Henry James (essay date 1909)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: A preface to Daisy Miller, Pandora, The Patagonia and Other Tales, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1909, pp. v-viii.

[In the following excerpt, James discusses the inspiration for his novella Daisy Miller, and the difference between his original, real-life observations of character and the final product of his art.]

It was in Rome during the autumn of 1877; a friend then living there but settled now in a South less weighted with appeals and memories happened to mention—which she might perfectly not have done—some simple and uninformed American lady of the previous winter, whose young daughter, a child of nature and of freedom, accompanying her from hotel to hotel, had "picked up" by the wayside, with the best conscience in the world, a good-looking Roman, of vague identity, astonished at his luck, yet (so far as might be, by the pair) all innocently, all serenely exhibited and introduced: this at least till the occurrence of some small social check, some interrupting incident, of no great gravity or dignity, and which I forget. I had never heard, save on this showing, of the amiable but not otherwise eminent ladies, who weren't in fact named, I think, and whose case had merely served to point a familiar moral; and it must have been just their want of salience that left a margin for the small pencil-mark inveterately signifying, in such connexions, "Dramatise, dramatise!" The result of my recognising a few months later the sense of my pencil-mark was the short chronicle of Day Miller, which I indited in London the following spring and then addressed, with no conditions attached, as I remember, to the editor of a magazine that had its seat of publication at Philadelphia and had lately appeared to appreciate my contributions. That gentleman however (an historian of some repute) promptly returned me my missive, and with an absence of comment that struck me at the time as rather grim—as, given the circumstances, requiring indeed some explanation: till a friend to whom I appealed for light, giving him the thing to read, declared it could only have passed with the Philadelphian critic for "an outrage on American girlhood." This was verily a light, and of bewildering intensity; though I was presently to read into the matter a further helpful inference. To the fault of being outrageous this little composition added that of being essentially and pre-eminently a nouvelle; a signal example in fact of that type, foredoomed at the best, in more cases than not, to editorial disfavour. If accordingly I was afterwards to be cradled, almost blissfully, in the conception that Daisy at least, among my productions, might approach "success," such success for example, on her eventual appearance, as the state of being promptly pirated in Boston—a sweet tribute I hadn't yet received and was never again to know—the irony of things yet claimed its rights, I couldn't but long continue to feel, in the...

(The entire section is 1217 words.)

B. R. McElderry, Jr. (essay date 1955)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The 'Shy Incongruous Charm' of 'Daisy Miller'," in Nineteenth-Century Fiction, Vol. 10, No. 2, September, 1955, pp. 162-65.

[McElderry was an American educator and critic whose studies focus predominantly on the works of such American realists as Mark Twain, Henry James, and Thomas Wolfe. In the following essay, McElderry reveals James' intention of portraying Daisy as innocent by quoting a letter he wrote on the subject soon after the publication of his novella]

The best-known comment by Henry James on his story Daisy Miller is found in two long paragraphs at the beginning of his "Preface" to volume XVIII of the New York Edition. Written nearly thirty years after the original publication, the account is not very illuminating. James tells the anecdote on which he based him story, and explains that it was published in Cornhill after being rejected by a Philadelphia magazine. "Flatness indeed," he continues, "one must have felt, was the very sum of her story.… Yet from it, "a sufficiently brooding tenderness might eventually extract a shy incongruous charm." Years later a lady reproached him for wasting his talents in falsifying the heroine. To this he replied that "my supposedly typical little figure was of course pure poetry, and had never been anything else.…"

There is, however, a little-known letter written not long after Daisy Miller was published, which is much more specific in accounting for the story. It is preserved in a memoir of Mrs. Lynn Linton, together with Mrs. Linton's inquiry, which prompted James's letter. Mrs. Lynn Linton (1822-1898) was a well-known English novelist and journalist. In her earlier years she was a vigorous partisan for women's rights, but in 1868 (ten years before Daisy) she wrote a series of anonymous articles attacking "The Girl of the Period" for unfeminine traits. Mrs. Linton's concern for feminine manners continued for the rest of her life, and as she makes clear in her letter to James, involved her in an acrimonious dispute over Daisy Miler.

My Dear Mr. James,

As a very warm dispute about your intention in Day Miller was one among other causes why I have lost the most valuable intellectual friend I ever had, I do not think you will grudge me half a dozen words to tell me what you did really wish your readers to understand, so that I may set myself right or give my opponent reason. I will not tell you which side I took, as I want to be completely fair to him. Did you mean us to understand that Daisy went on in her mad way with Giovanelli just in defiance of public opinion, urged thereto by the opposition made and the talk she excited? or because she was simply too innocent, too heedless, and too little conscious of appearance to understand what people made such a fuss about; or indeed the whole bearing of the fuss altogether? Was she obstinate and defying, or superficial and careless?

In this...

(The entire section is 1248 words.)

Edmond L. Volpe (essay date 1958)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Reception of Daisy Miller," in The Boston Public Library Quarterly, Vol. X, January, 1958, pp. 55-9.

[Volpe is an American author and educator. In the following essay, he refutes the tradition that Daisy Miller was poorly received by critics, citing instead the social uproar it created and its effect of perturbing readers, rather than critics, nationwide.]

At the time of its publication Henry James's Daisy Miller, according to literary tradition, was not well received by the American critics. The author is supposed to have been reviled by his countrymen for his unflattering portrait of the American girl. Modern scholars have wondered...

(The entire section is 1404 words.)

James W. Gargano (essay date 1960)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Daisy Miller: An Abortive Quest for Innocence," in South Atlantic Quarterly, Vol. 59, Winter, 1960, pp. 114-20.

[In the following essay, Gargano contends that Daisy Miller, considered as Winterbourne's and not Daisy's story, is "essentially the study of a young man's quest for innocence, a virtue for which his society has alienated itself ']

When John Foster Kirk rejected Daisy Miller as "an outrage on American girlhood," he unhappily misled critics of Henry James's novel into an obsessive preoccupation with its heroine. In his preface to the New York edition, James himself, perhaps still smarting from his rebuff, waives consideration of other...

(The entire section is 2256 words.)

Carol Ohmann (essay date 1964)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Daisy Miller: A Study of Changing Intentions," in American Literature, Vol. XXXVI, No. 1, March, 1964, pp. 1-11.

[Ohmann was an American author and educator. In the following essay, she argues that James' attitude toward Daisy shifts over the course of the novella, beginning as a comedy of manners critical of Daisy and ending as a poetical treatment of her innocence.]

Henry James's most popular nouvelle seems to have owed its initial prominence as much to the controversy it provoked as to the artistry it displayed. Daisy Miller caused a bitter dispute in the customarily urbane dining room of Mrs. Lynn Linton; it gave American writers of etiquette...

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John H. Randall III (essay date 1965)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "The Genteel Reader and Daisy Miller," in American Quarterly, Vol. XVII, No. 3, Fall, 1965, pp. 568-81.

[In the following essay, Randall maintains that Daisy Miller satirizes the mores and manners of late nineteenth-century American society.]

In an age in which one president is criticized for having a Boston-Harvard accent and another has it held against him that his speech is that of the Pedernales Valley, the concern with manners is far from dead. Manners may be an expression of nationality, or section, as well as morals; and many are content to judge the person by them alone. In a stable society such as once might have been presumed to exist,...

(The entire section is 5876 words.)

Motley F. Deakin (essay date 1969)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Daisy Miller, Tradition, and the European Heroine," in Comparative Literature Studies, Vol. VI, No. 1, March, 1969, pp. 45-59.

[Deakin is an American author and educator. In the following essay, he places Daisy Miller within the tradition of European literary heroines found in the works of Turgenev, Cherbuliez, George Sand, and Mme de Sta&7, and argues that, in these contexts, Daisy is symbolic of the ideal of dom.]

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...

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R. P. Draper (essay date 1969)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Death of a Hero? Winterbourne & Daisy Miller," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 6, Fall, 1969, pp. 601-8.

[Draper is an English author and educator. In the following essay, he studies the character of Winterbourne, and demonstrates the ways in which he is the central figure in Daisy Miller.]

"She goes on from day to day, from hour to hour," says Mrs. Costello of the heroine of Daisy Miller, "as they did in the Golden Age. I can imagine nothing more vulgar." This unconscious echo (unconscious, that is, as far as Mrs. Costello is concerned) of As You Like It lends a comic absurdity to her notion of vulgarity. It is perhaps true that to lead...

(The entire section is 3436 words.)

John Holloway (essay date 1969)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: An introduction to Daisy Miller: A Study, The Heritage Press, 1969, pp. v-xvi.

[Holloway is an English author and educator. In the following essay, he discusses the evolution of theme in Daisy Miller, claiming that the novella dramatizes "the fate of innocence in a devious and sophisticated world," but agrees with James in the assessment that the story is more a poetic than a critical study of Daisy's character.]

It is nearly a century since Daisy Miller was published by Leslie Stephen in The Cornhill Magazine of 1878, and today it is strange to seek out, on the reserve shelves of some big library, the dusty Cornhill volumes for...

(The entire section is 2920 words.)

Donald E. Houghton (essay date 1969)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

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 examines the theme of illness as a manifestation of cultural difference in Daisy Miller.]

Oscar Cargill's definition of James' "international novel" [in his introduction to James' Washington Square and Daisy Miller, 1965] 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...

(The entire section is 3124 words.)

Ann Wood (essay date 1972)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Reconsideration," in The New Republic, Vol. 167, No. 24 & 25, December 23 & 30, 1972, pp. 31-3.

[In the following essay, Wood records her impressions of Daisy Miller, noting that Daisy, as an example of the typical American girl, is ultimately 'public property"little more than an object to be acted upon.]

And there she was, Daisy Miller, the American Girl, pretty, vulgar, vulnerable, formally presented to the public in 1878 by the young Henry James. She charmed, angered, and amused Anglo-American readers in her own day, provided her author with his only commercial success, and lingers potently today with still provocative claims on the...

(The entire section is 2747 words.)

Louise K. Barnett (essay date 1979)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Jamesian Feminism: Women in 'Daisy Miller'," in Studies in Short Fiction, Vol. 16, No. 4, Fall, 1979, pp. 281-87.

[In the following essay, Barnett compares the limitations society places on women with Winterbourne's self-imposed social and personal restrictions.]

Although Henry James satirizes the idea of a women's movement in The Bostonians, his constant exploration of the tension between individual self-realization and social restriction often focuses upon the way in which society particularly shapes the behavior of women. A number of James's heroines must give up some degree of personal fulfilment and freedom because of social realities. The fine...

(The entire section is 2882 words.)

Richard A. Hocks (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Daisy Miller, Backward into the Past," in Henry James Review, Vol. 1, No. 2, Winter, 1980, pp. 164-78.

[Hocks is an American author and educator who has written extensively on Henry James. In the following essay, he examines Daisy Miller from the perspective of one hundred years of criticism. Highlighting developments in critical perspective and revisions in James's thoughts on the novel, he explores the characters of Daisy and Winterbourne and the thematic issues that they raise.]

Here you have the work of a great psychologist, who has the imagination of a poet, the wit of a keen humorist, the conscience of an impeccable...

(The entire section is 9547 words.)

Frankie Wilson and Max Westbrook (essay date 1980)

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)

SOURCE: "Daisy Miller and the Metaphysician," in American Literary Realism 1870-1910, Vol. XIII, No. 2, Autumn, 1980, pp. 270-79.

[In the following essay, Wilson and Westbrook investigate the metaphysical aspects of Daisy Miller, as well as its resemblance to certain mythological stories.]

According to Henry James, "Experience is never limited, and it is never complete; it is an immense sensibility, a kind of huge spider-web of the finest silken threads suspended in the chamber of consciousness, and catching every air-borne particle in its tissue." James's fiction, consistently faithful to this thesis, seems to contain always one more nuance, one more...

(The entire section is 4168 words.)

Further Reading

(Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism)


Ricks, Beatrice. Henry James: A Bibliography of Secondary Works. Metuchen, N.J.: The Scarecrow Press, Inc., 461 p.

Contains a bibliography of criticism and early reviews of Daisy Miller.


Cargill, Oscar. An Introduction to Washington Square and Daisy Miller, by Henry James, pp. vii-xxv. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1956.

Outlines sources for Daisy Miller and compares the work to James's novel Washington Square.

Coffin, Tristram P. "Notes and Queries." Western Folklore XVII, No. 4 (October 1958): 273-75.


(The entire section is 526 words.)