovanelli "glowed as never before with something of the glory of his race." Observing the couple in this setting, Frederick Winterbourne "inhaled the softly humid odors and felt the freshness of the year and the deep antiquity of the place reaffirm themselves in deep interfusion." The "deep interfusion" of Old World and New is apparently sealed later one evening in the "villainous miasma" of the Colosseum, where the American again encounters the immodest two-some. Although he had admitted to shifting visions of Daisy's nature, Winterbourne now sees merely a "black little blot," an image expressive of the peculiarly Calvinist account of the soul, the indication of a pathology, and the mark of amalgamation. The rush to get Daisy, like Cinderella, home before midnight suggests her imminent physical transformation.
Daisy Miller's death, arguably the result of her association with the Roman Catholic Giovanelli, paradoxically certifies the certain "indispensable fineness" she was assumed all along to lack and admits her to the elect Protestant colony, albeit by way of the Protestant cemetery. It will take a final confession from Giovanelli that Daisy was "naturally! the most innocent young lady" he ever knew to persuade Winterbourne that he had misinterpreted Daisy's behavior and that perhaps she might, as he modestly puts it, have returned the American's "esteem." Perhaps Daisy's black little blot is actually the diacritical mark of the blind spot in Winterbourne's reading of the pretty American flirt and not the sign of her innocence lost, like the "X" that follows the notorious Innocent's name. But in light of the ambiguity in Giovanelli's confession (how innocent is the "most innocent" young lady in his acquaintance?) and in the context of the cultural conditions out of which James drew his study, the conditions not only of Daisy Miller but also of The Golden Bowl, we might argue instead that this story ends by underscoring Winterbourne's blindness—blindness to the mixture inherent in any past or future construction of American identity, even that of his own settled and coherent ensemble. It follows, then, that Winterbourne's suggestive characterization of Daisy's burial mound, a "raw protuberance" in a bed of flowers, reassuringly reflects the firmness of his own subject position as an American man. Or that, on second glance, her grave is to him a prosthetic specter, and he was well counseled to ward her off.
She looked at him a moment, and then let it renew her amusement. "I like to make you say those things. You 're a queer mixture!"
Daisy Miller suggests to Frederick Winterbourne the possibility of his own androgyny and of his own assembled or reassembled identity as an American man. When, with Mrs. Costello, he questions Daisy's virtue—"It was impossible to regard her as a wholly unspotted flower"—it is a way of stressing as well Daisy's far from unspotted genealogy, her hybrid or mongrel identity. For Mrs. Costello, no less than for her nephew, Daisy is a revenant reminder that the "deep interfusion" against which she protects herself has already long taken place—perhaps not only in North American history but also, as her surname suggests, in the course of Mrs. Costello's own life. Her discomfort in Daisy's presence stems not from the fact that the girl is incorrigible but rather that she learns only too easily how to emulate and to replicate the likes of Mrs. Costello: the speech, fashions and customs, the manners and morals, of Mrs. Costello's hierarchically organized and tidily transplanted Forty-Second-Street clan. Indeed, Mrs. Costello quickly grasps the American girl's capacity to pick up and repeat Winterbourne's little lessons, when she remarks to her nephew that Daisy possesses "'that charming look they all have. I can't think where they pick it up. And she dresses in perfection; no, you can't know how well she dresses.'" We might go so far as to say that '"dying to be exclusive'" in the manner of Winterbourne's irreproachable aunt, Daisy proves a quick study when she enters the Protestant colony near the wall of Imperial Rome. It is less Daisy's difference from than it is her uncanny ability to resemble Mrs. Costello that requires the aunt's almost ritualistic response, adding a gothic dimension to James's comedy of manners. For even Mrs. Costello's own granddaughters, as it turns out, are rumored to be '"tremendous flirts.'" What looks at first like difference—the differences among the "specimens of diversely-born humanity" studied in Mrs. Walker's salon—looks, on closer inspection, like family.
This essay has focused, with Mrs. Costello, on the numerous dangerous individual bodies Daisy Miller comes to resemble in the course of her flirtatious passage though James's narrative of 1878. But my focus exposes its own blind spot to the emergence of a very different body both on the Continent and in the US, what we might call the collective body of the coalition. The public spectacle of an organized labor force would have been impossible to ignore after 1877, the year of the Great Strikes. This is not to conclude that Daisy Miller is the figure of the union organizer—not a Molly Wopsus, after all, but a Molly Maguire. But it is to suggest that what might be at stake in Daisy's flirtations—flirting with anyone she can pick up—is the possibility of affiliation across the constructed borders of race, ethnicity, gender, and class, with or without the relaxation of bodily boundaries. Mrs. Costello had seen immigrants in New York, the nouveau riche in Swiss resorts, and even American Girls in Rome before, and she knew one when she saw one. But she had never seen coalitions of interests, and if she refused to learn to recognize them, maybe they would all go away.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 8020
SOURCE: "Winterbourne and the Doom of Manhood in Daisy Miller," in New Essays on Daisy Miller and the Turn of the Screw, edited by Vivian R. Pollak, Cambridge University Press, 1993, pp. 65-89.
[In the following essay, Weisbuch analyzes Winterbourne's flawed perception of Daisy and the world around him, and compares him to other bachelors in modern literature.]
Henry James is like the modern jazz masters in this: He begins with the simplest romantic themes, then builds intricacies upon them until the once-clichés speak to all the subtle richness of social existence. With Daisy Miller and her reluctant suitor Frederick Winterbourne, the theme is no more than "opposites attract," and the trick is that one pole of that opposition is so constructed as to make the attraction deadly. "Stiff" Winterbourne brings doom to Daisy and a different doom to himself; through him, James tallies the evils of a misconstructed masculinity.
It's a multifaceted opposition between the failed lovers, but at base simple as motion through the world. Daisy Miller moves. She "goes on," "goes round," "goes too far," well over a hundred times in the text. "She goes on," a particular persecutor remarks, "from day to day, from hour to hour, as they did in the Golden Age." No enthusiast of the dynamic, Mrs. Costello "can imagine nothing more vulgar." Too blithely regardless, alive, American, and unknowing amidst the miasma of history, "strolling along the top of one of those great mounds of ruin that are embanked with mossy marble and paved with monumental inscriptions," Daisy comprehends her life principle lightly and perfectly: "If I didn't walk I should expire" she tells an inaptly named Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker, representative of a society of parlors, never does walk, but chases Daisy in her carriage to persuade her against walking. "If I didn't walk I should expire," says the girl of gardens and the vibrant moment, surprised into opposition; and when she cannot walk any longer, she dies, a latest Roman sacrifice to a world of rooms and rules.
These too are simple, her perfect understanding and her nasty doom. Daisy begins simply, fills out only to defend that simplicity, and expires into mythy apotheosis: the "most innocent" of all young ladies by the account of the cured opportunist Giovanelli, whose judgment is unimpeachable in an assessment that holds no stakes for him. James, amazed that readers followed Winterbourne in making Daisy's innocence a point of dispute, ever after seconded the Italian's judgment.
Daisy's continuing and finally ennobled simplicity is not what we usually expect from fiction, where characters generally complicate themselves in the course of their experiences. But James means for us to see Daisy's complexity as not inherent. The terrible ambiguity, the vexing mystery of her status as innocent or vixen, have nothing to do with her inherent quality, simple as a Daisy can be; they are all evoked by Winterbourne's misshapen assessment. It is not really her story but Winterbourne's, and there the complications are killing.
Frederick Winterbourne does go on or go too far, as he too accuses Daisy of doing. After his first words with Daisy, "He wondered whether he had gone too far; but he decided that he must advance farther, rather than retreat." But his advances are half-retreats, and he vacillates throughout: hesitating to visit Daisy on his arrival at Rome once he hears of her as "surrounded by half-a-dozen wonderful moustaches" or running comic opera between Mrs. Walker's carriage of imperial respectability and the scandalously free-walking Daisy. Progressively in the second, Roman half of the tale, Giovanelli succeeds Winterbourne as active suitor, and Winterbourne, retreating or receding, supplants the protective courtier Eugenio as eugenic guardian. Finally, spying Daisy with Giovanelli at night in the Colosseum, "as he was going to advance again, he checked himself; not from the fear that he was doing her injustice, but from a sense of the danger of appearing unbecomingly exhilarated by this sudden revulsion from cautious criticism. He turned away," seeking secrecy for his hideous emotion, relief that now he can find surcease from his vacillating movements in the sure (but wrong) knowledge that Daisy is corrupt. Her goading causes him to turn again and advance, but only to scold Giovanelli, for Roman fever is potential in the dank night air of the ruins. This prudential warning is not so gallant, given that he had meant to retreat a last time before issuing any such warning, leaving Daisy to possible death—which he then goes on to cause, killing her spirit by his dismissal.
After Giovanelli's disclosure, Winterbourne confesses, "I have lived too long in foreign parts," the last and most shocking of many sexual puns in the tale. But then he goes round. "He went back to live at Geneva," where the contradictory rumors by which James's narrator introduces him are renewed, "a report that he is 'studying' hard—an intimation that he is much interested in a foreign lady."
With Daisy, Winterbourne advances and retreats, recedes, and finally reverts. But without her he is motionless, he sits, he idles. That is how we find him in the garden of the hotel at Vevey, until Daisy's brother and then Daisy interrupt his stasis. In his very first description as "a young American," Winterbourne seems something other, a European idler; like one of Conrad's tropical emigrés, little is known about him. It is startling what we do not know about Winterbourne. Who are his parents? Has he siblings? We are told that he has many friends in Geneva, but only one male friend appears on the scene and that briefly, with information of Daisy at the Doria. Daisy is from Schenectady, her limitation but not her fault, but where is Winterbourne's hometown? Why, really, is he in Geneva, or in Europe at all? Where does he get the money to do nothing? What does he wish to do? He has been in bed with a woman, perhaps many, but has he ever loved? And what is he "studying" other than sex in Geneva and Daisy in this narrative?3
I think there are answers to some of these questions and answers to why we do not know the answers to others, awful disclosures about this "young American" who to Daisy "seemed more like a German." The answers have to do with such matters as cash and class, labor and idling, sexuality and something that is its reduction and defeat. I am sorry the answers have to do with these subjects, so predictably present are such matters in the interpretation of books at our own cultural moment. But James knew his cultural moment, knew himself in it, too, and Daisy Miller is one of his many attempts to state the moment and to free himself from it.
I do not mean to deny the international theme that readers find in the tale but to sharpen it. James is certainly telling a story about cultural bigotry in which an American man who has neglected his origin has an opportunity to educate an American girl all too provincially limited, and by this interchange has an opportunity to go not "on" or "round" or "too far" but home. The necessary aging of young America is at issue. Daisy's death dramatizes a worry that the new nation cannot grow up into a world of vicissitude; and as all of Daisy's accusers are expatriate Americans, not one of them the real thing, James is warning, much as Mark Twain would do in limning the pretensions of the Mississippi River culture in Huckleberry Finn, of an American attempt to become culturally mature the wrong way, by grotesquely aping the nightmare aspects of European sophistication. When Mrs. Costello speaks of "the minutely hierarchical constitution" of New York society, America appears feudal. In all this there is the sense of missed opportunity, not only for Daisy and Winterbourne, but for America and Europe to form that Jamesian compact in which American vitality and European knowledge and manners would combine to save the West. Yet there is something beyond the international theme, something that makes even Winterbourne's self-blame, put in the "lived too long in foreign parts" lexicon of that theme, half a misnomer and a rationalization, and I want to get at what it is.
Our questions about Winterbourne may resolve into a single, gigantic problem: What is it to be a man? In the American decades before the Civil War, a new definition of manhood was getting fashioned, and with a rapidity possible only in a new nation formed at a late stage of Western civilization. Industry, and the changes it effects in social organization and individual personalities, came pell-mell upon an America just learning to know itself. "Here, as in a theater," wrote James Russell Lowell, "the great problems of anthropology . . . are compressed, as it were, into the entertainment of a few hours." An extremely insecure aristocracy, for instance, is barely established before it finds itself rudely jostled. "The older ideologies of genteel patriarehy and artisan independence were being challenged by a new middle-class ideology of competitive individualism," writes David Leverenz [in Manhood and the American Renaissance, 1989], adding, perhaps a bit too simply, "The new middle-class won, and its ideology of manhood as competitive individualism still pervades American life." The significantly absent Mr. Miller is one such winner, remaining behind in what Winterbourne imagines his Italian rival would consider "that mysterious land of dollars." But Winterbourne's confusion over Daisy suggests that commercially energetic America is a mystery to him as well, for Winterbourne is one of the losers in this redefinition of manhood. We know that he had been "put to school" in Geneva by his parents at about the age of Daisy's brother Randolph. Familial wealth is the implication, supported as well by the circumstances and snobbery of Winterbourne's aunt. That is, Winterbourne comes from a shaky displaced aristocracy that has found a shaky home in Europe. In England, Leverenz notes, "a similar class conflict . . . had ended with the gentry reestablishing control by 1870," and although we might wish to complicate this assertion—labor certainly has some claims on an approved manhood in Victorian fiction—the defeat of the many socialist revolutions across Europe by forces of royalty in the 1840s did make the continent a more comfortable site for monied lassitude. America, Fenimore Cooper had written decades earlier, "possesses neither the population nor the endowments to maintain a large class of learned idlers," idlers such as Frederick Winterbourne, lifelong "student."
Thus Winterbourne's permanent vacation in Geneva is a choice; he has chosen not to enter into his own time and into the fray of "competitive individualism." This gives particular point to Daisy's characterization of Winterbourne's speeches as "formal" and "quaint." Winterbourne's lectures to Daisy on the nature of who is and is not a gentleman add to the anachronistic lexicon by which he seeks to assert his class superiority.
Winterbourne is willing to compete only by standards that rely on a code of behavior closely allied with inherited caste. He refuses free market competition and this refusal has everything to do with his romantic behavior. When Winterbourne abandons Mrs. Walker's carriage, apparently enlisting in Daisy's cause, he spies her with Giovanelli behind the same parasol prominent in his own first flirtation with her at Vevey, and the narrator's phrasing implies a major moment in Winterbourne's advance-retreat scenario: "This young man" (and the epithet focuses the issue of manhood) "lingered a moment, then he began to walk. He walked—not towards the couple with the parasol; towards the residence of his aunt, Mrs. Costello"—where he can take his revenge in the sure condemnation of Daisy she will provide. He had done just the same on his arrival in Rome when he heard of Daisy surrounded by the moustaches; he will do the same differently when he hears of Daisy and Giovanelli in company again, retreating more aggressively to tell momma, informing Mrs. Miller that her daughter is "going too far." When he does confront Daisy directly, it is as a parent, not a lover, lecturing her on propriety to the point that Daisy for once evinces resentment. She notes that Winterbourne has failed to offer her tea as a gentleman suitor should; and to his "I have offered you advice," Daisy rejoins, "I prefer weak tea!" suggesting the degree to which Winterbourne dilutes his romantic presence by his learned condescension. In the Colosseum, when Winterbourne indicates to Daisy his condemnation, he does so by opting out of competition, telling her that "it makes very little difference whether you are engaged or not." Daisy, echoing the phrase, soon says "I don't care . . . whether I have Roman fever or not." In the tale's sentimental causality, Winterbourne's renunciation of interest in Daisy causes Daisy's renunciation of life. As he enters the Colosseum Winterbourne recalls Byron's description of it in Manfred, but he might better have recalled Manfred's confession that he killed his beloved, "Not with my hand but heart, which broke her heart, / It gazed on mine and wither'd." Winterbourne would rather kill than compete, and his response to challenge, tallying with the response of his class in arenas other than the romantic, is refusal and disdain.
"You needn't be afraid. I'm not afraid," Daisy tells him when he is forced to admit that Mrs. Costello will not meet her, and we sense that Winterbourne fears more generally. Yet it is unanswerable whether he takes his aristocratic stance because he is afraid—of a world of change, of impulses in himself that would force him to choose against his lifelong choice of class—or whether he is afraid because he has chosen an aristocratic stance that demands the loss of what he calls "instinct."
This is not to argue that James is, by contrast, glorifying the ascendancy of the mercantile class in America. As many readers have noted, the disorder of the Miller family, and forms of naiveté that approach the callow in Daisy herself, serve James as a harsh critique upon this class. Mr. Miller's absence from the family journey suggests a gendered distinction good for no one, as the man remains home making more money while the wife and children "get culture" (though never getting it at all). The son, Randolph, is "hard" as the lumps of sugar he criticizes, charmless, uncontrollable, and oddly "aged" with a voice "not young." Europe to Daisy is "perfectly sweet," the Colosseum "so pretty," all with a reductive condescension that is the sweet echo of Randolph's jingoist convictions that American candy and American men are "the best." Their mother suffers from a bad liver that is the equivalent of Mrs. Costello's headaches, these figures of opposing classes both substituting a narcissism of the body as pain for healthful purpose. The Millers too display a familial entropy that is a low result of the democracy that has advanced them. Mrs. Miller "is always wearing my things," Daisy laughs as her mother appears wrapped in Daisy's shawl, but it's a significantly unfunny inversion of roles. Daisy is as much an unofficial orphan as Winterbourne, and the absence of appreciation and authority in her own family may well draw her to the paternalistic, culturally authoritative, and quaint Winterbourne.
Winterbourne cannot meet the challenge, however, for he and his female advisors are part of a fragile, essentially nouveau, American aristocracy that is not real aristocracy at all any more than these expatriates are real Europeans. The problem is less class division and prejudice than it is class confusion and anxiety. Winterbourne and his ilk make hyperbolic any true European conventions in order to stake a nervous claim to beyond-Miller status. "Real" Europe is problematic in itself as, in a commercial age, filthy lucre makes embarrassing appearances amidst the leisure of the European upper class. As early as the second sentence of the tale, the narrator notes of Vevey that "the entertainment of tourists is the business of the place." The highest status hotel in Vevey, where the Millers reside, was built on the site of an old castle, both a reason for its status and a sign of the capitalist transformation of society. An actual establishment, its name, the "Trois Couronnes," implies both nobility and coins. The mishmash of the commercial and the aristocratic in Europe is one reason why its poetry-inspiring history is portrayed in the tale as dead-in-life, miasmic, not so much informing the present as sickening it.
Winterbourne too is financial, however much he wishes to disdain the world of economic struggle. As Ian Kennedy points out, when the narrator tells us that Winterbourne "had imbibed at Geneva the idea that one must always be attentive to one's aunt" just after he has described Mrs. Costello as "a widow with a fortune," James uncovers the savage, selfish underpinning of the Genevan ideal of duty and of Winterbourne's fidelity to it and to his aunt. In a sense, attendance upon his wealthy aunt is Winterbourne's job.
He has yet another, and Daisy points to it when, at Chillon, she senses that Winterbourne is returning to Geneva because of a liaison. Bravely turning her hurt to a sally, she taunts, "'Does she never allow you more than three days at a time? . . . Doesn't she give you a vacation in summer? There's no one so hard worked but they can get leave to go off somewhere at this season, I suppose.'" No champion of freedom like Byron's Bonnivard, this prisoner of Chillon yet shares that hero's terrible adjustment to the loss of liberty.
Even this momentary intimation of Winterbourne as prostituted makes his contempt for Giovanelli broadly hypocritical. On meeting the Italian, Winterbourne decides that "he is only a clever imitation" of a gentleman and he makes this claim in terms of labor: "He is a music-master, or a penny-a-liner, or a third-rate artist." Winterbourne himself is, by occupation, no more and something less; and if Giovanelli indeed has "practiced the idiom" of speaking in English "upon a great many American heiresses," one expects that Winterbourne has had to adapt to a few adopted idioms himself: "He had known, here in Europe, two or three women—persons older than Miss Daisy Miller, and provided, for respectability's sake, with husbands—who were great coquettes—dangerous, terrible women, with whom one's relations were liable to take a serious turn." Who is the imitation of a gentleman? Giovanelli, by the unemployed Winterbourne's account, turns out to be a "perfectly respectable little man" who is in fact a cavaliere avvocato, and this gentleman lawyer ends by entering a plea for a true perception of Daisy's innocence. Just as the Italian takes Winterbourne's resigned place as amoroso in the narrative, though never in Daisy's affections, so too he takes Winterbourne's place finally in the reader's regard. Giovanelli is not Winterbourne's gigolo opposite so much as his double, and finally his better.
This then is the economic Winterbourne: an emigrant out of fear of practicing the American ideal of equal competition, an unemployed idler whose sense of aristocratic breeding is prostituted by fortune hunting. We must recall that Winterbourne is no confirmed villain, at least not until the final words of the tale when he refuses the true illumination, the grace of understanding his own character that Daisy's death has afforded him. His very attraction to Daisy is proof of a residue of possibility in him and of a desire for a non-Genevan self-reformation. But the forms this attraction takes have everything to do with the class alliances Winterbourne had made; and when we ask, given such choices, what kind of manhood emerges, the answers constitute an encyclopedia of misogyny.
One of Henry James's great surprises is his occasional penchant for broad effects. I began by insisting that his basic plots are often melodramatic, and his naming of such characters as Daisy and Winterbourne is obviously allegorical. Noting such effects often makes James's reader queasy, and this is most true as regards the sexual puns. Can the Master, the writer's writer who provides the "sense of the sense," actually be thought to indulge in such adolescent double entendre? The answer is affirmative, for James will exploit the whole register of meaning making. The character always intends the more or differently figurative meaning of such words, the socially sophisticated meaning; but James intends all meanings, including those that betray the character's unsublimated self.
The words that attach to yet another of Winterbourne's alter egos, Daisy's brother Randolph, offer such a case. Unsettlingly older than his age, Randolph's voice is "sharp, hard," his eyes "penetrating." He carries a long alpenstock, "the sharp point of which he thrust into everything that he approached—." He "poked his alpenstock, lance-fashion, into Winterbourne's bench," calls the sugar Winterbourne has afforded him "har-r-d," and then "got astride of the alpenstock. He speaks again in "his little hard voice," and converts his alpenstock finally "into a vaulting pole."
Daisy's "small, slippery brother" at times seems something of a walking penis; his aggressive energy—remeeting him in Rome, Winterbourne compares him to "the infant Hannibal"—represents everything in American competitive manhood that Winterbourne had fled. Yet Winterbourne is not so apart from these tendencies and this phallicism as we first think.
Shortly after Winterbourne "wondered if he himself had been like this in his infancy, for he had been brought to Europe at about this age" Daisy appears, and Winterbourne is described as "straightening himself in his seat, as if he were preparing to rise." Much later, in Rome, Daisy on four occasions criticizes Winterbourne as "stiff." The social meaning of the adjective seems to oppose the romantic, as when Winterbourne tells Daisy he does not dance and Daisy replies, "Of course you don't dance; you're too stiff." But I want to argue that the phallic condition of "stiff" opposes romance as well. The dance of respectful courtship demands flexibility and motion; the sexual love of women and men requires an appreciation of the entire person, not a stiff, phallic reduction of the Other. Daisy is right beyond her knowing when she refuses Winterbourne's request to "flirt only with me" because, in her words, "You're too stiff." Just as Winterbourne attempts to live apart from his commercial age and thus becomes almost a fortune hunter, so in fleeing American competitive manhood and his own American "instinct" as he calls it, Winterbourne reduces his sexuality to the state of Randolph's, preadolescent and yet ever so hard.
James labors to establish Winterbourne's trouble at the outset, in Winterbourne's first meeting with Daisy, as he dramatizes Winterbourne's leaking libido in terms of an extended act of perception. This is how Winterbourne views the girl:
They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair country-woman's various features—her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analysing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations.
It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate Winterbourne mentally accused it —very forgivingly—of a want of finish.
In three sentences, James packs seven overlapping kinds of inhumanity, seven deadening sins. The first I would term exploitative or acquisitive perception. Winterbourne itemizes Daisy's features in such a way—her eyes, her teeth—as to make her an object or himself a horse trader. His "relish for feminine beauty" is resentable too. It suggests a practice of connoisseurship, an emotional distancing both affectedly aristocratic and somehow prurient, pornographic.
Seeing through the eyes of others is yet a third form of Winterbourne's blindness. Does the face lack a finish?, Winterbourne worries, and we worry that someone else is setting the standards. Note as we approach the passage that Daisy's glance is "perfectly direct and unshrinking" yet not "what would have been called an immodest glance." Discrimination is a Jamesian essential, and naming is as natural as Adam, but this is the world's postlapsarian naming—"what would have been called"—not Adam's.
Winterbourne's obsessive categorizing, his classificatory zeal, is another function of his hand-me-down mentality. Earlier, when Daisy first appears, "she" is immediately made a "they" by Winterbourne: "How pretty they are," and later, he questions, "were they all like that, the pretty girls who had a good deal of gentlemen's society? Or was she also a designing, an unscrupulous young person?" Winterbourne will not allow women to be, will not grant them an integrating wholeness, will instead dissect and categorize. And when they don't fit, when humanity refuses such reduction—agreeing to Winterbourne's accusation, Daisy responds, "I'm a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not?"—he will dismiss them brutally, as he does at the Colosseum. Under an ominously "waning moon." Daisy is revealed to him, all falsely, as unscrupulous indeed and he experiences his unbecoming exhilaration "by a sudden revulsion from cautious criticism." The cautious criticism is dehumanizing in itself, the bipolarities deadening. James has his final joke on Winterbourne when, after implying the gross inadequacies of the either-ors, he allows Daisy an innocence even in Winterbourne's dichotomizing terms. Winterbourne's "cautious criticism" of categories and types is his attempt to halt experience in aristocratic, hierarchical stillness; his final revulsion from it, itself fearful in a refusal to live with mystery, is less a refutation than an extension of it.
This categorizing has yet another aspect that constitutes his fifth sin of perception, one that we might call testing. In the early description of Daisy, Winterbourne tests her against various ideals of socially respectable appearances; and soon, in a moonlit scene that anticipates the finale in the Colosseum, Winterbourne suggests a boat ride to Chillon, primarily to see how far Daisy will go. Acceptance of the invitation would doom Daisy in Winterbourne's opinion and rid him of the bothersome ambiguities of his own creation, but for this pathetic relief he must wait upon Rome.
A sixth form of inadequacy in the early passage coexists with all the others, together constituting the sins of the spectatorial. As John H. Randall III writes, Winterbourne "sees life through the spectacles of the picturesque. What he responds to is a guidebook view of life, not life itself [American Quarterly, 1965]. This marks him a cultural parvenu in his comments on the sights of Europe. When, for instance, he quotes Byron on entering the Colosseum, he reminds us of all those nineteenth-century American anglophiles who are described nicely by Benjamin Goluboff [in American Studies, 1990] as "the alluder on the landscape," insecure travelers from the raw New World taking "a sort of examination in cultural literacy." Winterbourne flunks the more crucial exam of understanding, for he is about to exemplify the final lines of Byron's Colisseum description, "The dead but sceptered sovereigns who will rule / Our spirits from their urns." Just so, when Mrs. Costello requests that her nephew bring her Paule Méré, she seems unaware that the Cherbuliez novel, published in Geneva, concerns the victimization of a brave woman, an older Daisy, by a weak husband reminiscent of Winterbourne and by a society much like Mrs. Costello's own.
When Winterbourne directs this same effete, meaning-emptying appreciation toward Daisy, it bespeaks that removal from life that is also a removal from self. This self-removal provides another reason for Winterbourne's wish to visit Chillon with Daisy: "[H]e had never yet enjoyed the sensation of guiding through the summer starlight a skiff freighted with a fresh and beautiful girl." The sophisticated but crude "freighted" underlines once more the dehumanizing of Daisy, the "fresh and beautiful girl" the categorizing tendency of this collector of experiences. But there is also here a sense of Winterbourne, if you will allow me an anachronism, watching a motion picture of his own life. He can produce such a movie even when he is not present in a particular scene, as when he arrives in Rome and is discountenanced by the news that Daisy is surrounded by moustaches, "a state of affairs so little in harmony with an image that had lately flitted in and out of his own meditations; the image of a very pretty girl looking out of an old Roman window and asking herself urgently when Mr. Winterbourne would arrive." This is uproariously self-flattering—Winterbourne Studios is consistently partial to its owner-star—but it is also self-negating, for one cannot live a life while obsessively observing it. Such self-consciousness even harms those attempts at manipulation that always undercut Winterbourne's moments of empathy. When he senses that Daisy is hurt by his aunt's refusal to meet her, Winterbourne decides it might be "becoming in him to attempt to reassure her. He had a pleasant sense that she would be very approachable for consolation." Winterbourne imagines unstiffening—though only in a most becoming way and only to get what his stiff self desires—but by the time Winterbourne Studios has produced the scene in his head, Daisy's mother appears and his bad chance is lost. Life is for Daisy; it is always about to be for the screening room hero, though perhaps this is fortunate given his designs on it.
But Winterbourne is not a public actor, and if he creates his own scenes, he does not wish upon himself the eyes of others. He is secretive, and guilty privacy is his seventh sin. In the passage in which he itemizes Daisy's features, he is looking but his thoughts are not seen. This privacy is apt in a man who lives his only vital life behind closed doors and at absolute odds with the social manners he espouses so recklessly. James takes an early revenge on this hypocrite gossip by having his narrator speak of him in the falsely respectful, secretly savage voice of the society to which Winterbourne belongs:
[W]hen his friends spoke of him, they usually said that he was at Geneva, "studying." When his enemies spoke of him they said—but, after all, he had no enemies; he was an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked. What I should say is, simply, that when certain persons spoke of him they affirmed that the reason of his spending so much time at Geneva was that he was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there—a foreign lady—a person older than himself. Very few Americans—indeed I think none—had ever seen this lady, about whom there were some singular stories. But Winterbourne had an old attachment for the little metropolis of Calvinism; he had been put to school there as a boy.
Each of the narrator's false hesitations to disclose something unpleasant constitutes a cut. The unseen lady—foreign, then older, finally singular in the stories told of her—is also Winterbourne's unseen life and suggests a reason for Winterbourne's interest in "coming off" with Daisy to Chillon secretly. He can thus deny her freshness and the jolt it might give to his pornographic, musty self. Winterbourne associates the libido with the hidden—that is why he despises meeting Daisy in the hotel hall (not simply because it is vaguely vulgar) and it is why, once they arrive at Chillon, he bribes the custodian to leave them alone, yet another act that characterizes his economic cheating. It is also why he cannot believe in Daisy's appearance of innocence, because his own appearance is so unnaturally fashioned to disguise what resides in Geneva and in himself. What Winterbourne half wishes is to make Daisy taboo, for then she can enter his dirty little world and he will not have to leave it. That he also half wishes to leave it is what saves him a measure of sympathy. That he decides against this second chance is what ends all sympathy and dooms his manhood, as I will suggest a bit later, to a fate literally worse than Daisy's death because it constitutes damnation.
There is one element of Winterbourne's first long description of Daisy's appearance and of his entire encounter with her that is so obvious as to be hidden. It is best expressed in a law Leverenz constructs for Hawthorne's short story, "The Minister's Black Veil": "My wish to invade his privacy is an evasion of my own." Winterbourne's invasion of Daisy's privacy, his dressed-up, vulgar desire to know, as Cathy Davidson puts it [in the Arizona Quarterly, Winter, 1976], "'Does she or doesn't she?'," is a way to evade questions about his own capacity for love. Troubled, frightened, Winterbourne runs from the world of male competition and surrounds himself with two kinds of women: the adultresses in Geneva and the prudish widows in Vevey and Rome. These two kinds are really one kind, halves of a determined double standard whereby, in Mrs. Costello's words, "a man may know everyone."
Our major reaction is to exclaim against the women's society that castigates Daisy for wholly inoffensive and open actions while allowing for Winterbourne's hidden profligacies, "not morality but conformity," as William E. Grant writes [Studies in Short Fiction, 1974]. And certainly we feel the force of female self-punishment: "[W]omen characters uphold the system which restricts them," Louise K. Barnett notes [Studies in Short Fiction, 1979]; and Davidson rightly calls these women "misogynous," adding that women like Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker "will seek to be men" and take on their authority. But my main interest is in the degree to which Winterbourne submits to them. He "acquiesces in their power," writes Susan Koprince. He is, in Motley Deakin's summation, "the captive of women" [Henry James Review, 1983].
He is the captive of both kinds of women. That he experiences the adultresses in Geneva as "dangerous, terrible" suggests a fearful subordination, suggested as well by Daisy's taunt that his present lover in Geneva will not even give him, her employee or servant, more than a few days off. Winterbourne thus does not appear sexually potent even in the gossip of his liaison with this woman about whom singular stories have been told. However wild the unnamed woman may be, he is emasculated by the relationship. Just so, when Winterbourne runs to Mrs. Costello or Mrs. Walker to discuss Daisy, curl his moustache as he may, he seems a woman himself. With Daisy alone, he becomes traditional male lawgiver; but Daisy, the one relief in this chaotic environment of misgendering, refuses him this authority: "I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or to interfere with anything I do."
Winterbourne is castrated once more, but by Daisy less than by himself. He has taken this parental stance toward her, as I argued earlier, to avoid real competition. Indeed, Daisy's whole attempt with Winterbourne is to help him locate his manhood. This is the motive for all her teasing and taunting, to persuade him to behave as a man toward her but via love rather than authority. Thus when she is buried doubly inaptly—a Daisy dying in the spring, buried in cultural loneliness in the small Protestant cemetery in the world capital of Catholicism—James has his narrator describe her grave as a "raw protuberance among the April daisies." Davidson sees here an Easter resurrection, with Daisy becoming "the patron saint of a repressed sexuality." But Daisy's fate is Christlike only twistedly. When James earlier recalls the Resurrection by employing the phrase "On the evening of the third day." he is referring to Mrs. Walker's party, where Mrs. Walker's snub makes Daisy look "with a pale, grave face at the circle near the door." And the "raw protuberance" of Daisy's grave suggests a swelling in two ways ironic. As a female swelling, it is an image of death in the place of pregnancy, new birth, all that Daisy's youth and vitality promised. As a phallic protuberance, it suggests death's cause and Winterbourne's stiff loss.
Indeed, Winterbourne has entered forever the deadening, emasculating creed of what we might call the women's religion in Daisy Miller. I mean religion almost and terribly literally, for the expatriates' hellish code has usurped the place of the church. There is in fact a scene in St. Peter's where
A dozen of the American colonists in Rome came to talk with Mrs. Costello, who sat on a little portable stool at the base of one of the great pilasters. The vesper-service was going forward in splendid chants and organ-tones in the adjacent choir, and meanwhile, between Mrs. Costello and her friends, there was a great deal said about poor little Miss Miller's going really "too far."
In this ugly scene, the women have taken to themselves the heavenly judgment that is St. Peter's office. And in the same paragraph Winterbourne hears from his friend of Daisy and Giovanelli viewing the portrait of Pope Innocent, a portrait the misnamed Pope himself called troppo vero, as the renowned Velazquez painting reveals a cynic of worldly intrigue. The Pope's name underscores Daisy's own innocence while his face in the portrait, as Adeline Tintner writes [in Essays in Literature, 1979], makes for "a vivid contrast" between the worldly head of state and "the secular, free-wheeling, free-thinking American Protestant girl who doesn't hesitate to turn her back on his Holiness and his so-called 'shrine.'"
James gives us something of an encapsulated history of Western religion in this slight tale of Geneva, "the little metropolis of Calvinism," and "the cynical streets of Rome." With its accusatory conviction of innate depravity and its ability to live down to it, Geneva begins a process of destroying Daisy that Rome, city of ordained convention and the pernicious leavings of pagan and Christian history, completes. The attitudes of the expatriates who paganize the Church are yet the direct result of a long misprizing of the religious spirit by religion itself.
Entering the Colosseum, Winterbourne spies Daisy seated in the shadow of "the great cross in the centre" and, in Daisy's light words, he "looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs." But this is only the culmination of a process in which the expatriates translate religious and moral idealism into Victorian aggression devoid of real principle. Winterbourne finally adopts his aunt's view that "one does one's duty by not—not accepting" such Americans as the Millers. For Mrs. Costello, deep ethics is pretension: "Whether or no being hopelessly vulgar is being 'bad' is a question I leave to the metaphysicians." Mrs. Walker, who wishes to conventionalize Daisy rather than exclude her, does make metaphysical the socially conventional: She theologizes "Thank heaven I have found you," and, with "her hands devoutly clasped," attempts to persuade Daisy against walking in the company of men. "Extremely devoted" by the account of "certain persons" to the lady in Geneva, "awfully devoted" to Daisy in Daisy's joking phrase, Winterbourne finally takes his vows in the priesthood of the expatriates. Again, it is worth emphasizing that this is a choice, for Daisy, no metaphysician herself, has come to represent an alternative. Refusing Mrs. Walker's invitation to join her in her victoria for some moral instruction, Daisy says, "I don't think I want to know what you mean. . . . I don't think I should like it"; and the simple relativism of her "People have different ideas!" gains a resonance against this creed of absolutism bom of ennui and worse, a creed well defined by the narrator when he characterizes Winterbourne's thought of consoling Daisy as "a perilous mixture of gallantry and impiety." But this emptying of the spirit succeeds in the world, leaving Daisy's memory and Henry James alone in opposition.
That is where Winterbourne ends, and in a moment we will name the place, but where does he originate? We do know Winterbourne's place in a literary sense, for this man of categories himself belongs to a category of male characters who populate nineteenth-century literature in America and England. He is the bachelor figure, bespeaking in the nineteenth century an anxiety of cultural exhaustion, the worry of a discontented civilization whose complaint is voiced by Winterbourne when he cannot type Daisy because "he had lost his instinct in this matter, and his reason could not help him." The loss is not simply of the American instinct but of instinct itself—spontaneity, real awe rather than artificial appreciation, vitality, everything Daisy has and he lacks. Emily Brontë's Lockwood, George Eliot's Casaubon, Melville's gourmands in his "Paradise of Bachelors" who substitute the gustatory for the romantic and heroic, any number of Hawthorne's males who victimize women to their own destruction—all are Winterbourne's literary kin. The bachelor, as I have written elsewhere.
is a grotesque with an oversized intellect, a shrunken body, and a shrivelled heart. He refuses the human community; he will not risk relatedness, preferring to experiment on others or to observe them from a voyeuristic distance. Crippled by self-consciousness, if he loves he often runs away to maintain an equilibrium that is passion's defeat. Impotent and vengeful, highly intellectual but unwise, he sells his soul for a sullen invulnerability that is itself fraudulent, for his great need is to impress others.
This is Winterbourne's literary lineage.
The bachelor is a function not only of over-civilization but of a tradition in male authorship in the Romantic period by which the femme fatale is cleared of charges. Such writers as Keats and Hawthorne engage misogynist legends that blame evil on women and rewrite them to redefine the evil as inherent in the manner that men view women; and this has everything to do with Daisy Miller and with James and Daisy Miller.
James's explicit allusions in the tale are to Cherbuliez and Byron, and the latter particularly has to do with that cultural fatigue we are describing. If Byron's heroes suffer an exhaustion of spirit from idealistic questing, Winterbourne, fleeing such quest while alluding to Byron, suffers Weltschmerz squared and without glory, as a "Manfred Manqué,' in Susan Koprince's phrase. But the most powerful influences on Daisy Miller are not explicit. Central here is Hawthorne, about whom James was to write a full book in the next year. [In The School of Hawthorne, 1986], Richard Brodhead argues persuasively that "influence" is too mild a term to apply to the relation between Hawthorne and James, that James "perfectly internalized" Hawthorne from his earliest writings, giving fiction the dignity of internal literary history.
Daisy Miller is such a thoroughly meditated variation on Hawthorne's tale "Rappaccini's Daughter" that it seems folly to enumerate the parallels—Winterbourne's resemblance to Hawthorne's Giovanni in their voyeurism, secrecy, failure of faith, and destructive conformity to an ethic of cynical skepticism parading as respectability; Daisy's resemblance to Hawthorne's Beatrice in their joint status as femmes fatales who are far more sinned against than sinning. It is more to the point to quote a single passage from Hawthorne: "Blessed are all simple emotions, be they dark or bright!" exclaims the narrator. "It is the lurid intermixture of the two that produces the illuminating blaze of the infernal regions." In Winterbourne's case, while the "lurid intermixture" of his feelings prepares Daisy's doom, his demand for resolution seals it. In the "luminous dusk" of the Colosseum, with his "sudden illumination," Winterbourne unknowingly perceives via the darkness visible of his own sick spirit. Hawthorne's tale also connects James to Keats, for Hawthorne's Beatrice, poisonous yet pure, is herself a reminiscence of Lamia, the snake-turned-woman who captures a lover but sweetly, and who is destroyed by the lover's demand to show off his prize in a public wedding. She is ruined by his egotism and by his faith in a sophist teacher, Apollonius, the equivalent of Hawthorne's Baglioni and James's Mrs. Costello. Winterbourne stands with Giovanni (whose name, played upon, becomes Giovanelli and a better spirit in James's redaction) and Keats's callow, publicity-seeking Lycius as apparently pleasant if shallow youths who are yet male murderers.
But Hawthorne's tale goes back further, to an Italy older than Daisy's or Beatrice's. Beatrice was Dante's beloved, and the history of the poet's sublimation of his lust for her, to the point where he can experience God through her, is the ideal development that Hawthorne's Giovanni and James's Winterbourne fail miserably to achieve. Through Hawthorne, James reaches back to Dante's Rome—and to Dante's Satan, for Winterbourne's name is redolent of the Devil of the Inferno. Dante portrays a wintry Satan, devoid of all light and warmth, icily fixed in that loneliness that is the appropriate form of his utter self-love. The only motion available to Dante's Devil is the futile beating of his wings. Like Dante's lesser damned ones, like Winterbourne in the devastating final sentence of James's tale, Satan is condemned to endless repetition. The beating of his wings only fixes him more firmly in that ice which is the image of his hatred of others. This failed motion, repetitive yet worsening, also characterizes Winterbourne, incapable of "going on" or "going too far," capable only of "going round" and getting nowhere, beating his wings. By this network of allusions, James is saying nothing so crude as that Satan is Winterbourne's real identity. He is saying something worse, that this is the rough context for understanding what Winterbourne by his choices has made himself become.
But what has James become in the act of writing, Daisy Miller? It is certainly possible that James was working through the premature death of his beloved iconoclastic cousin Minnie Temple, that Daisy is a less intellectual surrogate for this real woman who died at an early age. For a more meaningful answer, we can refer to the relation between Hawthorne and another of his bachelors, Coverdale in The Blithedale Romance. As characternarrator, Coverdale bears a structural resemblance to Winterbourne, though James as narrator occasionally opens just enough narrative distance from his hero to satirize him, as in the early passage on what Winterbourne's theoretical enemies might say. Coverdale too is an idler, a more-and-more minor poet, a voyeur, an analyzer, a skeptic conformist, full of jealousy and lust and punished by the narrative into learning less and less of the truth of the individuals with whom he is obsessed. He misses all the major scenes, just as Winterbourne is progressively shut out of Daisy's life, staring at an occluding parasol. Yet in many ways Coverdale seems Hawthorne's avatar, for his refusal to share the Utopian hopes of the Blithedalers mirrors Hawthorne's reaction to his summer at Brook Farm. So too, James, reaching a point in his expatriation where he might have feared "living too long in foreign parts," and, more important, opting out of that revolution in American manhood whereby the new middle class had established competitive individualism, a rivalry for dominance, as its leading principle, much resembles Winterbourne. What Irving Howe writes of Hawthorne and Coverdale [in Politics and the Novel, 1957] may serve exactly for James and his Winterbourne. Howe notes the conflict in Hawthorne between a social self which "could summon no large enthusiasm" and "a powerful impulse within him" that "worked to assault and deride that scepticism." Thus Coverdale "is a self-portrait of Hawthorne, but a highly distorted and mocking self-portrait, as if Hawthorne were trying to isolate and thereby exorcise everything within him that impedes full participation in life." This seems to me exactly true of James in relation to the materials we have discussed.
With one exception. I think James has achieved something better here and throughout his career than merely an exorcism. Leverenz notes that the writers of Hawthorne's generation sought a manhood that would refuse the old aristocratic requisites but also would avoid the new demands upon manhood of rivalrous individualism. Instead, he writes, they sought, by the creation of heuristic, unsettling narratives, to unseat themselves and their readers, to "fashion styles of self-dispossession." Just so, James refuses the aristocracy of Winterbourne and the competing party of Randolph and Mr. Miller. That other alternative of self-dispossession, the one that feels what cannot be reasoned and questions all without the need for finality, is the manhood Winterbourne fails to locate and James practices. It is the site where manhood becomes ungendered and begins to become sexed humanity.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3362
SOURCE: "Fame, 1877-79," in Henry James's Apprenticeship, The Tales: 1864-1882, P. D. Meany Publishers, 1994, 133-58.
[In the following essay, Martin and Ober provide a thematic and stylistic analysis of Daisy Miller.]
This was the first of James's tales to be published in England, and it is his first nouvelle, perhaps his favourite form: in the Preface to The Lesson of the Master he waxes lyrical about "the beautiful and blest nouvelle." Among the many merits of the tale is its architectonic structure. None of the scenes is set in Geneva, but Winterbourne, the central intelligence, studies there, and its presence is powerfully felt throughout as a citadel of European protocol, though this is enforced, ironically enough, by none more strictly than the expatriate Americans: social proprieties and forms of courtship are "stiff," which is a nodal term, and Geneva is of course spectrally presided over by the figure of Calvin. In Rome, the setting for the second half of the tale, Genevan proprieties are reinforced by shades of Papal and Imperial authority, and it is there that the pathetically unorganized, unformulated American "sense of freedom", associated with "innocence" and embodied by Daisy, is pitted against this adamantine power. There is no doubt where our sympathies lie.
The unpretentious heroine's name is Annie P. Miller; her familiar name associates her with all that is "natural," universal, and perennial, though her action is no stronger than a flower. The "[child] of nature and of freedom" is deplored and virtually disowned by her expatriate countrywomen as "common" and has on her side only her own ignorant but engaging vitality and courage, feebly supported by the unauthoritative forms of distant Schenectady, New York, where her father stays, running a "big business." He leaves Daisy's travels in Europe to her mother, who is a passive nonentity, and her nine-year-old brother, who is amusingly undisciplined and assertive. Even representatives of New York and New England society seem to range themselves with Genevan rigidities—James's father once described Calvin as "a sort of model Bostonian"—and this is a significant and rich complication of James's international theme.
The characters and action are arranged in relation to the two poles of Geneva and Schenectady: Daisy's mother is in contrast to Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello; Randolph, Daisy's free-ranging young brother, is at a hotel where "Polish boys [walk] about, held by the hand, with their governors." This polarity is dramatized in the friction in the mind and conscience of Winterbourne, a Europeanized American; the oppositions are much more effective than they were in "Mme. de Mauves," where the characters were either idealized or stereotyped and the conflict melodramatic rather than internal and convincing.
The "Genevese mind," given support and force by a sort of "German earnestness" and "narrowness and intolerance"—qualities soon to be given prominence in Confidence—is epitomized in Mrs. Costello, social arbiter even though an invalid, who holds court sitting, significantly, "on a little portable stool at the base of one of the great pilasters" of St. Peter's, attended by "a dozen of the American colonists in Rome." Rome and St. Peter's have already appeared prominently in James's fiction. The ways in which James uses famous places and monuments as dramatic presences show the benefits of his sentimental tourism and also the progress of his artistic skill. The historic reverberations that were contrived with ingenuity in "Travelling Companions" are now, in Daisy Miller, being orchestrated with dramatic force. Like the narrator in "Four Meetings," but with a less questionable motive, Winterbourne tells Daisy the "history of Bonivard," which goes "into one ear and out of the other"—Daisy is different from Caroline Spencer—but, ironically, it was she who in the first place wanted so "dreadfully" to visit "that old castle," the Chateau de Chillon, quite oblivious of the free spirit that was extinguished there, as hers is to be in Rome. Toward the end, Winterbourne comes upon Daisy and her Italian escort, Giovanelli—the couple that respectable society will not receive—when she is seeing "the Colosseum by moonlight" and in fact catching the Roman fever that will kill her; the irony is patent and poignant when Daisy says of Winterbourne, "He looks at us as one of the old lions or tigers may have looked at the Christian martyrs." She is a different kind of martyr. James is squeezing every drop from the Roman orange.
Less obvious but not less judicious is the new and convincing balance James strikes in the international theme. Whereas infamy tended in the earlier stories to be located in the European upper-class (Clement Searle's English cousin, M. de Mauves, or the Vicomte de Treuil) and virtue to be monopolized by Americans adventuring at their peril in Europe, now the evil is less melodramatic but more tragic, being rooted in this instance in the unfeeling stiffness of the American colony in Rome, though Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker are not by nature malicious or cynical and indeed seem to have Daisy's best interests at heart. Moreover, an ironic light, quite absent in the case, for example, of Euphemia de Mauves, plays about Daisy, for whom our sympathy and admiration are aroused, so the justice is more even-handed and compelling. Daisy's appendages, her brother Randolph and her mother, are even ridiculous in their ignorance and gaucherie. They ironically illustrate the severe limitations of Daisy's culture and reinforce the gentle comedy of Daisy's innocence as well as the tragic pathos of her fate.
James uses Daisy's brother Randolph to satirize the blinkered self-regard and complacency of some Americans: "American men are the best," he says. James might even be making fun of his earlier international tales. Mrs. Miller is absurdly naive, ignorant, lacking in curiosity and taste, and utterly unconscious of the rocks on which Daisy's slender craft will founder: "We only want to see the principal [castles]. We visited several in England."
It is not only that James is more even-handed but also that he hits on characteristics that struck readers, especially European readers perhaps, as typically American. To a European, Randolph's independence would be indiscipline and impertinence, and Daisy would seem uncouth, or at least ungracious, when she deplores "those dreadful old men that explain about the pictures and things," or is so frank in "persiflage," and so brazenly open about her volitions: "Don't you want to take me out in a boat?" she says to Winterbourne. But the characters are American in the very tones of their voices, whereas the speech of Clement Searle, Theobald, and Eugene Pickering was not distinct from that of the Europeans. Consider the compactness, frankness, and dryness of Randolph's one-liner: he says that the ship the City of Richmond was "the best place I've seen. . . . Only it was turned the wrong way." When Winterbourne says politely that he would have liked to call on Daisy sooner in Rome but that he has "only just stepped out of the train," Daisy's disconcerting rejoinder is, "You must have stayed in the train a good while after it stopped!" This is indeed American tactlessness!
In this regard, a letter James wrote to Howells on 24 October 1876, not long before he left Paris for his final domiciliary perch in London, marks an important change in his art that allows one to see that he was ending one phase of his career and beginning another. Howells had argued for a different end for The American, wanting a marriage in the end between the American Newman and the French noblewoman, and James answers: "The whole point of the dénouement was, in the conception of the tale, in his losing her. . . . My subject was: an American letting the insolent foreigner go, out of his good nature, after the insolent foreigner had wronged him and he had held him in his power. To show the good nature I must show the wrong and the wrong is of course that the American is cheated out of Mme de Cintré." James might have gone on to say, as he did in the Preface to The American, that the work is a romance. James seems to have turned the crucial corner from romance to realism in his international tales when he wrote "Four Meetings" and Daisy Miller. Again it is in his tales that James conducts his experiments and makes his advances.
Even if they were wrong, it is significant that James and Howells both thought that Lippincott's Magazine had declined Daisy Miller because "it was seen to be presenting an unfavourable image of American girlhood"; in fact the satire is mild and tolerant and clearly overridden by the author's approval and affection, which is to be distinguished from the attitude of Winterbourne. The portrait of Daisy shows some of the qualities in her that James in propria persona felt in his large New York cousinage, the Emmet families; if they belonged to a somewhat more sophisticated society than Daisy does, they nevertheless had, in their "singularly natural way," some of what we see in Daisy, who says, "If I didn't introduce my gentlemen friends to mother . . . I shouldn't think I was natural." As James explained to Mrs. Lynn Linton in 1880, "Poor little Daisy Miller was, as I understand her, above all things innocent." In this respect one could say of James's presentation of Daisy what James said about Thackeray's of Becky Sharp: the "satire . . . always goes hand in hand with a certain tender, sympathetic comprehension of her, with the thoroughly human tone which belongs to perfect insight"; two years later, in 1875, James commented on "how humanly, how generously" George Eliot exhibits the ladies of the "ridiculous" and "disagreeable" Dodson family. James not only borrowed from but successfully emulated writers he admired.
In Daisy Miller James brings Americanness and Innocence together very convincingly. Daisy's innocence is quite different from Euphemia de Mauves's, and different again from that of the later exemplars of innocent young womanhood, Isabel Archer and Milly Theale. She does not have their intelligence, education, or cultivated sensibility, and because of this she is all the more vulnerable and evokes all the more pathos. European readers could be moved by her even while they were entertaining somewhat superior and patronizing attitudes to the naive and immodest American girl, thus flattering themselves and having their preconceptions confirmed by a writer who was himself a good American. James no doubt amused himself as well as his readers with this play on national traits, but the strength of the tale derives from the deeper sources of James's imagination that sprang from a conception of Innocence betrayed. As we move from "Four Meetings" to Daisy Miller, we cross the unmarked boundary between pathos and tragedy and reach the deep waters that will be plumbed later, in James's greatest fiction. As James said to Howells in a letter written about a year before Daisy Miller appeared: "I suspect it is the tragedies in life that arrest my attention . . . and say more to my imagination."
It is in such mundane-sounding matters as technique and method, however, that Daisy Miller has perhaps its highest merit and its deepest interest for the student of James's career. And here we turn from Daisy to Winterbourne. He is not the narrator but the centre of consciousness and a participant, and thus subject to the reader's scrutiny. Winterbourne is an American too, but, unlike Daisy, he has "imagination and . . . sensibility," or at least the cultivation that comes from education and a knowledge of Europe; he has been absorbed into Europe's artificial and structured society. In this way he is a lapsed American, "dishabituated to the American tone," which means that he has almost lost his innocence, but not quite, for he can still at their first meeting respond to Daisy's American quality: he realizes that hers "was not . . . what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl's eyes were singularly honest and fresh."
Winterbourne's "old attachment for the little metropolis of Calvinism" goes together with his innate characteristics, which are hinted at by his name rather less obtrusively than was the character of the New England town by the name "Grimwinter" in "Four Meetings." Though susceptible to Daisy's charm, he is emotionally inhibited and timid; this reinforces his Genevan wariness, and from the outset we find him wondering "whether he had gone too far" and, with barely adequate cause, he tentatively decides "he must advance farther, rather than retreat."
How far and how quickly James has come in fitting the means of a narrator to the ends of his art is shown by a comparison of Winterbourne and his function with the unnamed and rather featureless narrator and his ineffectual role in "Crawford's Consistency," published two years earlier. The latter is merely an observer and, though he has sympathy, is scarcely involved in Crawford's misfortunes, indeed he does not even understand how they come about. Winterbourne is different. From the beginning he is "amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed," and what he sees and feels fuels an urgent, unceasing, and never resolved debate in his mind and conscience, in this he is like Longmore in "Mme. de Mauves." He is very much involved, even to the point of wondering whether he is in love with Daisy and should court her. On the one hand, he thinks Daisy is merely a "flirt"—the word recurs frequently—"a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person," but then, as we have seen, he thinks again and again that she is as "innocent" as she is beautiful. And, when Winterbourne does "advance farther" and says, "I should much rather go to Chillon with you" than stay to look after Randolph, he is taking up a position that entails responsibilities. At Vevey, in the first half of the tale, he defends Daisy against his aunt Mrs. Costello's acerbic comments, and in Rome, where he is in somewhat hes nt pursuit of Daisy, he is really on the spot.
It is interesting to follow in some detail Winterbourne's feelings and inner struggle in Rome through several pages. In spite of the admonition of Mrs. Walker, he allows Daisy to conscript him to take her to the Pincio, a very public promenade, so that she can meet Giovanelli. Winterbourne, as usual, is complaisant. Still he resents the Italian as a rival, although he has not, despite some encouragement, declared his affection for Daisy and therefore has no claim to assert, and it is this jealousy that partly explains why Winterbourne is highly critical of Giovanelli and thus of Daisy too: "Winterbourne felt a superior indignation at his own lovely fellow-countrywoman's not knowing the difference between a spurious gentleman and a real one." He is soon wondering whether Daisy is guilty of "extreme cynicism": it is impossible to regard her as a "well-conducted young lady; she was wanting in a certain indispensable delicacy." The countermovement sets in before the end of the paragraph, however: "But Daisy, on this occasion, continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence."
Patrolling the Pincio in her carriage in the supervisory function that she has arrogated to herself, Mrs. Walker beckons to Winterbourne. Amenable and docile again, he detaches himself from Daisy and Giovanelli and joins Mrs. Walker; although he objects to Mrs. Walker's tactic of ordering Daisy away from Giovanelli, he does not block it and is in fact the bearer of the summons to Daisy. In the end he merely looks on as Daisy openly and at great length defies Mrs. Walker. His attempt to be neutral and evade his responsibility is not successful, because Daisy embroils him: she turns to him and appeals to him for judgment. He "hesitated greatly" but finally suggests that Daisy "should get into the carriage" and submit to Mrs. Walker and conventional respectability. Thus, when it comes to the test, Winterbourne fails Daisy. This is underlined when his attempt to join Daisy is stopped by Mrs. Walker's declaration "that if he refused her this favour [of remaining with her] she would never speak to him again"; when he tries to explain to Daisy that he must accede to Mrs. Walker's "imperious claim upon his society," she "only shook his hand, hardly looking at him." Seeing Daisy and Giovanelli close together under a parasol, he "lingered a moment, then he began to walk. But he walked—not towards the couple with the parasol; towards the residence of his aunt, Mrs. Costello." In poor Winterbourne's oscillating between Geneva and his own timid spontaneous feelings, James effectively dramatizes his dilemma and his impotence.
James intensifies the drama. Excluded from "respectable" society and by Winterbourne's desertion virtually confined to the company of Giovanelli, whom she must meet outdoors, Daisy is on the path to the Colosseum by moonlight and to her death, but Winterbourne still does nothing to help her. That she is drawn to him is shown by the message she sends him from her deathbed. It is true that he "went often to ask for news of her." but this is too little too late. She dies, leaving him with feelings of guilt and remorse. When he bitterly reproaches Giovanelli for taking Daisy to "that fatal place." he is in part trying to comfort himself, trying to minimize the "mistake" he realizes he has made. He is being rather hard on himself, but it was a dereliction or failure of courage and conviction in an intelligent and sympathetic young man who, like Henry James (one is tempted to say), is by temperament cautious and circumspect, heedful of authority and convention, it is the cynical Giovanelli who is most culpable: when he decides he stands no chance with her, he does not prevent the headstrong girl from risking the dread Roman fever.
Winterbourne is an advance on the narrator in "Four Meetings" because the shortcomings in the latter's conduct are clearly visible in the first scene, whereas Winterbourne's position and views have at first no such obvious flaws. In fact the reader will probably tend at first, in the Vevey scenes, to endorse his judgement that Daisy is "a pretty American flirt." Winterbourne makes his discovery gradually, and, as his view changes, so will that of the reader, who will therefore pass through an analogous experience; we begin to see the truth of Quentin Anderson's perception: James "is . . . aware of the arc which separates the reader and himself. . . . He seeks to diminish that arc, so that the end of the story takes place at the moment when your position coincides with his" [Introduction, Henry James: Selected Short Stories, 1957]. Thus the reader is drawn into the action, following the centre of consciousness, which serves one of the important purposes of the chorus in classical drama. By 1878, with Daisy Miller: A Study, James had forged a technique that would serve him throughout his greatest work.
According to Aziz, James wrote Daisy Miller "in the early months of 1878." It is not surprising therefore that a little earlier, in a letter to Howells of 30 March 1877, we should hear—when he is referring to his next novel, The Europeans—not the ironic self-deprecating note of the past, but a new and exuberant confidence: "You shall have the brightest possible sun-spot for the four-number tale of 1878. It shall fairly put your readers eyes out. The idea of doing what you propose much pleases me; and I agree to squeeze my buxom muse, as you happily call her, into a hundred of your pages." Writing in a soberly prophetic vein to his brother William from London on 28 January 1878, when he was perhaps already at work on Daisy Miller, James said: "If I keep along here patiently for a certain time I rather think I shall become a (sufficiently) great man. I have got back to work with great zest after my autumnal loafings, and mean to do some this year which will make a mark. I am, as you suppose, weary of writing articles about places, and mere potboilers of all kinds; but shall probably, after the next six months, be able to forswear it altogether, and give myself up seriously to 'creative' writing. Then, and not till then, my real career will begin."