Henry James (essay date 1909)

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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 circumstance that quite a special reprobation had waited on the first appearance in the world of the ultimately most prosperous child of my invention. So doubly discredited, at all events, this bantling met indulgence, with no great delay, in the eyes of my admirable friend the late Leslie Stephen and was published in two numbers of The Cornhill Magazine (1878).

It qualified itself in that publication and afterwards as "a Study"; for reasons which I confess I fail to recapture unless they may have taken account simply of a certain flatness in my poor little heroine's literal denomination. Flatness indeed, one must have felt, was the very sum of her story; so that...

(This entire section contains 1217 words.)

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perhaps after all the attached epithet was meant but as a deprecation, addressed to the reader, of any great critical hope of stirring scenes. It provided for mere concentration, and on an object scant and superficially vulgar—from which, however, a sufficiently brooding tenderness might eventually extract a shy incongruous charm. I suppress at all events here the appended qualification—in view of the simple truth, which ought from the first to have been apparent to me, that my little exhibition is made to no degree whatever in critical but, quite inordinately and extravagantly, in poetical terms. It comes back to me that I was at a certain hour long afterwards to have reflected, in this connexion, on the characteristic free play of the whirligig of time. It was in Italy again—in Venice and in the prized society of an interesting friend, now dead, with whom I happened to wait, on the Grand Canal, at the animated water-steps of one of the hotels. The considerable little terrace there was so disposed as to make a salient stage for certain demonstrations on the part of two young girls, childrenthey, if ever, of nature and of freedom, whose use of those resources, in the general public eye, and under our own as we sat in the gondola, drew from the lips of a second companion, sociably afloat with us, the remark that there before us, with no sign absent, were a couple of attesting Daisy Millers. Then it was that, in my charming hostess's prompt protest, the whirligig, as I have called it, at once betrayed itself. "How can you liken those creatures to a figure of which the only fault is touchingly to have transmuted so sorry a type and to have, by a poetic artifice, not only led our judgement of it astray, but made any judgement quite impossible?" With which this gentle lady and admirable critic turned on the author himself. "You know you quite falsified, by the turn you gave it, the thing you had begun with having in mind, the thing you had had, to satiety, the chance of 'observing': your pretty perversion of it, or your unprincipled mystification of our sense of it, does it really too much honour—in spite of which, none the less, as anything charming or touching always to that extent justifies itself, we after a fashion forgive and understand you. But why waste your romance? There are cases, too many, in which you've done it again; in which, provoked by a spirit of observation at first no doubt sufficiently sincere, and with the measured and felt truth fairly twitching your sleeve, you have yielded to your incurable prejudice in favour of grace—to whatever it is in you that makes so inordinately for form and prettiness and pathos; not to say sometimes for misplaced drolling. Is it that you've after all too much imagination? Those awful young women capering at the hotel-door, they are the real little Daisy Millers that were; whereas yours in the tale is such a one, more's the pity, as—for pitch of the ingenuous, for quality of the artless—couldn't possibly have been at all." My answer to all which bristled of course with more professions than I can or need report here; the chief of them inevitably to the effect that 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. As for the original grossness of readers, I dare say I added, that was another matter—but one which at any rate had then quite ceased to signify.

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

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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 difference of view lies the cause of a quarrel so serious, that, after dinner, an American, who sided with my opponent and against me, came to me in the drawing room and said how sorry he was that any gentleman should have spoken to any lady with the "unbridled insolence" with which this gentleman had spoken to me. So I leave you to judge of the bitterness of the dispute, when an almost perfect stranger, who had taken a view opposite to my own, could say this to me!…

Mrs. Linton's agitation had its effect. James replied with his customary grace, and with unusual definiteness.

My Dear Mrs. Linton,

I will answer you as concisely as possible—and with great pleasure—premising that I feel very guilty at having excited such ire in celestial minds, and painfully responsible at the present moment.

Poor little Daisy Miller was, as I understand her, above all things innocent. It was not to make a scandal, or because she took the pleasure in a scandal, that she "went on" with Giovanelli. She never took the measure really of the scandal she produced, and had no means of doing so: she was too ignorant, too irrefiective, too little versed in the proportions of things. She intended infinitely less with G. than she appeared to intend—and he himself was quite at sea as to how far she was going. She was a flirt, a perfectly superficial and unmalicious one, and she was very fond, as she announced at the outset, of "gentlemen's society." In Giovanelli she got a gentleman—who, to her uncultivated perception, was a very brilliant one—all to herself, and she enjoyed his society in the largest possible measure. When she found that this measure was thought too large by other people—especially Winterbourne—she was wounded; she became conscious that she was accused of something of which her very comprehension was vague. This consciousness she endeavoured to throw off, she tried not to think of what people meant, and easily succeeded in doing so; but to my perception she never really tried to take her revenge upon public opinion—to outrage it and irritate it. In this sense I fear I must declare that she was not defiant, in the sense you mean. If I recollect rightly, the word "defiant" is used in the tale—but it is not intended in that large sense; it is descriptive of the state of her poor little heart, which felt that a fuss was being made about her and didn't wish to hear anything more about it. She only wished to be left alone—being herself quite unaggressive. The keynote of her character is her innocence—that of her conduct is, of course, that she has a little sentiment about Winterbourne, that she believes to be quite unreciprocated—conscious as she was only of his protesting attitude. But, even here, I did not mean to suggest that she was playing off Giovanelli against Winterbourne—for she was too innocent even for that. She didn't try to provoke and stimulate W. by flirting overtly with G.—she never believed that Winterbourne was provokable. She would have liked him to think well of her—but had an idea from the first that he cared only for higher game, so she smothered this feeling to the best of her ability (though at the end a glimpse of it is given), and tried to help herself to do so by a good deal of lively movement with Giovanelli. The whole idea of the story is the little tragedy 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. To deepen the effect, I have made it go over her mother's head as well. She never had a thought of scandalising anybody—the most she ever had was a regret for Winterbourne.

This is the only witchcraft I have used—and I must leave you to extract what satisfaction you can from it. Again I must say I feel "real badly," as D. M. would have said, at having supplied the occasion for a breach of cordiality. May the breach be healed herewith! … Believe in the very good will of yours faithfully,

H. James

And that—"as concisely as possible"—was James's intention in Daisy Miller. This was the method of the "brooding tenderness" which "eventually extract[ed] a shy incongruous charm" for James's most popular story.

Further Reading

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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.

Claims that in her "independence of thought and action," "laudable innocence," and "straightforward distrust of subtlety" Daisy Miller is similar to the heroes of western cowboy novels.

"Daisy Miller; and The Laughing Mill." The Saturday Review (London) 47, No. 1,227 (3 May 1879): 561-62.

Generally positive review of Daisy Miller that nevertheless finds the story's conclusion dissatisfying.

Dunbar, Viola R. "The Revision of Daisy Miller." Modern Language Notes LXV, No. 5 (May 1950): 311-17.

Surveys revisions James made for the 1909 New York Edition of Daisy Miller.

Dupee, F. W. "The Tree of Knowledge." In Henry James, pp. 74-112. Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1956.

Includes a discussion of Daisy Miller as an ironic tribute to the American girl.

Fiedler, Leslie A. "The Revenge on Woman: From Lucy to Lolita." In Love and Death in the American Novel, pp. 291-336. New York: Anchor Books, 1992.

Briefly comments on Daisy Miller as being "finally and unequivocally innocent" despite the uproar of indignation her character created among American readers.

Geist, Stanley. "Portraits From a Family Album." The Hudson Review V, No. 2 (Summer 1952): 203-6.

Study of Daisy's character that emphasizes her "absolute metaphysical freedom" in conflict with the realities of modern society.

Goodspeed, Edgar J. "A Footnote to Daisy Miller," The Atlantic Monthly 153, No. 2 (February 1934): 252-53.

Suggests a possible real-life source for the character of Daisy Miller.

Hoffman, Michael J. "Realism as Vision and Style." In The Subversive Vision: American Romanticism in Literature, pp. 101-28. Port Washington, N.Y.: Kennikat Press, 1972.

Explores Daisy Miller's theme of an innocent individual in a repressive society.

Newberry, Frederick. "A Note on the Horror in James's Revision of Daisy Miller." Henry James Review III, No. 3 (Spring 1982): 229-32.

Observes James's multiple inclusions of the word "horror" in the 1909 revision of Daisy Miller, noting a verbal play on its similarity to the word "whore" and its consequent bearing on interpretations of Daisy's character.

"Recent Novels." The Nation (New York) XXVII, No. 703 (19 December 1878): 386-89.

Includes a review of Daisy Miller that calls the work a "true" and "clever" study of character.

Review of Daisy Miller. Harper's New Monthly Magazine LVIII, No. CCCXLIV (January 1879): 310.

Short commentary on the unrealistic qualities of Daisy and her mother.

White, Richard Grant. "Recent Fiction." North American Review CXXVIII, No. 266 (January 1879): 91-110.

Contains a brief review of Daisy Miller that comments on the nature of the title character as a faithful portrait of "a certain sort of American young woman."

Additional coverage of James's life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Concise Dictionary of American Literary Biography, 1865-1917; Contemporary Autbors, Vols. 104, 132; DISCovering Authors; DISCovering Authors: British; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 12, 71, 74; Major Twentieth-Century Writers, Short Story Criticism, Vol. 8; Twentieth-Century Literary Criticism, Vols. 2,11, 24, 40, 47; World Literature Criticism.

Edmond L. Volpe (essay date 1958)

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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 why there should have been such a reaction to what is really a sympathetic portrayal of Daisy, but no one, in print at least, has questioned the validity of the tradition. Richard Foley, in his study of the reception given to James's works in American periodicals, noted that though "the magazines reported … Daisy Miller had been objected to on the grounds that it maligned the American young lady, it was well received by those [magazines] examined." The discrepancy between the reports by the magazine writers and their own favorable comments has been generally ignored, probably because several months after the appearance of Daisy Miller a brief discussion of its reception (attributed to William Dean Howells) in the "Contributors Club" of the Atlantic Monthly included quotations from "some critical experts" who regarded the tale as "servilely snobbish" and "brutally unpatriotic."

Who these "critical experts" were and in what publications they made such statements is a mystery. A search through the literary periodicals of the period has revealed no statement about the novel that even approximates the tone of these quotations. On the contrary, the tale was very well received. No critic questioned James's patriotism or accused him of snobbishness. Only one reviewer wondered if Daisy had been intended to represent the typical American girl:

If the anomalous mother and daughter who are the chief figures in Mr. James's Daisy Miller were seriously presented by him as typical representatives of our country-women—while admitting that such a mother and daughter are as much within the range of possibility as the Siamese twins and has as equitable a title to be set up as types—we should affirm that they have not enough of general or special resemblance to any really existent class to lend probability to caricature. It is obvious, however, that Mr. James had no such purpose in this brilliant and graceful trifle.

No writer in an American periodical provided the "Contributor Club" commentator with his quotations, nor did the reviewers in the New York or Boston newspapers. The only New York journal that printed a full-length review of the novel was the New York Times, and that was laudatory. In Boston, where the novel was first published, it produced almost no reaction in the daily or weekly newspapers. The Boston Evening Transcript usually devoted a full column or two to book reviews; on the day James's tale was listed under "Books Received" there were reviews of several other works mentioned, including a Grocer's manual, a Latin grammar and a book on ornithology. The Boston Post on November 11,1879 offered the most elaborate review:

Daisy Miller is a bright little story, an affaire du coeur. The scene of the story is laid in Switzerland—in Vevey, in fact, one of the most charming retreats that skirt the shore of Loch Leman. It is an entertaining little tale of what befell two hearts in that far-off country, and one may while away a half hour with pleasure and no harm done.

It is possible that in the "Contributor's Club" passage Howells was quoting oral criticism; the following month, however, the same column made specific reference to published criticism:

To read the silly criticisms which have been printed, and the far sillier ones which are every day uttered … 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 underbred American family …

There is no ambiguity in these lines: James has been attacked by American critics; but by whom and in what publication, Howells did not say. None of the other magazine writers who corroborate the statement is specific either. In the "Our Monthly Gossip" column of Lippincott's Magazine (October, 1879), the writer maintains that two novels "The Story of Avis and Daisy Miller are in much greater demand [by magazine editors] in consequence of the severity of a few reviewers in dealing with them." The Nation's critic, reviewing the book a month after publication, wrote: "Certainly no American book of its size has been so much read and so much discussed, as far as our memory runs back." And the critic in the Century declared that the novel was

… much criticised in the United States for the uncomplimentary character of its heroine … The character is denounced as exaggerated in the extreme, and only applicable to Americans in Europe who are the scandal and terror of their fellow-travelers.

Yet neither the Nation nor the Century critic mentions printed criticism. Howells, in a letter to James Russell Lowell on June 22, 1879, describes the reaction to the novel as a "vast discussion in which nobody felt very deeply, and everybody talked very loudly. The thing went so far that society almost divided itself in Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites." It is a social rather than a critical controversy that Howells presents in this letter. Had there been so vigorous a literary attack upon James as the "Contributor's Club" passages indicate, surely there would have been some mention of it in the literary gossip sections of the periodicals. But neither the Literary World with its "Literary Table Talk" nor the Outlook with its "Literary Notes" referred to any controversy over Daisy Miller.

The New York and Boston newspapers, too, failed to make any reference to an attack upon James or his novel. The New York papers reflected instead a developing popular interest in the novelist. He was spoken of frequently in the "personal" and "literature" columns during the first few months of 1879, and on June 4 of that year the New York Times carried on its editorial page a discussion of the international social problem which mentioned the resentment aroused by Daisy Miller: "There are many ladies in and around New York to-day who feel very indignant with Mr. James for his portrait of Daisy Miller, and declare that it is shameful to give foreigners so untrue a portrait of an American girl."

The evidence, therefore, is that Daisy Miller perturbed many readers, particularly women, but not the critics. In comparison to the manner in which James's biography of Hawthorne was received, the reception of the story was excellent. In 1880, sparked by George Lathrop's denunciation, a number of American authors accused James of being unpatriotic; and many editorial writers pounced upon him for his "unAmerican" attitude. It is possible that the receptions given these two works have, over the years become confused.

In his letter to Lowell, Howells declared that he was pleased with the furor Daisy Miller had created, because in "making James so thoroughly known, it would call attention in a wide degree to the beautiful work he has been doing so long for very few readers and still fewer lovers." He may have been primed for trouble long before the tale's publication in book form. In his preface to the novel in the New York edition, James stated that he had originally submitted the story to a Philadelphia magazine (Lippincott's) the editor of which (John Foster Kirk) had promptly returned it without comment. Puzzled, he appealed to a friend "for light, giving him the thing to read." The friend "declared that it could only have passed with the Philadelphia critic for 'an outrage on American girlhood.'" There is nothing to prove that Howells was that friend, but if he was, or even if he had been informed by James of the incident, he would have been ready to defend the novel against expected attacks.

There is another possible solution to the mystery: that a midwestern or western newspaper has provided Howells with the quotations he used. But even if such a review were discovered, the tradition that Daisy Miller received a poor critical reception in the United States is obviously untrue.

James W. Gargano (essay date 1960)

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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 aspects of the novel in his excessive concern with justifying his portrait of the maligned Daisy. Howells, too, because of the nature of his subject in Heroines of Fiction, focuses discussion of the novel on the appealing heroine.

Critical preoccupation with Daisy has fostered the view that the theme of the novel is the peril of a good but naive American girl in a stiffly conventional society. This simplification ignores the fact that Frederick Winterbourne, as the central intelligence, represents the consciousness upon which the events and characters of the novel have the greatest impact. Since he is always on the scene, observing, discriminating, and seeking to unravel the mystery of the enigmatic Daisy, the drama must, if James's art can be said to have any intention, structurally center in him. He, I believe, is the subject of the novel and not merely the lens through which Daisy's career is seen. His story has a richness that makes Daisy Miller more than a thin commentary on the lawless innocence of the American girl.

Winterbourne's visit to Vevey begins an experience which can be described, in one of James' favorite words, as an "initiation." In other words, Winterbourne leaves a world of fixed values, and adventures into a foreign one where only innate sensibility and large sympathy can guide him and where commitment to a restrictive code will surely hurt him. His attraction to Daisy, by wrenching him out of his moral and social insularity, offers him an opportunity to enlarge his consciousness and gain the psychic fulfilment that James's characters constantly seek and very rarely find in love. Thus, for all her independent charm, Daisy exists to test Winterbourne's ability to grow beyond his hitherto narrow and one-sided state into a fully realized human being.

Considered as Winterbourne's story, DaisyMiller is essentially the study of a young man's quest for innocence, a virtue from which his society has alienated itself. It is by no means accidental that Winterbourne meets Daisy in a garden—commonly associated with innocence—or that the severe Mrs. Costello describes the girl as romping "on from day to day, from hour to hour, as they did in the Golden Age." Indeed, the mis-en scene of the first section of the novel cleverly foreshadows the later conflict between innocence (here related to freedom) and the dark assumptions with which Winterbourne faces life. Winterbourne is visiting Vevey, which, because it resembles "an American watering-place," exhibits a more relaxed social life than is to be found elsewhere in Europe. Vevey is further identified with freedom by its proximity to the Castle of Chillon, unmistakably associated with Bonivard, a famous foe of tyranny. With typical finesse, James immediately emphasizes the spiritual distance between Vevey and Winterbourne, who "had an old attachment for the little capital of Calvinism." Certainly Geneva, later referred to "as the dark old city at the other end of the lake," symbolizes a rigidly conventional way of life whose forms mask a Puritan distrust of spontaneous and natural behavior. Winterbourne, who significantly attended school in Geneva and has many friends there, constantly assesses his new experiences by the standards of his spiritual home.

Vevey is the appropriate scene for Winterbourne's rencounter with a bewildering girl who "looked extremely innocent." But since innocence is the very thing in which Geneva has lost faith, Winterbourne consistently misreads Daisy's character and seeks to ferret out the arriere penske, the dubious motive behind her artless conversation. Still, his admiration of her constitutes a self-betrayal, a persistent belief in innocence perhaps rooted in his American origin and fortified by the romantic idealism of youth. Lacking as yet a fatal rigidity, he is offered an opportunity to discover innocence and escape the propriety that menaces the full flowering of his nature.

Winterbourne's initiation begins in a comic manner calculated to show his inability to appreciate instinctively the innocence of Daisy's character. When, contrary to the code of Geneva, he speaks to the unmarried Daisy, he wonders whether "he has gone too far." He risks "an observation on the beauty of the scene" and wrongly assumes that an excursion to Chillon with the girl must perforce include her mother as chaperone. When he attempts to classify her, she undermines all of his stuffy and inapplicable generalizations. He decides that she may be "cold," "austere," and "prim" only to find her spontaneous and as "decently limpid as the very cleanest water."

Winterbourne's perplexity in the presence of innocence indicates the extent to which he is "morally muddled." Unable to believe in natural goodness, which usurps freedoms of speech and action, he must analyze it with the suspicious rationalism of Geneva and thus miss its essential luster. Distrusting the authority of his feeling for Daisy's "natural elegance," he complacently pronounces her a flirt:

Winterbourne was almost grateful for having found the formula that applied to Miss Daisy Miller. He leaned back in his seat;… he wondered what were the regular conditions and limitations of one's intercourse with a pretty American flirt.

Winterbourne's comic ineptness demonstrates how poorly Geneva's formulas have prepared him to understand innocence.

His self-assurance is so halfhearted, however, that he takes his problem to his aunt, Mrs. Costello, the most reliable social authority he knows. Going to her with "a desire for trustworthy information," he suddenly betrays an inchoate perception of Daisy's nature. Though he uncritically allows Mrs. Costello's reference to the girl's "intimacy" with Eugenio to "make up his mind about Miss Daisy," he generously declares, "Ah you're cruel!… She's a very innocent girl!" In spite of his aunt's innuendoes, he holds to his purpose of taking Daisy to Chillon. Indeed, his momentary defection from Geneva appears so extreme that Mrs. Costello is confirmed in her refusal to be presented to his new acquaintance.

Winterbourne's recognition of Daisy's innocence may represent impatience with the stringent code of Geneva, but it can by no means be interpreted as thoroughgoing disillusionment. He sees only enough to be less blind than Mrs. Costello; if he departs from the dictates of propriety, he does so with customary prudence. Lacking the ardor and recklessness of a rebel, he is temperamentally doomed to swing in permanent vacillation between opposing claims. He has sensibility enough to be "touched, mortified, shocked" when he perceives Daisy's hurt at Mrs. Costello's refusal to see her; yet he is too tepid to do anything more than think of sacrificing "his aunt—conversationally." Even his trip to Chillon—perhaps his most daring action—is followed by his symbolical return to the bleak city of conformity. In his paralyzing introspection and most of his behavior, he is a morbid, though superficially cultivated, latter-day Puritan.

Nevertheless, before his visit to Rome, Winterbourne has found Daisy's innocence appealing enough to defend. On the free soil of Vevey, he has even dared to take an unchaperoned young lady on an excursion. He may cut a comic figure in his attempts to reduce Daisy's ingenuous license to formula, but his mind is open to impressions that the bigoted Mrs. Costello refuses to receive. Since Rome, however, is the city where one behaves as the Romans do, Winterbourne's capacity for freedom and conversely the extent of his commitment to Geneva are tested there.

The Roman phase of the novel ironically dramatizes the disintegration of Winterbourne's somewhat nebulous faith in innocence. In the presence of Daisy's critics, he defends her in a manner which reveals a desire to strengthen his own faltering belief in her. To Mrs. Costello's indictment of the Millers, he timidly responds: "They are very ignorant—very innocent only, and utterly uncivilized." When Mrs. Walker's carriage appears in the Pincian Gardens to rescue Daisy from her "tryst" with Giovanelli, Winterbourne again insists upon the girl's innocence, but as he does so he "reasoned in his own troubled interest." Indeed, before Mrs. Walker's intrusion, he had himself explored all manner of doubts about the "fineness" of Daisy's character. Obviously, then, in his debates with the girl's critics he is confronting, and only temporarily triumphing over, his own sinister suspicions. Basically, he never triumphs at all, for after his colloquy with Mrs. Costello he "checked his impulse to go straightway" to visit Daisy and after his bout with Mrs. Walker he confesses, "I suspect, Mrs. Walker, that you and I have lived too long at Geneva." His evaluation of himself is so accurate that when Mrs. Walker affords him a chance to return to Daisy, and thus to conquer his doubts, he permits mere appearance, "the couple united beneath the parasol," to undermine his insecure faith in innocence.

Winterbourne's desertion of Daisy in the Pincian Gardens (again the garden suggests innocence) characterizes him as incapable of embracing values larger than those of his parochial society. His acuteness in recognizing the cruelties of Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker is not vision, and his persistent defense of Daisy is hardly courage. With a finicky, formal taste, he wants his innocence wellbred and prudent, not realizing that innocence is by nature averse to calculation. When Daisy asks him if he thinks she should desert Giovanelli and enter Mrs. Walker's carriage, he advises her to "listen to the voice of civilized society." Sententiously, stiffly—Daisy describes him as having no more "give than a ramrod,"—he lectures her about the "custom of the country" and the "ineptitude of innocence."

His final incapacity to champion innocence is shown when, Mrs. Walker having turned her back on Daisy, he is "greatly touched" by the girl's "blighted grace" but characteristically does nothing more than accuse Mrs. Walker of cruelty. It is no wonder that he soon feels "that holding fast to a belief in [Daisy's] 'innocence' was more and more but a matter of gallantry too fine-spun for use." He admits that "he had helplessly missed her, and now it was too late." Yet, he cannot completely abandon his belief in an innocence that once charmed as well as bewildered him until he discovers Daisy and Giovanelli together in the Colosseum at night. Then, with "final horror" as well as "final relief," he capitulates to Geneva:

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. That once questionable quantity had no shades—it was a mere black little blot.

Winterbourne's quest has thus ended in a typically Puritan repudiation of innocence. Now, giving greater faith to his new discovery of Daisy's "evil nature" than he had ever given to his timid belief in her goodness, he spurns her with a severity as inhumane as Mrs. Costello's and Mrs. Walkers. His last conversation with the girl is a caustic revelation that his nature has shriveled rather than expanded. He counters her assurance that she is not engaged to Giovanelli with a confession of indifference made "with infinite point." "It was a wonder," says James, "how she didn't wince for it." Essentially the slave of a society that worships form and ignores humane considerations, he lifts his hat and leaves her while Daisy cries out, "I don't care … whether I have the Roman fever or not!" Even Daisy's death-bed message, reminding him of their trip to Chillon (freedom) and disavowing the rumors concerning Giovanelli and herself, leaves him intransigent and unaffected.

Winterbourne's harsh certainty about Daisy's character convicts him of a fatal coldness of heart fostered by the sin-obsessed society of Geneva. Having failed to respond to Daisy's need for affection, he can gain enlightenment only from without, never from within. Ultimately, he must be convinced of Daisy's purity by the impressionable fortune hunter, Giovanelli. Their short conversation after Daisy's burial brings home to Winterbourne how irremediably the dark old city has played him false. He has seen innocence—the only kind of innocence this complex world affords—and has conspired with Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker to kill it. Listening to Giovanelli's elegy to Daisy, he is made to face his own incredible error:

"She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable." To which he added in a moment: "Also—naturally!—the most innocent."

Winterbourne sounded him with hard dry eyes, but presently repeated his words, "The most innocent?"

It came somehow so much too late that our friend could only glare at its having come at all.

Months later Winterbourne reveals to Mrs. Costello that he has brooded over and measured the depth of his mistake. Nevertheless, though he locates the cause of his failure in his "foreign" education, his wisdom culminates in a retreat to Geneva. The quest for innocence has thus merely brought him experience of his own lugubrious inadequacy to transcend—even with the advantage of knowledge—the sham and cruel proprieties of the dark old city.

Carol Ohmann (essay date 1964)

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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 a satisfying opportunity to chastise native mothers and daughters (Daisy should have had a chaperone; dear reader, take heed); it brought Henry James himself, while he sat in the confines of a Venetian gondola, a round scolding from a highly articulate woman of the cosmopolitan world. The causes of argument, of course, were the character of James's heroine and the judgment her creator made of her. In late Victorian eyes, Daisy was likely to be either wholly innocent or guilty; James, either all for her or against her.

Today, Daisy's notoriety attends her only in her fictional world. We take her now as one of our familiars; we invoke her, in the assurance that she will come and be recognized, as an American figure both vital and prototypical. Thus Ihab Hassan, for example, joins her in his Radical Innocence with Twain's Huck Finn and Crane's Henry Fleming, and notes that all three are young protagonists faced with "the first existential ordeal, crisis, or encounter with experience." Taking Daisy with appreciation and without alarm, we also re-read her character and re-evaluate her moral status. We seem to meet James's sophistication with our own, by agreeing on a mixed interpretation of Daisy: she is literally innocent, but she is also ignorant and incautious. Or, as F. W. Dupee writes [in Henry James: His Life and Writings, 1956], and his view meets with considerable agreement elsewhere in our criticism, "[Daisy] does what she likes because she hardly knows what else to do. Her will is at once strong and weak by reason of the very indistinctness of her general aims."

Our near consensus of opinion on Daisy Miller seems to me largely correct. I certainly do not want to dismiss it, although I do wish to elaborate upon it and ground it in Jamesian text and method. At the same time, however, I wish to suggest that our very judiciousness is supported by only part of James's nouvelle and that other parts, certain scenes in Rome, really call for franker and more intense alignments of both sympathy and judgment. In a sense, the early and extreme reactions to Daisy were adequate responses to James's creation. Whether black or white, these responses did at least perceive that the final issue of the nouvelle was a matter of total commitment. In short, I think James began writing with one attitude toward his heroine and concluded with a second and different attitude toward her.


James begins his nouvelle by building a dramatic, and largely comic, contrast between two ways of responding to experience—a contrast at once suggested by the first-person narrator in the opening paragraph:

in the month of June, American travellers are extremely numerous; it may be said, indeed, that Vevey assumes at this period some of the characteristics of an American watering-place. There are sights and sounds which evoke a vision, an echo, of Newport and Saratoga. There is a flitting hither and thither of "stylish" young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance-music in the morning hours, a sound of high-pitched voices at all times. You receive an impression of these things at the excellent inn of the "Trois Couronnes," and are transported in fancy to the Ocean House or to Congress Hall. But at the "Trois Couronnes," it must be added, there are other features that are much at variance with these suggestions: neat German waiters, who look like secretaries of legation; Russian princesses sitting in the garden; little Polish boys walking about, held by the hand, with their governors.…

The carefree exuberance, the noisy frivolity, of the American visitors is set against the quiet formality and restraint of the Europeans, who hold even their little boys in check.

James repeats his opening contrast in virtually every piece of dialogue that follows. While the hero Frederick Winterbourne is an American by birth, he has lived "a long time" in Geneva, the "little metropolis of Calvinism," the "dark old city at the other end of the lake." And Winterbourne's mode of speech suggests the extent to which he has become Europeanized. In Vevey, he finds himself "at liberty," on a little holiday from Geneva. He takes a daring plunge into experience; with no more than a very casual introduction from her little brother Randolph, he speaks to Daisy Miller. "This little boy and I have made acquaintance," he says. Daisy glances at him and turns away. In a moment, Winterbourne tries again. "Are you going to Italy?" he asks. Daisy says, "Yes, sir," and no more. "Are you—a—going over the Simplon?" Winterbourne continues. Shortly afterwards, as Daisy continues to ignore him, Winterbourne "risk[s] an observation upon the beauty of the view." Winterbourne's feelings of "liberty" and of "risk" and, later, of "audacity" become ironic in conjunction with his speech. For all his holiday spirit, his language is studiously formal, his opening conversational bits, unimaginative and conventional.

In opposition to Winterbourne, Daisy often speaks in the language of extravagant, if unoriginal, enthusiasm. In her opinion, Europe is "perfectly sweet.… She had ever so many intimate friends that had been there ever so many times.… she had had ever so many dresses and things from Paris." She wants to go to the Castle of Chillon "dreadfully." Or, unlike Winterbourne again, Daisy speaks in an idiom that is homely and matter-of-fact. When Winterbourne asks, "Your brother is not interested in ancient monuments?" she rejects his formal phrasing and says simply, "[Randolph] says he don't care much about old castles."

For all their differences, Winterbourne and Daisy may still be capable of rapprochement. Toward the end of Part I, Daisy teases Winterbourne out of his formality and makes him, for a moment, speak her language—makes him, for a moment, express himself enthusiastically. "Do, then, let me give you a row," Winterbourne says. Daisy replies, "It's quite lovely, the way you say that!" And Winterbourne answers, "It will be still more lovely to do it." Winterbourne is, and Daisy notices this, a "mixture." He is not quite, or at least not yet, thoroughly Europeanized.

Winterbourne may be influenced by Daisy, but he is also subject to the sway of his aunt. Mrs. Costello is a woman of few words. When Winterbourne asks her, in Vevey, if she has observed Mrs. Miller, Daisy, and Randolph, she raps out the reply: "Oh, yes, I have observed them. Seen them—heard them—and kept out of their way." Epigram is Mrs. Costello's favorite way of speaking and perfectly expresses the inflexibility of her approach to experience. Her principles of value have long been set—she need only apply them. Whatever is vulgar, whatever is improper, she condemns out of hand, and shuns. Sage and spokesman of the American set abroad, she guards a style of life and reveals its furthest limit of permissible emotion by exclaiming, "I am an old woman, but I am not too old—thank Heaven—to be shocked!"

The opening, then, and indeed the chief focus of Daisy Miller is a comic portrayal of different ways of living, different manners. In the social settings with which they are identified, in the ways they speak, as well as in what they say, the various characters range themselves along an axis that runs from the natural to the cultivated, from the exuberant to the restrained.

In the conflict between Geneva and Schenectady, there is, I think, little doubt of the direction James gives our sympathies. Presented with the collision between the artificial and the natural, the restrained and the free, we side emotionally with Daisy. We sympathize with Winterbourne, too, to the extent that he seems capable of coming "alive" and to the extent that he speaks up in favor of Daisy to Mrs. Costello in Vevey and, later, in Rome, to Mrs. Costello and also to Mrs. Walker, another American who has lived in Geneva. For the rest, however, our emotional alliance with Winterbourne is disturbed or interrupted by his Genevan penchant for criticism. At his first meeting with Daisy in Vevey, Winterbourne mentally accuses her—"very forgivingly—of a want of finish." But when Daisy blithely announces that she has always had "a great deal of gentlemen's society," Winterbourne is more alarmed. He wonders if he must accuse her of "actual or potential inconduite, as they said at Geneva."

In Rome, although Winterbourne defends Daisy to the American colony publicly, he is privately, increasingly shocked by her friendship with the "third-rate" Italian Giovanelli. Her walks with Giovanelli, her rides with Giovanelli, her tête-à-têtes in her own drawing room with Giovanelli—all worry Winterbourne. He imitates Mrs. Walker in scolding Daisy. And so he removes himself farther and farther from her. When he finally comes upon her with Giovanelli in the Colosseum at night, he thinks that she has certainly compromised herself. And he is relieved. For his personal feelings for Daisy have gradually been overwhelmed by his intellectual involvement in the problem of Daisy. He is relieved and "exhilarated" that the "riddle" has suddenly become "easy to read." He promptly judges Daisy by her manners—as Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker have already done—and condemns her. "What a clever little reprobate she was," he thinks, "and how smartly she played at injured innocence!"

He learns otherwise too late. He knows, for a moment at the end of the nouvelle, that he has made a mistake; he knows he has wronged Daisy because he has stayed too long abroad, has become too rigid in his values. Yet his knowledge does not change him. The authorial voice concludes the tale by mocking Winterbourne's return to the narrow social code of restraint and prejudice:

Nevertheless, he went back to live at Geneva, whence there continue to come the most contradictory accounts of his motives of sojourn: a report that he is "studying" hard—an intimation that he is much interested in a very clever foreign lady.

Like so many Jamesian heroes, Winterbourne has lost the capacity for love, and he has lost the opportunity to come to life.

As Winterbourne judges Daisy, judges her unfairly, and completes her expulsion from the American set in Rome, our sympathy for her naturally increases. But I think James does not—save through a certain pattern of symbolic imagery to which I wish to return in a moment—guide us to any such simple intellectual alignment with his American heroine.

Daisy's sensibility has very obvious limitations, limitations we hear very clearly in the statement that Europe is "perfectly sweet." Daisy is more intensely alive than anyone else we meet in Vevey or Rome. But James hints from time to time at a possible richness of aesthetic experience that is beyond Daisy's capabilities—a richness that would include an appreciation of the artificial, or the cultivated, not as it is represented by the mores of Geneva but by the "splendid chants and organ-tones" of St. Peter's and by the "superb portrait of Innocent X. by Velasquez."

And Daisy has other limitations. The members of the American community abroad are very much aware of one another's existence. True, they use their mutual awareness to no good purpose—they are watchbirds watching one another for vulgarity, for any possible lapse from propriety. But Daisy's social awareness is so primitive as scarcely to exist. At Rome, in the Colosseum, Winterbourne's imagination cannot stretch to include the notion of unsophisticated innocence. But neither can Daisy's imagination stretch to include the idea that manners really matter to those who practice them. She never realizes the consternation she causes in Rome. "I don't believe it," she says to Winterbourne. "They are only pretending to be shocked." Her blindness to the nature of the American colony is equalled by her blindness to Winterbourne and Giovanelli as individuals. While Winterbourne fails to "read" her "riddle" rightly, she fails to "read" his. She feels his disapproval in Rome, but she is not aware of his affection for her. Neither does she reveal any adequate perception of her impact on Giovanelli. To Daisy, going about with Mr. Giovanelli is very good fun. Giovanelli's feelings, we learn at the end, have been much more seriously involved.

James therefore hands a really favorable intellectual judgment to neither Geneva nor Schenectady. He gives his full approval neither to the manners of restraint nor to those of freedom. His irony touches Daisy as well as the Europeanized Americans. And the accumulation of his specific ironies hints at an ideal of freedom and of vitality and also of aesthetic and social awareness that is nowhere fully exemplified in the nouvelle. To be from Schenectady, to be from the new world, is to be free from the restrictions of Geneva. But merely to be free is not enough.


Such, then, in some detail are the Jamesian dynamics of social contrast that give us our prudent estimate of Daisy—a heroine innocent and exuberant and free, but also unreflective and insensible of the world around her. But, as I have already suggested, this estimate does not receive support from the whole of the story. To begin with, prudence leads straight to the conclusion that Daisy dies as a result of social indiscretion. What began as a comedy of manners, ends in the pathos, if not the tragedy, of a lonely Roman deathbed and burial. And there is, it seems to me, in this progress from the Trois Couronnes to the Protestant cemetery a change in tone so pronounced, a breach in cause and appropriate effect so wide, as to amount to a puzzling disruption of James's artistry.

To be sure, James tries to make Daisy's death inevitable, and to make it so within, as it were, the boundaries of his comedy of manners. Early in Part II, at Mrs. Walker's late one afternoon, Daisy remarks that she is going to take a walk on the Pincian Hill with Giovanelli. Mrs. Walker tries to dissuade her from the impropriety—a walk at such a time in such a place with such a dubious companion. It isn't "safe," Mrs. Walker says, while Mrs. Miller adds, "You'll get the fever as sure as you live." And Daisy herself, as she walks towards the Pincian Hill with Winterbourne, alludes to the fever: "We are going to stay [in Rome] all winter—if we don't die of the fever; and I guess we'll stay then."

With these remarks, James foreshadows Daisy's death, and links her fate with her carelessness of the manners of restraint. But these preparations do not successfully solve his difficulties either of tone or of cause and effect. They croak disaster far too loudly, far too obviously, and, still, the punishment no more fits the crime than it does in a typical cautionary tale.

In Part I, James has already used the words "natural," "uncultivated," and "fresh" to describe his heroine. And in the choice of the name, Daisy, he may have suggested her simplicity and her spontaneous beauty. In Part II, just after the opening scene at Mrs. Walker's, James follows up the implications of these epithets—"natural," "uncultivated," "fresh"—and of the name Daisy and gives them a somewhat different significance.

In Rome, after Winterbourne has been taken up in Mrs. Walker's carriage and set down again, he sees Daisy with Giovanelli in a natural setting—a setting that James describes in brilliant and expansive terms. Daisy and Giovanelli are in the Pincian Garden overlooking the Villa Borghese:

They evidently saw no one; they were too deeply occupied with each other. When they reached the low garden-wall they stood a moment looking off at the great flat-topped pine-clusters of the Villa Borghese; then Giovanelli seated himself, familiarly, upon the broad ledge of the wall. The western sun in the opposite sky sent out a brilliant shaft through a couple of cloudbars, whereupon Daisy's companion took her parasol out of her hands and opened it. She came a little nearer and he held the parasol over her; then, still holding it, he let it rest upon her shoulder, so that both of their heads were hidden from Winterbourne. This young man 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.

This scene links Daisy with the natural world, and links her with that world more closely than any other scene James has so far given us. And it suggests that the distance between Winterbourne and Daisy is greater even than the distance that separates artificial from natural manners, greater than the distance that separates restraint from free self-expression.

That suggestion becomes a certainty on the Palatine Hill:

A few days after his brief interview with her mother, [Winterbourne] encountered her in that beautiful abode of flowering desolation known as the Palace of the Coesars. The early Roman spring had filled the air with bloom and perfume, and the rugged surface of the Palatine was muffled with tender verdure. Daisy was strolling along the top of one of those great mounds of ruin that are embanked with mossy marble and paved with monumental inscriptions. It seemed to him that Rome had never been so lovely as just then. He stood looking off at the enchanting harmony of line and colour that remotely encircles the city, inhaling the softly humid odours and feeling the freshness of the year and the antiquity of the place reaffirm themselves in mysterious interfusion. It seemed to him also that Daisy had never looked so pretty; but this had been an observation of his whenever he met her. Giovanelli was at her side, and Giovanelli, too, wore an aspect of even unwonted brilliancy.

Here Daisy is not identified with a particular society, as she was with the gay American visitors by the lakeside and in the garden of Vevey, but simply and wholly with the natural world, which has its own eternal and beautiful rhythms. Birth is followed by death, and death is followed again by birth. And the beauty of the natural world—the world to which Daisy belongs—is supreme. Rome has never been so lovely as when its relics are "muffled with tender verdure." The monuments of men, the achievements of civilization, are most beautiful when they are swept again into the round of natural process. At the moment, Daisy seems to share the natural world, as she did in the Pincian Garden, with Giovanelli. But at the end of the nouvelle that "subtle Roman" is quite aware of Daisy's distance even from himself. He knew, beforehand, that the Colosseum would not be for him, as it was for Daisy, a "fatal place." "For myself," he says to Winterbourne, "I had no fear."

Once Daisy is identified with the world of nature, we see that she is subject to its laws of process. Her very beauty becomes a reminder of her mortality. So the scene on the Palatine (unlike the scenes at Mrs. Walker's and on the way to the Pincian Hill) does prepare us effectively for Daisy's burial in the Protestant cemetery; it does convince us that her death is inevitable.


Yet James's use of his symbolic natural imagery is at once a gain and a loss. If it solves, almost at the eleventh hour, certain difficulties of tone and of cause and effect regarding Daisy's death, it also leaves us with some permanent breaks in the nouvelle's unity of structure. If Daisy is translated or transfigured in the end into a purely natural ideal of beauty and vitality and innocence, then what relevance has that ideal to Schenectady, or to Geneva? If Daisy's death is "fated," does it matter at all what Winterbourne does? And what sort of agent is Giovanelli? Or can we even call him an agent? Hasn't James made inconsequent by the end of his tale, the dramatic conflict—the conflict between two kinds of manners—that he set up in the beginning? The contrast in manners seems to suggest, to hold up as an ideal, a certain way of responding to life. This ideal would combine freedom and vitality with a sophisticated awareness of culture and society. Yet the symbolic imagery of the Palatine Hill seems to elevate natural freedom and vitality and innocence into an ideal so moving, so compelling, that all other considerations pale beside it. Or, if I rephrase my questions about Schenectady and Geneva, Winterbourne and Giovanelli, and answer them in terms of James's creative experience, they come to this: James began writing Daisy Miller as a comedy of manners and finished it as a symbolic presentation of a metaphysical ideal. He began by criticizing Daisy in certain ways and ended simply by praising her.

James's friend in the Venetian gondola was, at least in a general way, aware of his transfiguration of Daisy. And James records her opinion—in effect her scolding—in his preface to the New York edition of his nouvelle:

"[Daisy's] only fault is touchingly to have transmuted so sorry a type [as the uncultivated American girl] and to have, by a poetic artifice, not only led our judgement of it astray, but made any judgement quite impossible.…You know you quite falsified, by the turn you gave it, the thing you had begun with having in mind, the thing you had had, to satiety, the chance of 'observing': your pretty perversion of it, or your unprincipled mystification of our sense of it, does it really too much honour.…"

James virtually accepts his friend's criticism. Elsewhere in the preface, speaking in his own voice, he says that, when his nouvelle was first published, the full title ran: Daisy Miller: A Study. Now, for the New York edition, he subtracts the apposition "in view of the simple truth, which ought from the first to have been apparent to me, that my little exhibition is made to no degree whatever in critical but, quite inordinately and extravagantly, in poetical terms." It appears, then, that James's natural symbolic imagery and his translation of his heroine into a metaphysical figure were unconscious developments. Only after he wrote his nouvelle did James himself discover and acknowledge his own "poetical terms."

Once he had discovered those "terms," he chose to emphasize them, not only in his preface, but also in his text for the New York edition. Viola R. Dunbar has already noted that in a number of places in the final version of Daisy Miller James eases his criticism of Daisy and bears down more heavily on the Europeanized Americans. Briefly, he places more stress on Daisy's beauty and innocence, and he associates her more frequently with nature, and more pointedly. At the same time, he gives more asperity to the judgments of Winterbourne and Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. And it is interesting to note as well that James inserts very early in Part I at least two suggestions of Daisy's final transfiguration. She looks at Winterbourne "with lovely remoteness"; she strikes him as a "charming apparition."

These revisions, though, are occasional and do not essentially change Daisy Miller. In the New York edition, as well as in the original version, it remains a narrative of imperfect unity, a work that shows unmistakable signs of shifting authorial intention and attitude. And yet, as I have already suggested, James's idealization of his heroine is a matter of gain as well as loss. It resolves certain problems about Daisy's death. More importantly, it adds to the emotional appeal of the second part of the nouvelle. In other words, even if James may have lost something in intellectual consistency by introducing the poetry of Daisy, even if he does to some extent throw away his original comedy of manners, his symbolic natural imagery nonetheless intensifies our response to his story. Again, I return to the articulate lady in the gondola: "As anything charming or touching always to that extent justifies itself, we after a fashion forgive and understand you."

The ideal of a purely natural vitality and freedom and innocence is a strongly, and persistently, attractive ideal. It is attractive, especially, to American writers, and in one variation or another we have, of course, met it before—in Melville, for example, in Hawthorne, in Fitzgerald, in Faulkner. We take James's Daisy Miller, rightly, as prototypical. My purpose here has been to suggest that her relationship to certain major areas of our American experience is even more various than we may previously have thought.

John H. Randall III (essay date 1965)

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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, this may have been possible. But society has not been stable in America or Europe for quite some time. Whenever two people meet, there is apt to be a comedy of misunderstanding, and when people from different cultures meet, the chances are considerably multiplied. Below manners lies personality, which must be reached somehow; we ignore it at peril to our civilization. But the chances for misinterpretation are great, and the result is not always comic. So it might be instructive to look at a classic literary example of misjudging character through manners: the blunders of the ill-starred Winterbourne in trying to understand the elusive Daisy Miller.

In all fairness to Frederick Winterbourne, we must admit that the difficulty in judging character through manners is one of which he is not exactly unaware. When the American colony at Rome ostracizes Daisy and he is struggling to divine her attitude toward their treatment of her, he can come to no certain conclusion: "… he was vexed at his want of instinctive certitude as to how far her eccentricities were generic, national, and how far they were personal." This vexation was unfortunately not shared by contemporary reviewers of Daisy Miler, who wrote as if they knew exactly what they thought of her. Although emphatic, their opinions did not always coincide; they include the assertion that Daisy was bad-mannered and had more money than moderation (New York Times), that Daisy and her mother were "impossible" eccentrics (Harper's), that American young ladies abroad are usually dreadful (The Nation), and, from the other side of the Atlantic, that Daisy was a delightful exotic, while Americans abroad in general are censorious and dreary snobs (Blackwood's). True, on our own shores Daisy had a few defenders, notably William Dean Howells, but in general Yankees—or at least reviewing Yankees—were furious with her. This may be a sign of continuing American sensitivity about the behavior of other Americans abroad, but the whole problem of the difficulty in judging character through manners was left untouched. Subsequent critics have recognized the difficulty other characters in the tale have in judging Daisy, but more often than not have gone on to give their own opinions of her, which vary from praise to blame in a manner not unlike that of the early reviewers, although they are not so vehement about it.

The cause lies in James' method of presentation. Throughout the story Daisy is seen from the outside, we perceive her words and actions through the eyes of Winterbourne, who is not a very effectual observer. His effectuality is hampered by his being a servitor of Mrs. Grundy—or of Mrs. Costello, as she is called in the story. It is noteworthy that Mrs. Grundy, or Mrs. Costello, is an American, not a European; that Winterbourne, although protesting faintly, is subservient to her; and that his final betrayal of Daisy, when he lets her know in the Colosseum scene that he thinks her a bad girl, occurs when he gives in to Mrs. Grundy. He is entirely too much in awe of public opinion and hesitates to judge or act for himself. Daisy, on the other hand, is all too independent in judgment and action. Both come to a bad end, one in the Colosseum, the other in James' sarcastic little final paragraph. What are we to think of this? Does public opinion always get in the way of evaluating others? Is true judgment through manners possible?

It may be helpful to formulate certain attitudes and pose certain questions about them, the answers to which will depend on our own view of life:

  1. Daisy is so unaware of or defiant toward form that she goes her own way, not caring what Rome thinks of her or what the Americans think of her. The question is, should she care?
  2. She is interested in Winterbourne and can't find any way to reach him: he's too chilly. The question: does she try hard enough?
  3. Much of the story concerns itself with attitudes toward gossip and rumor and the tremendous pressure exerted by a not-too-well-informed public opinion. Should one give it too much weight?
  4. Below all this lies the problem of whether or not we can judge people. Can we even understand them, especially when they come from or interact with people of different cultures; or are they finally inscrutable? We know what Joseph Conrad thinks; can we tell what Henry James thinks in this story?

I submit that the answers each of us gives to these questions will depend on our attitudes toward spontaneity and formality, feminine and masculine courtship roles, individualism and group-centeredness, and finally the mystery of human communion and love. Since Henry James has presented Daisy purely from the outside, leaving us to draw what conclusions our temperaments and training incline us to, it strikes me that he has given us a double-jointed story which admits of more than one interpretation of the characters, depending, as I have said, on our own view of life.

This may account for the variety of responses to the story on the part of contemporary reviewers, but where does James stand? Can we tell? I think we can. I think he has written a very ironic tale in which social class and the snobbishness that goes with it brings out the worst in everybody, except Mr. Giovanelli. The preoccupation with manners is so great that the characters have forgotten the original purpose of manners: to make social intercourse easier and more pleasant. Everyone except Mr. Giovanelli is afraid to be simple and direct; their sophistication undercuts their humanity, and even Mr. Giovanelli's entanglement with the class system and incomprehension of American manners interferes with his judgment when he lets Daisy persuade him to take her to the Colosseum by moonlight, which he clearly should not have done. Here a distinction may be in order. The eyes of all the characters may be fixed upon Daisy, but the focus of the story is not on Daisy's fate, which is somewhat underplayed, but on the fate of those who observe and respond to her. Of these, Mrs. Costello and, to a lesser degree, Mrs. Walker, may be taken as exemplifying in a transplanted setting all that has been said by De Tocqueville and John Stuart Mill about the tyranny of public opinion in a democracy. They are sorry snobs, and that is all there is to it. The cases of Mr. Giovanelli and Winterbourne are more instructive, since, as we shall see, the Roman moves toward comprehension of Daisy's character, the American away from it. It is the American—who is traditionally supposed to judge people as individuals, free from class bias—who makes a dreadful blunder, and the European—who is traditionally supposed to see everything in terms of manners and social class—who comes to a true understanding of Daisy's worth.

During most of the story the question of Daisy's character is up in the air, and the other characters are as much at sea concerning her as the reader is. (No doubt this is the result of a deliberate effort on James' part.) We are not shown the workings of Mr. Giovanelli's mind, but we are shown Winterbourne's:

Was she simply a pretty girl from New York State—were they all like that, the pretty girls who had a good deal of gentlemen's society? Or was she also a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person? Winterbourne had lost his instinct in this matter, and his reason could not help him.

And then he came back to the question whether this was, in fact, a nice girl. Would a nice girl—even allowing for her being a little American flirt—make a rendezvous with a presumably low-lived foreigner?… It was impossible to regard her as a perfectly well-conducted young lady; she was wanting in a certain indispensable delicacy … But Daisy, on this occasion, continued to present herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.

Since none of the characters knows what Daisy is like until after she is dead, it might be interesting to speculate about her character in accordance with what little James has told us about her. In fact, we might draw up two contrasting interpretations of her, labeled "Daisy pro" and "Daisy con," depending on our attitude toward that series of paired opposites I mentioned a few paragraphs back. If we do so, the result might be something like this:

  1. Daisy pro: Assuming that Daisy was serious in the message she left for Winterbourne on her death bed and that, in his words, "she would have appreciated one's esteem," she has had a hard time with a man of Winterbourne's frostiness; he is hardly a knight on a white charger. Not only does he let gossip rule him, he uses it as an excuse to mask his own hesitancies and nonassertiveness. On this level, Daisy and Winterbourne are prototypes of a long series of noncouples in American fiction and prefigure the theme of the headstrong girl and the ineffectual man. (They certainly prefigure Lily Bart and Lawrence Selden in Edith Wharton's House of Mirth.) But the headstrong girl is not at all happy that the man is ineffectual. She keeps waiting for him to show some interest in her; he does nothing. He not only believes but is glad to believe the gossip about her, jumps to a quick conclusion about her in the Colosseum, thinks she is a bad girl and decides he's been wasting his time. She's friendly, she's playful, she tries to let him know she's interested in him, but all to no avail; he's just dead. He's Winter-born, and Winter, as Northrop Frye tells us, is the time for irony and satire.

    If this interpretation is correct, Daisy, piqued by Winterbourne's unwillingness to commit himself, is stung into spending most of her time with Mr. Giovanelli. Winterbourne has refused to stand up for her when she is criticized by the American colony, he has declined to commit himself when she twits him by pretending to be engaged to Mr. Giovanelli; Daisy might well echo the wail of Liza Doolittle in My Fair Lady: "Words, words, words!" And so she visits the Colosseum by moonlight with Mr. Giovanelli. Why does she risk the perniciosa by going to the Colosseum at night? I suppose because she is young, because she doesn't believe anything seriously bad will ever happen to her ("I never was sick, and I don't mean to be!… I don't look like much, but I'm healthy!") William Hazlitt began a famous essay by declaring that "No young man believes that he shall ever die." The same holds true for Daisy Miller, and it might be said that, insofar as she is a type, no young American girl believes she will ever be compromised.

  2. Daisy con: According to this interpretation, Daisy is a "pretty American flirt" who is not really interested in Winterbourne at all, but merely in demonstrating her own power over men. She comes to dominate, and ends up by becoming a victim. She is self-centered, headstrong, petulant and not really interested in anyone but herself. She wants everyone to dance attendance on her, she wants always to remain uninvolved and dominant; with her, it is all taking and no giving. Her refusal to accept criticism and her attitude that "nobody tells me what to do" render her insufferable. Although she left a last message for Winterbourne, if she had recovered from her fever, she would have changed her mind about him. She has been spoiled by an ineffectual mother and an absentee father who is busy piling up dollars in Schenectady ("My father's rich, you bet!"); his deputy is her little brother Randolph, who represents in miniature the unpleasant bragging American tourist who goes through Europe, cigar in hand ("I can't get any candy here—any American candy. American candy is the best candy"). Daisy refuses to take advice from anybody, man or woman; and when Winterbourne tries to keep her from meeting with Mr. Giovanelli and insists he will stay with her when she persists, she thinks he is trying to manipulate her, when he is only trying to help her ("I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or interfere with anything I do"). But she herself is not above manipulating men by means of her sex appeal; she is not so much innocent as selfish. Daisy uses sex appeal to attack the class system, which is hurting her; she sets up an oscillation which makes women strike at her through the class system; then she hits back at them through her power over men. Although she may not have social standing, Daisy is a plutocrat as well as a beauty, and she well knows the power of these two things. It is even possible to give an economic interpretation of Daisy Miller, especially after reading Thorstein Veblen on women as status symbols. It would run somewhat like this: the reason Daisy blushes and is offended when Winterbourne suggests she may be in love with Giovanelli is that a young American woman is encouraged to regard her marriageability as her market value and use it as a bargaining counter. This involves not admitting that she cares for a man until he has spoken for her and has been accepted, i.e., until her market value has been wisely invested in a blue-chip engagement and she herself is safe. In suggesting that Daisy may be in love with Giovanelli, Winterbourne is driving her market value down and putting her in the position of appearing to allow herself to be hypothecated by Giovanelli. This view shows Daisy as a business woman and sees her motives as a mixture of commercial bargain-hunting and sexual prudery. Fantastic as it sounds, this view may have something to recommend it; it's clearly not the whole story, but it may be there.

It now appears that we have been reading two different stories, one entitled "Poor Daisy Miller, or, A Good Man Is Hard to Find" (Henry James himself inclined to this view, both in his letter to Mrs. Linton and in his preface to the New York edition of the tale), and the other, "Cold-Hearted Daisy, or, The Selfish Young American Flirt." The latter will appeal to any man in a misogynistic mood; I myself think the story is double-jointed and there is truth in both titles. But perhaps there is a third story we haven't read yet; Henry James may be counting on the genteel reader's stock responses. It was common for European authors addressing a European audience to begin a story with a stereotype of an unattractive American, and then gradually present the character in a more and more favorable light. An example contemporary with James was "Ouida" (Miss de la Ramee), of whom Elizabeth Hoxie writes:

In Moths (1880),. it was easy to take offense at Miss de la Ramee's picture of Fuschia Leach, the "wild little republican" with the "high, thin voice," who said "cunning" for "nice" and rested "her feet on an ottoman, her hands behind her head, a rosebud in her mouth, and a male group around her." Nevertheless, Fuschia proved popular because of her high spirits ("everybody delights her and everything is fun to her").

In such stories the author plays a trick on his audience by eliciting a stock response from it. The reader, presented with a character at whom people jeer, thinks he understands the story; he feels sophisticated but is only responding to a stereotype. Then as the character is more fully presented in more human terms, he does an about-face as he gradually perceives he has been taken in. James does the same thing in Day Miller, only in this case the trick is perpetrated on an American audience responding to the story of an American abroad. The reader first sees Daisy through the eyes of Randolph, her awful little brother, who thinks all things American are best except his sister. Then Daisy meets Winterbourne, without a formal introduction, through the same brother; she "picks him up" and wangles an invitation from him to visit the castle of Chillon. The reader, if he is sufficiently genteel and places a high enough value on formal manners, winces at this image of his countrywoman abroad; snobbery and prudery combine to make him agree with Winterbourne that Daisy must be either a sexual adventuress or else a dreadfully vulgar parvenu. Then he encounters Mrs. Costello and has all his convictions as to Daisy's vulgarity thrown back in his face, and this from a woman who is as narrow, rigid and heartless a snob as one is likely to meet among Americans in Europe. The reader becomes uneasy; this is not quite the company he wanted to keep. Then he begins to criticize Winterbourne for keeping and listening to such company. He finds that the Americans in Rome, who are the first group he is likely to identify with, are actually the last people whose judgment is to be trusted; it is the poor despised Mr. Giovanelli, upon whom they all look down, who has the final and kindest word on the case. The genteel reader's own snobbery is exposed to him and revealed as the ridiculous and destructive thing it is.

From this point of view the story is about the shameful waste which can result, not only from snobbery, but from sheer ineffectuality and blindness, as James ticks off first the snobs, Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker, then Mr. Giovanelli, who is kind but ineffectual, then Winterbourne, who is neither effectual nor kind. So the true title of the story we have been reading may turn out to be "Only a Woman, or Daisy Revealed: Stereotypes Are We All Until We Get to Know Each Other if It's Not Too Late." For if the genteel reader has been responding to stereotypes, so have the characters in the novella. Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker obviously are; more interesting are the responses of Mr. Giovanelli and Winterbourne. We are not told much about Mr. Giovanelli; he may indeed have started out as a fortune hunter (James tells us "Winterbourne afterwards learned that he had practiced the idiom [English] on a great many American heiresses"), but then again he may merely be a young man out to have a good time in life, in short, a male Roman counterpart of Daisy Miller. Like her, he is good looking and attractive; like her he is looked down upon by those who are confident they can judge people through manners; as in her case, when the problem of sincerity versus opportunism comes up, the question is decided against him. His one real blunder, which has deadly consequences for Daisy, is allowing her to persuade him to take her to the Colosseum by moonlight; and this couldn't possibly be attributed to self-seeking. Apparently this arises from an incomprehension of alien manners (he thinks American girls must be allowed to make all their own decisions) and an excess of gallantry to someone above him on the social scale (he acquiesces in everything the lady wishes to do, even when for health's sake he should have taken a firm hand). For this he pays heavily. There is every reason to believe that he means it when he tells Winterbourne after the burial, "She was the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable.… And she was the most innocent." Being in awe of her, he had thought she knew what she could and could not do (including on the level of physical survival); when she falls ill and dies, he realizes that she was just as fallible as poor ordinary European mortals after all.

Mr. Giovanelli may begin in incomprehension of Daisy, but he ends as the only character who realizes she is to be treated with consideration and kindness; and this may be as close to the "truth" about a human being as we are likely to get. With Winterbourne the case is otherwise. He, like the other Americans in the tale, sees life through the spectacles of the picturesque. What he responds to is a guidebook view of life, not life itself. Since this is the way in which genteel American readers of the 1870s may be presumed to have responded to stories about Europe, it should have been instructive to them to observe Winterbourne's fate. For most of the nineteenth century, the ability to respond aesthetically to the beauties of nature and of European antiquities was supposed to be a class trait. If one were a member of the upper classes, one might have it; if not, one did not. We see this in the stories and sketches of Washington Irving; we see it in the genteel heroes and heroines of Fenimore Cooper. It is still present in Henry James, especially the early James of the 1870s, although by that time he was already beginning to see his way around it and satirize it. What had begun as a fresh and original way of perceiving the irregular beauties of nature, untrammeled by neoclassical symmetry, had rigidifled by James' time into a stock response and a badge of class status; part of the snobbery of the American characters in the story is their stereotyped response to the picturesque. That this stock response can put blinders on one person and give him a distorted guidebook view of life is dramatized in the Colosseum scene, where Winterbourne, by seeing everything through the spectacles of the picturesque, actually prevents himself from seeing what is really going on.

The scene begins with Winterbourne's taking an evening walk to the Colosseum, where he starts to quote Byron's famous lines from "Manfred" just before he sees Mr. Giovanelli and Daisy, who see him first. The moonlit scene before him and the lines from Byron induce a romantic revery which puts him in the worst possible frame of mind to cope with the action-demanding realities which suddenly thrust themselves on him. Here the picturesque is one of the elements which help produce the catastrophe, since it leads him to a mood of unearned exultation followed by a precipitous drop from the sublime to the bathetic. As Daisy calls out to him, he is once again involved with his old fear of women and his inability to assert or commit himself, which he evades by hiding behind the skirts of Mrs. Grundy. James writes:

When, on his return from the villa … Winterbourne approached the dusky circle of the Colosseum, it occurred to him, as a lover of the picturesque, that the interior, in the pale moonshine, would be well worth a glance.… Then he passed in, among the cavernous shadows of the great structure, and emerged upon the clear and silent arena. The place had never seemed to him more impressive. One-half of the gigantic circus was in deep shade; the other was sleeping in the luminous dusk.

This is just what every genteel traveler in Europe was supposed to feel. The reader is lulled into thinking he is listening to someone who is au courant and knowledgeable. But Winterbourne has seen nothing new or fresh or revealing in the scene; it is a stock response. As he stands there he begins to murmur Byron's famous lines from "Manfred" (III, iv, 1-45) which begin:

The stars are forth, the moon above the tops Of the snow-shining mountains.—Beautiful! I linger yet with Nature, for the Night Hath been to me a more familiar face Than that of man …

Winterbourne clearly feels more at home with the moonlit scene than with the man and woman he is so unexpectedly to meet. The lines continue:

I do remember me, that in my youth, When I was wandering—upon such a night I stood within the Coliseum's wall.…

and go on in a vein of sentimental musing on the ruins of time which induces in Manfred a pleasant melancholy. He continues:

And thou didst shine, thou rolling moon, upon All this, and cast a wide and tender light… Leaving that beautiful which still was so, And making that which was not, till the place Became religion, and the heart ran o'er With silent worship of the great of old,—The dead but sceptred sovereigns, who still rule Our spirits from their urns.[Italics mine]

We do not know how far Winterbourne has a chance to proceed in the soliloquy before seeing Daisy, but the mention of "Byron's famous lines" should have been enough to call up the whole quotation for the nineteenth-century reader. It is plain that the dead still rule the spirit of Winterbourne; the entire passage as used in this context is an implicit criticism and indictment of this snobbish and ineffectual young man. For, as he walks to the middle of the arena, he sees on the steps which form the base of the great cross in the center a man and a woman, whom from their conversation he recognizes to be Mr. Giovanelli and Daisy. Then at last he is able to make up his mind about her: "She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect." Not only does he come to an erroneous and damning conclusion about her; he is glad to do so, feeling that he has at last been taken off the hook and is no longer under the necessity of committing himself. The reason he does not immediately advance toward her is not the fear that his judgment may be wrong but "the sense of the danger of appearing unbecomingly exhilarated by this sudden revulsion from cautious criticism." When Daisy calls out to him that he is snubbing her, he does try to save her from malaria, but he hurts her by laughing at her and informing her of his brutal judgment that he thinks her a bad girl:

Then, noticing Winterbourne's silence, she asked him why he didn't speak. He made no answer; he only began to laugh … "Did you believe I was engaged the other day?" she asked.

"It doesn't matter what I believed the other day," said Winterbourne, still laughing.

"Well, what do you believe now?"

"I believe that it makes very little difference whether you are engaged or not!"

He felt the young girl's pretty eyes fixed upon him through the thick gloom of the archway; she was apparently going to answer. But Giovanelli hurried her forward. "Quick! quick!" he said; "if we get in by midnight we are quite safe."

"… Don't forget Eugenio's pills!" said Winterbourne, as he lifted his hat.

"I don't care," said Daisy, in a little strange tone, "whether I have Roman fever or not!"

She is bewildered; she is hurt. This knowledgeable-sounding young American actually knows nothing and has acted with complete inhumanity toward her. What she says about not caring if she falls ill is more than mere petulance; she is saying that now she doesn't care what happens to her; then she falls ill and dies. In a very real sense, Winterbourne, for whom she cared, has contributed to her death.

All of Winterbourne's vices contribute to undo him with Daisy in the Colosseum scene, but it is his over-indulgence in the picturesque which gives him a distorted view of reality and helps prevent him from acting like a man. The picturesque is the killer here; like any form of sentimentality, when overdone it can mislead people into being extremely cruel. It is significant that the concluding lines from the Manfred quotation run:

                        'Twas such a night!But I have found our thoughts take wildest flight Even at the moment when they should array Themselves in pensive order.[Italics mine]

It is a pity that Winterbourne couldn't continue to the end of the quotation; if he had, he might have learned something helpful to know.

Soon after his soliloquy, Manfred dies of guilt and remorse for unknown but terrible crimes not specified by his creator. His final speech to the spirit that is summoning him to hell contains the lines

  I have not been thy dupe, nor am thy prey— But was my own destroyer, and will be My own hereafter.…

Winterbourne too has committed terrible "crimes" which are indirectly but clearly specified by Henry James: they resemble those of John Marcher in The Beast in the Jungle. He lives on, but he is as good as dead; and he has helped kill the youth of Mr. Giovanelli and the life of Daisy Miller. The two male characters are contrasted with each other, for although the young Roman and the young American are both interested in Daisy and both contribute to her death, their response to the experience is totally different: the Italian shows a vast moral superiority to the traveler from the New World. As Daisy turns from an unknown quantity to a human being for Mr. Giovanelli, she turns from an unknown quantity to a stereotype for Winterbourne. Or, rather, not an unknown quantity but a puzzle. For Daisy is a puzzle to Winterbourne, a pretty little puzzle. When he thinks he has the puzzle figured out, he solves it with a stereotype, and a derogatory one at that. This explains the use of the picturesque in the Colosseum scene; Winterbourne responds only to stereotypes, whether in nature, in architecture or among mankind.

Now we see why the story focuses on those around Daisy rather than on Daisy herself. The question of Daisy's worth, or even of what she really is, is irrelevant to the moral imperative that she is entitled to consideration and respect as a human being; and, in the story, Mr. Giovanelli alone gives that to her. We don't find out much about Daisy, but we do find out what Winterbourne is like. Winterbourne doesn't care at all about the truth of the matter; he is afraid to face it, for the truth may involve him with other people and frighten him by bringing him face to face with himself. So he prefers the appearance of respectability rather than life; appearances are safer, he thinks; all the best people believe in them. But the man who finds the appearance of respectability more important than truth misses out on the best things in life and never understands anyone at all. Henry James, although something of a snob, was also and more importantly an artist; and he was not so big a snob as he has sometimes been pictured or as some of his readers were and are.

But what of the genteel reader all this time? If he were perceptive enough, he would have had his little universe shattered; he would see that the implicit criticism and condemnation of Winterbourne is a condemnation of his own habits and tastes. But, judging from contemporary reviews, this is exactly what did not happen. The reviewers remained genteel; they reacted not perceptively but angrily. In a perverse way, this proved James' point; the carapace of gentility was so thick as to be impervious to ridicule, which only aroused a defensive and self-righteous anger. So I will have to confine my comments to how the readers might have reacted, had they read the story with attention rather than indignation.

In presenting the Colosseum scene to us, James is dramatizing and satirizing the American nineteenth century's most cherished concepts of "culture" and "civilization": "Europe," the picturesque, the daylight-moonlight metaphor of the romantic movement, the genteel, the cult of sexual purity and respectability in young American womanhood. Perhaps the preoccupation with respectability can best sum it up. And overconcern with respectability kills Daisy Miller; "the letter killeth." When Winterbourne approaches Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli in the Colosseum, they, intensely conscious of their surroundings, imagine he looks like an old-time lion or tiger eyeing the Christian martyrs. This is neither as playful nor as far-fetched as it sounds. For fantastic as it at first seems, Winterbourne actually is a lion ready to devour poor Daisy. As a representative of the American colony at Rome, he is quite exhilarated to see her sacrificed to that crowd; in the words of another line from Byron, she is "butchered to make a Roman holiday." In every sense including the physical one, Daisy Miller is a martyr to the genteel tradition on the very spot where the Christian martyrs died centuries before. The barbarousness of degenerate Rome gives way to the barbarousness of the invading Americans; like the Romans, they too think of themselves as highly civilized. And the reader? One by one he sees his genteel idols smashed before his eyes: Europeans are frankly spontaneous; Americans are rigid formalists; the ruins of antiquity are deadly, not life-giving; "respectability," far from civilizing people, dehumanizes them; the cult of sexual purity kills life itself. One could go on: the "untrustworthy" "lower-class" European becomes the noblest Roman of them all; the genteel American abroad becomes an agent of death and destruction comparable to the ancient persecutors of the martyrs; the American colony at Rome becomes the howling mob that once filled the Colosseum with their bloodlust, interested only in the brutal gladiatorial games of the haut monde in which to turn thumbs down on a person means instant death for him. The genteel audience should have squirmed under self-scrutiny when it saw that the un-Manfred-like "crimes" of Winterbourne are exactly the crimes of negation, exclusion from human sympathy and snobbish cruelty that were most likely to be committed by the genteel nineteenth-century American Puritan reader. This story is about the disintegration of value (as are Edith Wharton's House of Mirth and Scott Fitzgerald's Great Gatsby, both of which were influenced by it), and it contains a revealing glimpse of cultural history. It shows a falling-off in value from the plain living and high thinking of pre-Civil War Boston (for in the story America is Boston); the land of the free has become the home of the genteel. The Americans in this tale have taken the ideals of an earlier America and stood them on their heads—something they would never have done with their persons. By their whole way of living, they have taken the pre-Civil War statement of Emerson's, that transcendentalism was a Saturnalia of faith, and inverted it. Instead, they enact a Saturnalia of snobbery and unbelief, and this not in the New England where their far-off ancestors had once proposed to found a city on a hill, but in eternal Rome, where indeed the entire world can see.

Motley F. Deakin (essay date 1969)

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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 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 Howells' 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." 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." 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 the 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." 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: "from 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. 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." 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." 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 "I'enthousiasme, I'imagination, toute supériorité de l'esprit comme autant de dangers et de piéges tendus á 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." 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 theses on the problems of the socially disoriented woman. Both novels could serve as examples 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 elan 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 it 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 a la fois en se trouvant seule avec la nature," 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 Stael'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 Stael'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 Stael 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 rightness 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 ordonnee," a life of calculated dissimulation. To live even comfortably in society Delphine must suppress everything that could distinguish her among women: her "pensees naturelles, mouvements passionnes, élans genereux de l'enthousiasme." The opinions of society are the consensus of the bourgeoisie—of mediocrity which "ne suppose rien au dela de sa propre intelligence, et regarde comme folie tout ce qui le depasse." 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 Stael 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 Stael 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 naive, 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.

R. P. Draper (essay date 1969)

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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 free, untrammelled life of the Forest of Arden in the formally moral, but, in reality, cynical atmosphere of Rome is a kind of sentimental indulgence possible only to the unsophisticated, "vulgar" mind. In such a context, however, the word has a boomerang effect. It damns the sophistication of those who gloss over the nastiness of their "fallen" world with the manners and taste of cultured society, making the ignorance and simplicity of the "vulgar" almost a positive value. This is a pastoral effect that makes the association with As You Like It an appropriate one, and it would be possible to argue that "a pastoral" would be a better qualification of the title than "a study." It would certainly have the merit of directing the reader's attention away from Daisy's significance as a character-study, which has only limited value, and towards her much more important role as a focus for other people's opinions—above all as a focus for the uncertainty and moral confusion of the character who is the real centre of the tale, Winterbourne.

Early readers of Daisy Miller found Daisy an offensive representation of American womanhood abroad. Manners have so changed that the point of the story, though not lost, is much more likely to seem to the modern reader to lie in the offensiveness of expatriate Americans like Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. Neither attitude is correct. Daisy is culpable in her self-will. She bridles at any hint of interference. "I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me," she says to Winterbourne, "or to interfere with anything I do." A little earlier we learn that Winterbourne remembered a compatriot's saying that American women "were at once the most exacting in the world and the least endowed with a sense of indebtedness." Daisy has her share in this fault, too. Indeed, what is called her flirtatiousness seems to be more of this nature than anything suggesting the provocativeness of a coquette. She is the very embodiment of the spirit of youth with its paradoxical combination of selfishness and ingenuousness, which yet, through warmth and spontaneity, makes an almost irresistibly strong appeal.

For the purposes of the story (and who could one expect to be more aware of the story as story, with its own artistic purposes, than Henry James?) this appeal is directed at Winterbourne. It is he who gives form and meaning to the story, and it is primarily through his consciousness, or "point of view," that the events are narrated. As Maxwell Geismar says [in Henry James and His Cult, 1964], "… it is Winterbourne's own conflict, his repressed love for Daisy, the attraction beneath his disapprobation, which carry the story along." After all, we know very little about Daisy at first-hand. If we were meant to think primarily of her, we should want to know a great deal more about what is going on in her mind. Certainly, we are not completely ignorant of this. We can guess, for example, that she tells Winterbourne that she is engaged to Giovanelli in order to challenge him to come out of his shell, and that she promptly denies it afterwards because she wants to make sure that he has not misunderstood her. It is instinctive with her to challenge response from Winterbourne—not, that is, to provoke him "sexually" (as that word is commonly used, though I think it is in a deeper, and quite underogatory sense, sexual provocation), but to try to compel him to overcome his "stiffness" and to defy convention for the sake of real feeling. This is evident in her reply to Winterbourne's warning that if she continues her present behaviour towards Giovanelli, people will give her the cold shoulder.

Daisy was looking at him intently; she began to colour. 'Do you mean as Mrs. Walker did the other night?'

'Exactly!' said Winterbourne.

She looked away at Giovanelli, who was decorating himself with his almond blossom. Then looking back at Winterbourne—'I shouldn't think you would let people be so unkind!' she said.

'How can I help it?' he asked.

'I should think you would say something.'

'I do say something'; and he paused a moment. 'I say that your mother tells me that she believes you are engaged.'

'Well, she does,' said Daisy very simply.

If it is strange that Daisy leaves her mother in doubt about so important a matter, it is that much more significant that she clears up Winterbourne's doubt. But the major point of the dialogue is the challenge issued by Daisy, and unhappily missed by Winterbourne, that he should stand up for her. I have called it a challenge to defy convention, and so it is, as convention seems to operate among these Europeanised Americans; but it might equally well be called a challenge to live up to the standard of gentlemanliness that he and they jointly profess. A "gentleman" would protect her, whereas all that Winterbourne's good intentions amount to is an attempt to persuade her to conform to the usual appearances, to do in Rome as the Romans do. Either way, the discussion brings us back to Winterbourne rather than to Daisy herself. It is what she represents for him, rather than what she is in herself, that ultimately counts.

It matters a great deal, of course, that Daisy dies of Roman fever—at once a natural and a symbolic death; a death that she brings on herself by her folly, and a death in which Giovanelli, Winterbourne, and expatriate American society all have a share. James's artistic tact allows the climax of the story to have all these implications. And yet it is much more of a significant climax for Winterbourne than for anyone else. With regard to Daisy herself it is pathetic; with regard to him it is as nearly tragic as his Prufrockian nature will allow. To appreciate why this is so it is necessary to consider Winterbourne's "case."

The story begins and ends with him. He is a vaguely drifting idler, "an extremely amiable fellow", rumored to be "extremely devoted" to a Genevan lady older than himself—James's colloquial extremely has its own ironic effect, since caution rather than extravagance seems to be his key-note. According to sound dramatic practice, James introduces him to Daisy via her younger brother. Quite apart from sounding the note of America, as the Old Pretender would say, in strident fashion, this enables a comment to be made on Winterbourne's Europeanised notions of how women are to be approached: "It seemed to Winterbourne that he had been in a manner presented… In Geneva, as he had been perfectly aware, a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady except under certain rarely occurring conditions.…" The fact that he dares to make such an advance to Daisy is in his favour, but it is not unambiguously so, for there is a faint suspicion that he feels able to treat her with freedom because he is free not to respect her. Daisy's honesty and freshness attract him, but he is at the same time confused—"amused, perplexed and decidedly charmed." Should he condemn her for "laxity of deportment"? He is troubled by the very fact of having lost his instinct for knowing such things. "He felt that he had lived at Geneva so long that he had lost a good deal; he had become dishabituated to the American tone." James follows his soliloquising with absorbed interest. This is the thing: how the betwixt-an-between Winterbourne, out of instinctive touch, gropes to find a category that will fit Daisy Miller, and at last hits upon the useful formula "pretty American flirt."

In the second section of the tale, Winterbourne applies to his aunt whom he hopes to make the guarantor of his good behaviour in Daisy's eyes—though, once again, this tells us more about himself than it does about Daisy. He is the one who thinks it necessary, and it is his own uncertainty that is further revealed. James, with cool irony, informs us that Winterbourne listens with interest to Mrs. Costello's slightly malicious gossip that "helped him to make up his mind about Miss Daisy," and he presses the conversation further, "with a desire for trustworthy information," to find an echo of his previous thought in Mrs. Costello's assertion: "You have lived too long out of the country. You will be sure to make some great mistake. You are too innocent." The tone here is comic:

'My dear aunt, I am not so innocent,' said Winterbourne, smiling and curling his moustache.

'You are too guilty, then!' Winterbourne continued to curl his moustache, meditatively.

One laughs both with and at Winterbourne and his aunt. But the serious words innocent and guilty also make their effect. James has placed his character beautifully between them. It is his dilemma that he is both innocent and guilty, and does not know which part of himself to prefer. He shelters behind the curling of his moustache, which can be taken as either a consciously Byronic self-parody, or as complacent enjoyment of the right to repudiate mere innocence (on the basis of his experience with the lady of Geneva, perhaps?). Such ambiguity surrounds all Winterbourne's actions. Daisy by comparison is single-minded and spontaneous. When she makes the expedition to Chilion, she has no "guilty" sense that she is eating forbidden fruit. It is Winterbourne who thinks in these terms: "To the young man himself their little excursion was so much of an escapade—an adventure—that, even allowing for her habitual sense of freedom, he had some expectation of seeing her regard it in the same way. But it must be confessed that, in this particular, he was disappointed."

Section three transfers the action to Rome. Some of the most delightful paragraphs in the story are indebted to James's journalistic experience in evoking the spirit of place, and can be read for just that. But place is also tinged with implications for manners and morals. I have already referred to Daisy's death from "Roman fever," and likewise to the presence of a mysterious lady in Geneva. The historical associations of the Castle of Chillon in the second section provide a contrasting backdrop to the freedom and chatter of Daisy herself. Once again, the piquancy of this contrast depends on the double perception of Winterbourne, who, in this respect, is an indispensable reflector of the author's awareness. (Winterbourne's informed appreciation of European culture provides an obvious comic contrast to Randolph's belief that the best place he has seen is the City of Richmond, but it is not—any more than Philip Herriton's comparable appreciation of Italy in Forster's Where Angels Fear to Tread—an unqualified asset.) He expects some credit for having missed out on Bologna and Florence on his way down to Rome, only to find that Daisy reproaches him for not having come more quickly; and, in fact, the reference to what he has missed, even though it forms no more than a comment on what is passing through his mind, has the almost unreasonable effect of making him appear to value too much the very cultural opportunities that he foregoes. The weight of European things combines with the restraint of European manners to impede the natural warmth of response that Daisy might otherwise call forth in him. Accordingly, it is above all in Rome, where both these influences are at their strongest, that the challenge of Daisy Miller comes to its crisis. The off-stage opposition of Mrs. Costello is replaced by the on-stage friendship (which turns to ostracism) of Mrs. Walker; and this has its grand, dramatic expression (inflated language for a trivial episode, perhaps, but James's art is to make convincing mountains out of apparent molehills) in the scene of the carriage on the Pincio.

The confrontation of Daisy and Mrs. Walker provides a black-and-white contrast. The intermediate shades in which James is chiefly interested belong once more to Winterbourne. Daisy's association with Giovanelli makes his own moral disorientation yet more acute. While being vexed with himself for what he begins to recognize as a strong "inclination" towards her, he would welcome evidence that she is indulging in an amour with Giovanelli, for then "to be able to think more lightly of her would make her much less perplexing"—that is, he would have an avenue of escape from his own perplexity. But Daisy continues to present "an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence." He, therefore, has to face her first explicit challenge—though the fact of its being so explicit is a measure of the extent to which he has failed in response to the instinctive challenge that Daisy constitutes in her self—when she demands of him: "Does Mr. Winterbourne think … that—to save my reputation—I ought to get into the carriage?" The advice he gives is prudent: to get into the carriage. But James makes it more interesting to the reader by attributing it to "gallantry" rather than prudence, with the gloss that "the finest gallantry, here, was simply to tell her the truth; and the truth, for Winterbourne, as the few indications I have been able to give have made him known to the reader, was that Daisy Miller should take Mrs. Walker's advice." James's first-person intrusion in this sentence is not a clumsy lapse from his point-of-view technique, but a timely reminder that it is such a technique that he is employing. The truth here is only the truth "for Winterbourne." What the truth for Daisy is, or what the truth is, it is not among the purposes of the story to unfold. And the truth "for Winterbourne" is inseparable from his image of himself as a person of gallantry—which I take to be a facet of his image of himself as a gentleman. Although it is to his credit in this instance that he does not indulge in the kind of gallantry that is mere compliment, but feels bound to speak as he thinks, his answer disturbingly reveals that he cannot make a like discrimination between appearance and reality where the question of a young woman's "reputation" is concerned. His answer implies what Daisy's question had challenged him to deny, that reputation is a matter of appearances. The conclusion of the episode, which James so places that it is also the conclusion of the third section, confirms this. Winterbourne shows a touch of fire in his defence of Daisy before Mrs. Walker. He speaks "angrily," and his earlier, private misgivings about having been too long in Europe flash out in the sharp comment, "I suspect, Mrs. Walker, that you and I have lived too long at Geneva!" Yet his intention to rejoin Daisy—which might have been his commitment to a growing self-criticism—is deflected by no more than the action of her parasol in screening her head and Giovanelli's from view. It is what this appears to signify that makes the young man direct his steps, not towards the couple, but towards Mrs. Costello; and the structure of the story tells us that this is a serious relapse, for Mrs. Costello, who has never even condescended to know Daisy, ought to have been relegated to an earlier stage of Winterbourne's development.

The last section is the one in which Daisy's conduct has something of the air of wilfulness, but she also has justice on her side, notably in her criticism of the false Roman propriety that considers flirtation more appropriate in married than in unmarried women. Mrs. Walker's cutting her lends force to this criticism. Vulgarity is seen to lie on the side of "culture" rather than Daisy's "audacity and innocence." Winterbourne, not yet free from his vacillation, despite the significant move made at the end of the third section, can be ironic to his aunt about the quality of that culture that she upholds; but when he muses to himself upon the meaning of Daisy's determination to accept Giovanelli's company, he finds that "holding oneself to a belief in Daisy's 'innocence'" is "more and more a matter of fine-spun gallantry." In reality the "gallantry" has worn thin. He concludes that "She was 'carried away' by Mr. Giovanelli." The scene in the Colosseum, where he, too, cuts Daisy, is a consequence of this. Although he again vacillates to the extent of trying to cover his intention from Daisy, the outcome is a final move in the Mrs. Costello direction, made "with a sort of relief "that he is at last released from ambiguity: "She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect."

As in The Wings of the Dove—for which Daisy Miller is in so many ways a preliminary sketch, in spite of the great difference between the characters of Daisy and Milly—the story ends not with Daisy's death, but with the realization by her diffident lover of what he had lost both in her and in himself. The shreds of evidence contributed by Mrs. Miller (Daisy's insistence that she never was engaged) and Giovanelli (he knew that she would never marry him) provide a sufficient force in this delicately counter-weighted story to swing Winterbourne right through the arc of his apparently resolved ambiguity to the opposite recognition that he had done Daisy an injustice. If it had been D. H. Lawrence writing the story (which, admittedly, is to suppose that its whole tone and tempo would have been different, but not, I believe, fundamentally its theme) Winterbourne's failure would have appeared more explicitly as a missed opportunity with "one of the lords of life." James, limited to impressions upon Winterbourne's consciousness, and given more to the irony of understatement, nevertheless hints at a similar conclusion. The final variation on the recurrent motif of Winterbourne's having lived too long in Europe is James's way of saying this. "You were right," says Winterbourne to Mrs. Costello, "in that remark that you made last summer. I was booked to make a mistake. I have lived too long in foreign parts." To say in such a way to Mrs. Costello that she was right is to indicate firmly that she was, and is, wrong, in her sense of the phrase, but also conveys to the reader Winterbourne's final understanding that a certain quality of life has atrophied in himself.

The ironic and ambiguous expression of Winterbourne's failure is of a piece with his character and with James's method of telling his story. A great change has taken place, but the surface remains intact. We assume that Winterbourne's attendance on his aunt continues as before, and the last paragraph tells us that he has returned to Geneva, and probably to the mysterious lady there. Unlike Romeo, he passes not from a Rosalind to an ultimate commitment to his Juliet, but from Rosalind to a half-hearted relationship with Juliet, and back to his Rosalind again. That is the sort of tragic hero he is—not one that opens the Shakespearean stops, or excites the Lawrentian indignation, but a tragic figure for all that in a muted fashion. He has failed to answer Daisy's challenge; and her death, touching as it is, is less the point of the story than the stifling of instinct in himself that his act of "injustice" to her represents. James, as the ending of The Turn of the Screw illustrates, is quite capable of making a death scene the highly dramatic conclusion to one of his stories; but it would have been quite inappropriate to end Daisy Miller with the heroine's death, for this would have meant contradicting the whole emphasis of this particular story. It is the hero's slow, lingering, and almost comically un-dramatic death that is the main theme, and his ironically distanced, but unavailing struggle for life that provides the material of the slender plot.

John Holloway (essay date 1969)

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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 those years, and to find, on their yellowing pages and among their heavy black Victorian illustrations, James's spirited and incisive allegro. But his nouvelle caught the spirit of that time: its preoccupations were not James's alone. If Daisy Miller depicts a contrast between American and European manners, the Cornhill, not long before, had run an article precisely about the greater freedoms of youth in the New World. Its account of the 'bright, cheery, hearty, simple ways of the young people … straying on the sands of Newport' makes one think of James's 'An International Episode,' almost a companion piece to DaisyMiller; and the titles of other contemporary Cornhill pieces—The Tyranny of Fashion; The Decay of Fine Manners; Mara, or the Girl Without References ('it is a curious symptom…that alacrity with which moral people jump at the idea of an improper connection')—all these details recall James's story, and help to show its typicality in a certain sense.

James himself, in writing of his story a generation later, adverted to his own 'incurable prejudice in favour of grace.' In this early period his style was at its most lucid, and nothing he ever wrote displays that prejudice in favour of grace with more luminous delicacy. The very name of its heroine points to this: 'Daisy' is a pet-name, supplanting his heroine's prosaic, baptismal 'Annie P.' with enchanting appositeness—her delicately trim spontaneity is indeed daisy-like.

James had incomparable resources for giving his story its crisp, summery charm (one quite forgets that the Roman part is as a matter of sober fact set in the winter season). He had a rich response to the landscape of Europe, especially its cultivated landscape; and at this time at least he still had a wonderfully alive, direct, yet decorous sense of young femininity, and almost a woman's awareness of the brilliant subtleties of haute couture. Paintings by Manet like 'Olympia,' or Renoir's 'The Box,' with their scintillating responsiveness to texture (whether of cloth or skin), and to fashionable dress, were painted only a few years before Daisy Miller was written.

At this period also, James still displays the same order of sensibility to every nuance of conversation, and plays colloquialism and formality exquisitely against each other. His meticulous, slightly old-fashioned use of French ('tout bonnement'; 'a young lady quisepasse sesfantaisies') adds another touch of refined cosmopolitan charm. Even the note of colloquialism is unobtrusively modulated from character to character:

'… You won't back out?' she said. 'I shall not be happy till we go!' he protested.

With Daisy it is the product of quick but guileless wits; with Winterbourne, her would-be lover, it is scrupulous, well chosen, flat ('I think you had better get into the carriage'), a product of his self-confessed 'stiffness'; in Mrs. Costello, his aunt, plainness of speech goes with a narrow if often good-humoured self-assurance; and in the 'earnest' Mrs. Walker it expresses a rather more kind-hearted conventionality. James's spare and lucid dialogue does not prevent Daisy Miller from being a masterpiece of character portrayal.

Yet, while James has beautifully discriminated the outward style of his characters in this nouvelle, their inward natures remain more opaque. How, to begin with, ought we to see the shaping idea of the story? James says in his Notebooks that it is 'of the international family,' like 'The Siege of London' or 'Lady Barberina'. One of the very greatest Jamesians, Leon Edel, has interpreted it as centred upon a contrast between a 'child of nature and of freedom' who 'refuses to yield her innocence,' and the 'supersubtle alien codes' of 'the Europeans,… the Europeanized Americans.' Certainly in a novel like The Europeans, which is of the same year as Daisy Miller, or in the savage little Four Meetings of the year before, James saw a contrast between the Old World and the New, of a kind almost wholly favourable to the latter. But his sense of this whole rich field, and its interaction with other permanent interests of his, seem to me to vary from work to work.

It would not be right to think that James always saw Europe as super-subtlety and America as innocence, or that he thought of Europe as the only place with a rigidified 'high society.' In writing in his Notebooks some years later, he glosses 'an international tale, a tale of the Daisy Miller order,' with the phrase, 'the eternal question of American snobbishness abroad.' In 'An International Episode,' there is an American high-society just as there is an English one: more 'bright, cheery, hearty,' much more conscious of intellectual culture; but its members feel insulted by the suggestion that they are not of the 'aristocracy.' As for subtlety, the conversation between the English and the American aristocratic ladies at the end of the story is a miraculously elegant display of barbed, pregnant high-society amiabilities on both sides. In 'The Siege of London,' New York society is too rigid to admit the enchanting but much-married Westerner Mrs. Beck, while London society does so simply because she is 'amusing.'

In 'Pandora' (1884) the American lady Mrs. Dangerfield is convinced that American society is full of 'distinctions, of delicate shades, which foreigners are too stupid to perceive'; and later in the story, another American lady says to a visitor from Europe, 'How we do puzzle you!' and he replies, '… But of course, we are very simple.'

Coming back to Daisy Miller with these works in mind, one cannot but be struck by the idea that James is not constructing a general contrast between American and European mores at all. The two ladies who so much condemn his heroine are themselves both American. They have both resided in Europe, but this is not why Mrs. Grundy has won them to her side. Mrs. Costello makes it clear that her values are those of American 'society':

'But don't they all do these things—the young girls in America?' Winterbourne inquired.

Mrs. Costello stared a moment. 'I should like to see my granddaughters do them!' she declared grimly.

—'American snobbishness abroad,' in other words. Critics have stressed how the line, 'You have lived too long out of the country,' which Mrs. Costello addresses to Winterbourne, points implicitly, and from James's own position, to the fact that he has lost his awareness of youthful American innocence. But Mrs. Costello herself meant simply that prolonged absence has made him unaware of social vulgarity by home standards. Daisy herself—innocent as she is of anything that could be called Europeanization—is perfectly well acquainted with the idea of respectability, mentions propriety twice, speaks of her 'reputation,' and blushes or goes pale several times over, rather as any young lady might. The point about Daisy is not that she is encountering a 'rigid and complex' society for the first time, but that she has as good as no idea of what, by American standards or any other, 'propriety' consists in, and also that she has what can at most be described as a very intermittent interest in the whole subject.

Finally, one must register the position of Giovanelli, the not altogether engagingly personable Italian with whom she compromises herself. This young Italian (again, the name tells one something) had the truest and also the most humane and life-affirming insight into Daisy's character. This least American of the characters—this negation of everything American as the story sees it—not only recognizes Daisy's true nature but very much cares about it, and that disinterestedly. He wanted a rich American wife ('… Mr. Giovanelli, who spoke English very cleverly—Winterbourne afterwards learned that he had practised the idiom upon a great many American heiresses'), and was setting aside his own ambition, simply to enjoy the company of 'the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable.' He was a humane enough man to find it worth his while to waste his time.

Thus, anything by way of a contrast between European and American life was not James's concern in this particular tale. Rather, he used an international setting for a quite general theme: the fate, irrespective of nationality, that so easily befalls innocence and directness in a devious and sophisticated world. Daisy Miller is thus close to Washington Square, published only three years later. True enough, Catherine Sloper's innocence and directness in that novel are not quite those of Daisy. The later heroine has less brilliance, and more of something that perhaps makes up for that. But Washington Square recounts Catherine's destruction through the dried-up sophistication and calculatingness of others: 'She was sickened at the thought that Mrs. Penniman had been let loose, as it were, on her happiness,' while Winterbourne and his two dowagers were 'let loose' on Daisy's youthful happiness; and sophisticated, calculating and dried-up they all were in their various ways. If that is not quite the whole truth, it is for a most interesting reason, and an unexpected one: Daisy herself was also let loose on that precious article.

James's intention was unquestionably to portray his heroine as an instance of endearing innocence: there happens to be a contemporary letter, written by himself, which decisively confirms this. Mrs. Lynn Lynton, an Englishwoman of literary pretensions, wrote to James shortly after the tale was published, saying that she had quarrelled with a friend over its meaning, and asking him to adjudicate. In his reply, James was explicit. Daisy 'went on' with Giovanelli, he said, because she was 'above all things innocent.' She had 'a little sentiment about Winterbourne, that she believes to be quite unreciprocated'; but she was 'too innocent' to be 'playing off Giovanelli against Winterbourne.' What the story recounted was the 'little tragedy of a light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature being sacrificed to a social rumpus that went on quite over her head.'

Thirty years later, James revised Daisy Miller for the 'New York' collected edition of his works. He gave much added stress to the innocence and naturalness of the heroine, and sharpened the contrast between her and the other characters. 'That pretty American girl' is expanded into 'that little American who's so much more a work of nature than of art.' But Mrs. Costello's tongue becomes sharper than ever. 'Skinny little' gets inserted into the mild words of 1878, 'Oh, the […] mother is just as bad.' Winterbourne now refers to Giovanelli as a 'thing,' rather than a 'man'; and James himself now degrades Giovanelli all the way down from 'brilliant' to 'glossy.'

Professor Carol C. Ohmann, in an interesting essay on the tale, has argued that Daisy is 'identified … simply and wholly with the natural world which has its own beautiful and eternal rhythms' and that, taken all together, James's revisions make this clearer than ever. Certainly, they emphasize Daisy's naturalness; but hardly in this Wordsworthian sense in which even her death could seem part of the transience-in-renewal of nature. Rather, it is a question of an older sense of the word, where the focus is on human not scenic nature. Changes in the other characters by no means go to make them more social and artificial in contrast to a more 'natural' Daisy—but merely a little nastier.

Viola R. Dunbar has put forward the view that James was free to give added emphasis to Daisy's charm and naturalness, because he abandoned the idea that she was typical of American girlhood. But the key words in his Preface to the New York edition mean something more than this. Here they are (my italics):

… the simple truth, which ought from the first to have been apparent to me, that my little exhibition is made to no degree whatever in critical but, quite inordinately and extravagantly, in poetical terms.

This does not mean that James had written a Wordsworthian story while only half realizing it, nor that the contrast between 'critical' and 'poetical' is one simply between the representative and the idiosyncratic. I think it means that James saw how Daisy Miller, judged as a whole, exposed itself to a serious and limiting criticism; and he met this not by attempting a direct victory over what exposed it to criticism, but by making his story in effect less ambitious than it had been at first.

James's position over sophisticated society and the sincere individual was something of a self-contradiction. He always had an enchanting vision of innocence and sincerity, and he saw how the predatory conventions of society did those things violence. But at the same time he could not have accepted the only terms on which what he hated in high society might have been done away with. Society, with its elegance and its finesse, enchanted him also, and made up his life. He understood inward spontaneity and vitality less as Hardy or Lawrence or Yeats did—from within and first hand—and more with the external awareness of a delighted and perceptive social being. To portray someone who threw off society by virtue of an altogether superior inward power, and so could rebel and succeed with rebellion, was outside his range. His 'outsiders' are like Mrs. Headway in 'The Siege of London' and Pandora Day in 'Pandora,' whose primal, self-made virtue establishes them as insiders after all.

Daisy Miller illustrates these facts. It is something rather less rigorous than really to have been 'A Study' (James dropped the sub-title when he revised the text), and it is 'poetic' rather than 'critical,' partly because the author's judgement of his heroine is extraordinarily lenient. This is not because propriety matters in itself but because, in Daisy Miller's own particular circumstances, it mattered so little that to go mixed up with it either way was to betray a terrible triviality of mind. Daisy was in love, and the man she loved returned that love—or nearly—but needed some help before he could say so. Here are indeed circumstances in which independence of 'super-subtle' alien codes could stand one in good stead. But what does Daisy do with her 'nature' and 'freedom'? It is her doing as much as his that neither lover glimpses the full truth until too late. True, he has a difficulty that she does not feel: but could that be a matter of indifference to a woman who loved him?

Meanwhile, Daisy fills in with the company of Giovanelli. Giovanelli may indeed have had an acute and humane appreciation of the 'amiable' and 'innocent'; but he also displays a truly savage egocentricity. Even if we suppose that he is meant to have no inkling of the feelings of Daisy or of Winterbourne each for the other, he certainly knows that he is abetting Daisy's social ostracism, and over Daisy's death James is most careful to make plain his murderous selfishness: 'For myself I had no fear … [it is the second time he is made to proffer this gigantic self-inculpation]. If she had lived, I should have got nothing.' This second observation follows at once after the first. His modest words are the words of an unconscious brute. Perhaps James was catching something of what used to be thought a 'southern,' a 'Mediterranean' type.

In this story, then, the author was really much more on the side of "polite" society than transpires at first, or than he seems himself to have realized at the time. He enchants us with Daisy's innocence, exquisite face, bright wit, and lovely clothes, but his 'child of nature and freedom' is no real indictment of the world she has to live in: if anything, her blindness and destructiveness exceed its own. For total consistency in his 'study,' James would have had either to create another child of nature and freedom, one who could bring larger and more valid energies to her independence—or to treat Daisy's tragedy not as the 'little' tragedy of one who was merely a child 'over' whose 'head' it was that things 'went on,' but as the more substantial tragedy of one who, without realizing it, was a destructive caricature and trivialization of the great inward dimension of life.

The result was that when he revised his story he simply made it less 'social' altogether. Daisy is now a little less to be seen as standing in any exact context, and so inviting us to exact 'study,' of tensions between society and the individual. More, she is (to use words from his later text) a 'charming apparition,' a figure of 'lovely remoteness.'

James understood his own difficulties, and met them with his own masterly sophistications; but the enigmatic charm and grace of his heroine remain in one's mind, long after the problems raised by her story have receded.

Donald E. Houghton (essay date 1969)

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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 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." 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 [in Americans and Europe: Selected Tales of Henry James, 1965]: "Europe has the power to inflict pain, visit ill, work disaster only upon those Americans who arrived or remained in the wrong spirit." 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 [in Freudianism and the Literary Mind, 1957], 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 conforming 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.

Ann Wood (essay date 1972)

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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 American imagination. I know that her story has long held a tenacious and personal if somewhat elusive fascination for me. I read it over a decade ago on my first trip to Europe, in the midst of my own complicated discovery that I too was the American Girl; I passed it on later as prescribed reading to a young man I knew—a not very subtle reminder of the privileges and perils of involvement with such a creature; I have taught it half a dozen times with undiminished interest. Yet I was never much like Daisy Miller. I wouldn't have liked to think of myself as being "pretty"; I have never dressed fashionably or even well; and I have always fancied myself as some sort of an intellectual. Why do I care about flat little Daisy in her fine clothes? I think it is because she reveals what I and others, whether rightly or wrongly, welcomed and dreaded daily in our youth and retained a sense of later: the fact that the American Girl is absolutely and quintessentially public property.

James creates Daisy's reality for his readers not by illuminating her interior life, but by throwing a flood of light on her exterior existence. This is not just James' technique, but Daisy's substance as James understood it. Chronic over-exposure is somehow part of her nature. We learn a great deal about the American Girl from the fact that Daisy Miller is not really about Daisy Miller, but rather about other people's opinions of Daisy Miller. This is not to say that anyone in the book, with the possible exception of Winterbourne, gives her close scrutiny and careful analysis, or tries to understand her. No, the issue at hand is simply whether those observing her will accept or reject her. Daisy does not at first realize that she can only be chosen or discarded, but James does. She is somehow a product and the only question can be whether or not one wants to buy. Daisy Miller taps the paralyzed anxiety of American girlhood in a way that shuttles me back to adolescent nightmares of the terrors of wallflowerdom. Accepted or rejected, loved or hated, living or dead? Which?

Daisy, so pretty, so processed, so dependent, comes from a country which has Hollywood in its future. Absurd as it may sound, she anticipates to me the tragedy of Marilyn Monroe. Daisy Miller exists only as she pricks the imagination of her public. Her obliviousness to this fact is but a sign of unconscious proficiency; an acquired trait has per force become instinctual. She is a professional attention-getter. But the attention which creates her also transfixes and traps her. And like Monroe, what beauty she possesses is in her slightness, her final powerlessness to save herself, her inevitable fragility. Monroe died, I sometimes think, of her inability to stop pleasing; Daisy, her faint fictional prototype, from a rather desperate decision to displease. But she has for me some of the same pathos. An ever-present audience which has ceased to comprehend, if it ever did, can sometimes leave the performer with no recourse but suicide.

Perhaps I could say that DaisyMiller is finally not about Daisy, but about her audience which is hostile as well as uncomprehending. One of the many ironies of Daisy's fate is that her author is less interested in her plight than he is in her enemy's problems and methods, for these are much closer to his own difficulties of self-definition than Daisy's unverbalized struggle. Her audience of opponents is essentially parasitic, and its chosen weapon is naturally that of the parasite: gossip, that "confidential" talk by which we form and flay those who in some way perform for us. The process of gossip already engages James' attention: it was in certain ways to be the model for his novelistic craft. He shows its function here to be not as a protection for traditional conventions and ideals in a stable society, but rather as a substitute for them in a transplanted and unstable community of emigres and tourists forced to make critical pretension take the place of inherited values. In the world of Daisy Miller, gossip is not the traditional home-grown, over-the-back-fence garrulous and wayward chatter of washing day, but a kind of art, the perfected form of curiosity and malice by which alienated men and women create and discard each other's personalities and their own. Gossip is the culture of the dispossessed, and as such, provides the art of innuendo, the technique of suggestiveness by which the articulate exert their power in James' fiction. The expatriate society of Daisy's Rome relies on scandal and the snide as a means both of self-expression and of social manipulation.

Yet, although their talk sets the terms of Daisy's destruction, it in no way brings the event about. That task James assigns to Frederick Winterbourne, a young American long domiciled in Geneva who turns out to be Daisy's major enemy and James' chief concern. He is the most important member of Daisy's audience for he alone is potentially a critic in the real sense of the word. He himself causes little comment, generating only rather vague, uninformed rumors about a possible mistress. The scent he leaves is apparently faint, veiled, undecided; he is essentially privatized and inaccessible. But he is drawn to Daisy, and while his "set" is that of the emigres who denounce her, he long resists the gossip which passes as judgment. If he is a bit disdainful, at least he is disdainful of everyone. He wants, and tries, to judge for himself.

Daisy knows perfectly well that only Winterbourne of those around her can possibly spring her from her trap or permanently condemn her to it. James shows her accepting, even willing her death as soon as she realizes that he has emotionally dismissed her. Yet in the face of her utter need of him, why does she treat him as she does? It is clear from the start that Daisy likes Winterbourne; it is equally clear that, once arrived in Rome, she does everything she can to make herself unappealing to him. Yet given her dilemma as James has displayed it, she has no other course of action open to her. Her struggle for survival must involve putting her head on the block and calling for execution.

To cease being a product and to become a person, Daisy must annihilate her market value as irrelevant. To be sure that Winterbourne cares for her self, she must demand that this most ceremonious and "stiff" of young men accept her when she is absolutely unacceptable. And perhaps at the bottom of her lawless little heart lies a belief that if she all but destroys herself, he will have to intervene, and massively. This is a perverse way of looking for love, the tactic of one who does not know what love is, the strategy of "an American girl," whose father is absorbed in business, whose mother is absorbed in stolid domesticity, whose brother is absorbed in himself. Daisy's world, as James reveals it to us, is a singularly loveless one. Her distinction is that, no matter how confusedly, antagonistically or backhandedly, she is looking for something her experience could hardly have told her existed, and for which, if found, she might well have had no adequate response.

Winterbourne's failure to cipher her inverted code is hardly surprising, but it spells tragedy not just for Daisy, but for him. One might well ask why, since James makes it crystal-clear that there is nothing in Daisy herself which would attract a man of taste like Winterbourne. She is pretty, but she is deficient. She comes from a society where there are no long-standing cultural traditions, and she is plainly an advertisement of their absence. Small wonder, James seems to be hinting, that she has a "monotonous" voice, that her language is impoverished past the power of any degree of prettiness to camouflage ("well," a kind of non-word, is, too tellingly, her favorite word). Predictably, Europe is a closed book to her.

Yet James knows that Winterbourne needs Daisy not perhaps for what she is—for James is as uninterested in that problem as are her fellow characters—but for the experience she offers to one in Winterbourne's position. Winterbourne is of course an expatriate, who pursues "studies" in Geneva, and enjoys quoting Byron at night in the Colosseum. He has adopted the role of sentimental traveler, a well-worn one in the brief annals of American fiction, and one whose viability Henry James in 1878 had every reason for wishing to test and understand.

Just three years before writing DaisyMiller, after nearly a decade of vacillation, James had left America for good. He had heralded his decision in 1875 by an allegorical story called "Benvolio," whose hero, in choosing New England over Europe, sacrifices his creativity to his morality. James knew that he could not meet the cost such a sacrifice would impose on him. Yet he never lost his belief in the possibilities for important literature in America. When he wrote Howells in 1880 that he (Howells) was "magnificently and heroically right" in deciding to work from within American culture, I see no reason for doubting his sincerity. He knew, however, that Howells lacked what an American writer to be great must have, "A grasping imagination," the ability for "sniffing … the very earth of our foundations" and there to find the "very heart" of human nature. Melville had it, although James seems not to have known it, but James, as he surely at bottom felt, did not. James needed, as F. W. Dupee and Leon Edel have shown, to be an outsider, even a voyeur, in order to create, to be, as he put it, "an observer in a place where there is most in the world to observe."

Furthermore James wanted to establish the value of American literature by making it art, even at the sacrifice of mass appeal. James Russell Lowell could still proclaim "Let no man write a line that he would not have his daughter read," and the daughters of the land read him with pleasure. But Howells tells us that New Englanders, "especially the women," disliked James' work. James desired, as he later frankly put it, to reclaim the novel from "the ladies and children—by whom I mean… the reader irreflective and uncritical." In other words, he wished to write in some sense an intellectual fiction, one which could not be written for a nonintellectual audience. His final if limited success was to be as a writer in a recreated patronage system of authorship—working long and arduously to please the discriminating few—not under the pressures of a commercial system—working systematically and perhaps superficially to capture the uncritical many.

James' decision to expatriate was probably the right one, and his intelligence in finding a crucial distinction between Scylla and Charybdis fine. That same intelligence, however, never let him forget that he had taken the least debilitating of two potentially debilitating options. Winterbourne is the expression of this awareness. If the American Girl Daisy Miller displays for James the dangers of over-advertisement attendant upon the essentially commercialized life-style which he had rejected, the expatriate male in that story exhibits the perils of over-privatization attendant upon the esthetic one which he had chosen. The mutual need of these two figures is inevitable and transparent.

As Winterbourne listens to Mrs. Miller discussing her liver ailments, or young Randolph boasting about America and his own perversity, he has the air of a man politely and resolutely swallowing the unswallowable at an unsuccessful dinner party. In actuality, he is being fed the coarse bread of life. Indeed, in the Millers' unconscious candor lies Winterbourne's only chance of replenishment. Daisy and her relatives are invaluable to him as they are to James, because they spread before him the vast vistas of the "vulgar," the flat terrain of American mass culture that his residence in Europe has safely yet dangerously distanced to a subculture for him.

And Winterbourne finds not just comedy but magic and excitement both in the new and in the casual freedom with which it is offered. He marvels at the easy aplomb Daisy shows chatting about her personal life or riding in public on a boat unescorted except by a gentleman friend. Who can tell what other astonishing transformations of experience she can accomplish? It is Winterbourne's pretentious aunt who, in discussing Daisy's unabashed display of familiarity with her Italian friend, identifies her appeal:" 'she thinks of nothing. She goes on from day to day, from hour to hour, as they did in the Golden Age.'" It is precisely Daisy's extraordinary public quality which is her "innocence" and her attraction. It is her denial, perhaps her ignorance, of dark corners which draws Winterbourne—and James—to her in mingled envy, hope and disdain. Unawares, Daisy suggests the tantalizing half-promise of a golden vulgarity, the release from the strain of cultural and sexual privatization—the essential resource of liberation. Winterbourne, perhaps like James, distrusts this promise but his torment is that he does not disbelieve it. He destroys, but he regrets.

This is where the book ends, not with Daisy's death but, characteristically, with the effect of her death on Winterbourne, and with James' penetrating and subtle analysis of his predicament. Geneva, the "little metropolis of Calvinism" to which Winterbourne returns and whose Puritan aspects James carefully stresses, represents all too clearly the literal historical origin of New England. Geneva, whose young ladies never do as Daisy did, symbolizes here, as New England was in part to do in James' book on Hawthorne, a spirit of hostility to the free play of the imagination. Ironically, Winterbourne, in following the "gossip" of his countrywomen, has simply chosen as guide the New England conscience debased and operating in alien territory. He has traveled only to stay at home, and worse, in doing so, he has nourished not his creativity but his guilt. This was the fate that James himself was to try to avoid, although not perhaps with complete success.

Here the book closes, yet I cannot close, as James intended I should, on Winterbourne's loss, because that is not the real force of the story for me. There is a certain self-pity lurking amidst James' ironies here, and perhaps I want some of my own. Yes, poor Winterbourne, James seems to be telling us, and I sympathize even while I note Daisy's displacement. Like all those other introspective, somewhat ineffectual and self-condemning observer-figures who decide and re-decide through the pages of James, Hawthorne and Howells, Winterbourne, James implies, must finally bear the burden of life. By a curious logic, it is apparently only the good-looking, nonconforming woman or girl who has the privilege of dying and leaving that rather unemployed man who failed to understand her a permanent sinecure of self-indulgent grave-tending. Of course it is not so simple, but still I am drawn to Daisy not just because Winterbourne deserts her, but because in a sense James does too. It is of her essence that she does not quite "belong," even in her own book. She is so vulnerable, this Daisy Miller, an American Girl whose superficiality is her complexity. She never knows she is pathetic, decked out in Daddy's trophies but without Daddy, emblem and victim of mass culture, addicted to attention and ignorant of love, perishing of that inability to articulate peculiar to a cult figure obscurely dissatisfied with its cult, losing her audience but not her image: the eternal object. Who looks at her, who owns her, who kills her, who buries her, who misses her, who writes about her, and why— that's what matters, there's her story. Dear Daisy, when they've all gone home, do you exist? I need to know.

Louise K. Barnett (essay date 1979)

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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 spirit of Isabel Archer is "ground in the very mill of the conventional," just as Marie de Vionnet, another valued heroine, must be sacrificed to Chad Newsome's social obligations of marriage and career. Kate Croy and Charlotte Stant struggle against the limitations placed upon them by their social position as women without means. Resignedly or ruefully, all of these women accept the terms of society, try to achieve self-realization within its confines, and remain within the system after their defeat. Only in Daisy Miller does James portray a woman whose innocent devotion to her own natural behavior causes her to flout society wilfully and persistently. The contrast between what Daisy wants and what other women in the novella have, and between the amount of freedom allowed by society to Daisy and to Winterbourne, constitutes James's clearest indictment of the restrictions society imposes specifically on women.

Through a number of emblematic settings ranging from the castle of Chillon to the Protestant cemetery, and through a spectrum of characters, Daisy Miller explores the options available to women. The odyssey of experience which Daisy, "the child of nature and of freedom," undergoes reveals society's desire to confine women within a narrow and rigidly defined sphere. While those women who accept their circumscribed existence pay varying prices of neurotic illness, ineffectuality, and hypocrisy, the woman who ignores social prescription is punished by ostracism and death. Although the women characters uphold the system which restricts them, the chief arbiter of society for Daisy is a man, the aptly-named Winterbourne. As a definer and enforcer of the bourne or boundary of social propriety, whose verdict has the life-denying implications of winter, Winterbourne represents the masculine world which has ultimate control over the lives of women.

Significantly, Winterbourne is strongly attached to Geneva, a city identified with Calvinism and its social reflection, a decorum which is both narrowly conventional and hypocritically relaxed. The innocent and natural association of young people is strictly controlled and even discouraged: "In Geneva, as he had been perfectly aware, a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady except under certain rarely occurring conditions." Such a view is sustained in Rome by Mrs. Walker, a lady who "had spent several winters at Geneva" and is thus linked to Winterbourne's position both seasonally and geographically. In spite of the severity with which Geneva controls the behavior of young unmarried girls, married women of a certain age enjoy a clandestine sort of freedom, vaguely conveyed by James's statement that some "singular stories" existed about Winterbourne's mysterious foreign lady. Geneva also prescribes a standard of conduct towards relatives, which Winterbourne dutifully conforms to: "He had imbibed at Geneva the idea that one must always be attentive to one's aunt."

Although Winterbourne from time to time expresses an awareness that Geneva has narrowed his perspective, he is unwilling to repudiate its values. When Daisy upbraids him for seeking out Mrs. Walker's company in Rome rather than her own, she remarks:" 'You knew her at Geneva.… Well, you knew me at Vevey. That's just as good.'" Daisy has no way of knowing that Geneva prescribed the familial obligation that brought Winterbourne to Vevey; his real world is "the dark old city at the other end of the lake." Daisy's unsuccessful attempt to be a natural and free person within a rigid and hypocritical society is framed by Winterbourne's coming from and returning to Geneva, its Calvinistic code of social behavior and its allowable liaisons with older women.


With Winterbourne as observer and mediator, DaisyMiller develops as a series of confrontations between Daisy and those women who live under the sign of Geneva. In the resort world of Vevey, where Winterbourne and Daisy first meet, social decorum is embodied in Winterbourne's aunt. Denied a more constructive career, Mrs. Costello has channeled her energies into the negative occupation of social exclusiveness. Always on the verge of realization about the life-inhibiting aspects of conventionality, Winterbourne finds Mrs. Costello's picture of the "minutely hierarchical constitution" of the society she presides over "almost oppressively striking." Herself victimized by the demands of propriety, Mrs. Costello has internalized the rules of society and devoted herself to oppressing others in its name. In the service of these standards her will has become so inflexible that she tells her nephew, apropos of acknowledging the social existence of the Millers: "'I would if I could, but I can't.'" Nevertheless, more than a touch of picque may be felt in her comment to Winterbourne: "'Of course a man may know every one. Men are welcome to the privilege!'"

That Mrs. Costello might have been more at home in this larger masculine world seems likely: her lack of rapport with her children indicates that she was ill-suited to the maternal role. She is described as "a person of much distinction, who frequently intimated that, if she were not so dreadfully liable to sick-headaches, she would probably have left a deeper impress upon her time." Believing that there is a disparity between potential and achievement in her life, Mrs. Costello has sick headaches both as a rationalization for and a psychogenic response to her frustrations.

Mrs. Costello's exclusiveness prevents her from censuring Daisy's behavior in person, a task undertaken in Rome by Mrs. Walker, "the lady from Geneva." While Mrs. Walker strenuously opposes Daisy's walking about without a proper escort, her name suggests that by virtue of conforming to the conventions—being a mature married woman—she is allowed to walk with more freedom than society allows Daisy. Because she prefers a carriage, however, Mrs. Walker's name may be an ironic reflection of the confinement of her own spirit within socially prescribed boundaries. Her "little crimson drawing-room … filled with southern sunshine" indicates a passionate nature, but Daisy's remark that Mrs. Walker's small rooms are suited to conversation rather than dancing shows that this nature is not given physical expression.

Ineffectual and ignorant, Daisy's mother is a still lesser version of the absolute represented by Mrs. Costello. As she says to Winterbourne about Giovanelli:" 'I suppose he knows I'm a lady.'" Bewildered by an unfamiliar milieu, which makes her social lapses more plausible, Mrs. Miller nevertheless advances hesitant prescriptions which show a rudimentary sense of the proprieties in force at Geneva. When Daisy complains about her brother, Mrs. Miller rebukes this violation of family loyalty. She also expresses a feeling of vague impropriety when Randolph is boastful and when Daisy refuses to say whether or not she is engaged. Mostly, Mrs. Miller fails to see social infractions because she has a decidedly practical bent. When Mrs. Walker warns Daisy that her contemplated walk on the Pincio is not safe, Mrs. Miller immediately thinks of the danger to her daughter's health rather than to her reputation. Her explanation of Daisy's delayed arrival at Mrs. Walker's party is similarly unsophisticated: the impracticality of Daisy's dressing so early obscures for Mrs. Miller the impropriety of her remaining alone with her Italian suitor.

Like Mrs. Costello's headaches, Mrs. Miller's dyspepsia is both a response to the paucity of meaningful activity in her life and a substitute for it. She becomes animated only when discussing her illness, an affliction which at least makes her important to one person—her doctor:

" 'He has so much to do, and yet there was nothing he wouldn't do for me. He said he never saw anything like my dyspepsia, but he was bound to cure it. I'm sure there was nothing he wouldn't try. He was just going to try something new when we came off. Mr. Miller wanted Daisy to see Europe for herself. But I wrote to Mr. Miller that it seems as if I couldn't get on without Dr. Davis.'" The European trip which deprives Mrs. Miller of this one entirely satisfactory human relationship was commanded by her husband. Given a luxurious leisure which she can make little use of, and unable to play significant maternal role for her headstrong children, Mrs. Miller has a chance to exhibit competence only during Daisy's fatal illness. With a limited and specific task, that of nursing her daughter, she is able to be efficient and, for once, "perfectly composed."


Of the two vistas to be seen from Vevey—"the sunny crest of the Dent du Midi and the picturesque towers of the Castle of Chillon"—one images the world of nature and, metaphorically, Daisy's character; the other is a symbol of the societal repression whose less obvious forms constrain the other women in James's novella. To the Daisy Winterbourne meets at Vevey society means people, particularly gentlemen admirers. Successful in the more fluid ambience of New York, where even Winterbourne's proper cousins are "tremendous flirts," Daisy neither feels the weight of nor comprehends the prohibitions of society expressed in Mrs. Costello's snub. Her reaction is merely unoffended wonder: "'Gracious! she is exclusive!'" Another embodiment of society's power, the castle of Chillon, is equally uninstructive to Daisy. It is fitting that Winterbourne should guide Daisy on the excursion to Chillon—the first of a series of juxtapositions of Daisy to a symbol of group tyranny over the individual—for after his first impulse to take Daisy's part against his aunt, Winterbourne consistently tries to persuade Daisy to abide by the social proprieties. Daisy's response to the paraphernalia of punishment is instinctive antipathy: "She flirted back with a pretty little cry and a shudder from the edge of the oubliettes." Chillon is an emblem of society's severest forms of repression, but Daisy has not yet perceived its relevance to herself.

Winterbourne follows up his introduction to Daisy with a continuing effort to place her in the proper social category, but the stereotypes he tries to apply—"pretty American flirt," "nice girl," "young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect"—always turn out to be inadequate. Because the forms of social behavior obviate the need of individual decision—prescribing the correct treatment of aunts, unmarried girls, and married women—finding the right label for Daisy, reifying her with the application of some pat formula, would reassure Winterbourne. Uncertain how to categorize Daisy, he is correspondingly uncertain how to act towards her and is reduced to taking his cues from her. Daisy resists his classification and thus eludes his comprehension.

After Vevey, where Mrs. Costello and Chillon suggest the ostracism and confinement society accords its rebels, Daisy is made aware of society's disapprobation by Mrs. Walker's attempt to enclose her both within her carriage and within her social code. Taking a position she never retreats from, Daisy expresses a desire to alter society rather than her own behavior. She concludes, meaningfully: "'If I didn't walk I should expire.'" Walking is the simple physical activity performed by an autonomous individual and also the motion of life itself, in contrast to the rigidity of social prescription and the stasis of death. For Daisy, life without the freedom to move under her own power and by her own direction is unthinkable.

When Daisy turns from Mrs. Walker's importunings to Winterbourne, she exhibits a realization that men are the final arbiters and wielders of power. Her appeal is not for the social truth Winterbourne gives her, but for support. Instead of joining Winterbourne in the repressive world of social propriety which his stiffness reflects, Daisy wishes to entice him into her pastoral world of innocence and spontaneity. Winterbourne is tempted, as he was at Vevey, but social decorum impels him to acquiesce to a lady's command, i.e., to join Mrs. Walker in her carriage. His reluctance to accompany his friend and his pondered comment—" 'I suspect… that you and I have lived too long at Geneva!'"—reveal Winterbourne's irritation at this point with the restrictions imposed by propriety. When pressed by Mrs. Walker to give up Daisy, he vacillates characteristically. In asserting that there will be "nothing scandalous" in his attentions to Daisy, Winterbourne still imagines that he can have both Daisy and society, but in walking towards his aunt's residence and away from Daisy, he shows his most deeply felt commitment. And, of course, he casually exercises a prerogative denied to Daisy—that of freely walking about alone.

The climax of the novella makes Winterbourne's position clear to Daisy; in his rejection she sees the impossibility of having both freedom and social approval, individuality and community. Significantly, the Roman fever which later kills Daisy is first mentioned in conjunction with her intention of behaving improperly by walking to the Pincio alone. Her death establishes a link between social disapproval and fever: had Daisy not violated a social taboo by going to the Colosseum at night with Giovanelli, she would not have been exposed to the fever. Daisy's own remarks give a further twist to the theme of society's responsibility. Before Winterbourne explicitly rejects her, Daisy affirms her good health: "'I never was sick, and I don't mean to be!'" After he pronounces his judgment, made in the name of that Geneva doctrine which keeps young women under strict surveillance, Daisy no longer cares whether or not she gets malaria.

Both Winterbourne's and Giovanelli's lack of susceptibility to the fever reiterates again the theme of society's imprisonment of women. Men already have the prerogatives which Daisy lays claim to: it should be just as imprudent for Giovanelli or Winterbourne to go to the Colosseum, but the first shrugs off the danger while the second thinks of it only after satisfying his desire to imbibe the romantic atmosphere for a bit. James's description draws our attention to the enchantment of the setting:

The evening was charming, and he promised himself the satisfaction of walking home beneath the Arch of Constantine and past the vaguely lighted monuments of the Forum. There was a waning moon in the sky, and her radiance was not brilliant, but she was veiled in a thin cloud curtain which seemed to diffuse and equalize it. When, on his return from the villa (it was eleven o'clock), Winterbourne approached the dusky circle of the Colosseum, it occurred to him, as a lover of the picturesque, that the interior, in the pale moonshine, would be well worth a glance. He turned aside and walked to one of the empty arches, near which, as he observed, an open carriage—one of the little Roman street-cabs—was stationed. Then he passed in, among the cavernous shadows of the great structure, and emerged upon the clear and silent arena. The place had never seemed to him more impressive. One-half of the gigantic circus was in deep shade, the other was sleeping in the luminous dusk.

The division of the ruin into light and dark areas, and the recitation of Byron broken off in mid-quote, illustrate Winterbourne's conflict: his oscillation between Daisy and the customs of "the dark old city," between the risk-taking of individual assertion and the safety of social prudence. James's vivid rendering of the scene, which impresses us with its charm and powers of attraction, indirectly points up another contrast. Winterbourne's innocent desire to see the Colosseum by moonlight is socially acceptable, albeit medically unwise. The same innocent desire in Daisy is a scandalous violation of propriety.

In death Daisy returns to nature, but she is also locked away in a place suggestive of Geneva, the Protestant cemetery. Hypocritically, the society which ostracized her turns out for her burial in a "number larger than the scandal excited by the young lady's career would have led you to expect," perhaps in vindication of the collective mores no longer threatened by Daisy. Winterbourne returns almost immediately to his life in Geneva, "stiff" because of its repression of natural feelings and its rigidly conventional behavior, but safe because it lacks the puzzling and unpredictable qualities of natural self-expression.


Daisy remains the most uncompromising and uninhibited of James's many freedom-seeking heroines, a resister of patriarchal authority who "has never allowed a gentleman to dictate to [her] or to interfere with anything [she does]." She breaks rather than bending to social demands. Mrs. Costello's mocking gossip, Mrs. Walker's overt rudeness, and Winterbourne's final cruel rejection of Daisy all reveal the entity opposing her to be mean-spirited and reductive, able to respond only in a negative fashion to natural vitality and innocence. In creating a spectrum of socially approved but sterile feminine existences, James contrasts Daisy's desire for freedom with the confinement of other women in artificial and trivial spheres. Ironically, much of the freedom society prohibits to Daisy is allowable to Winterbourne, but he has confined himself within a sterile and restricted mode of existence, the victim of his own temperament and choice rather than of society's coercion.

Richard A. Hocks (essay date 1980)

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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 moralist, the temperament of a philosopher, and the wisdom of a rarely experienced witness of the world.

—W. D. Howells on Henry James


Although there is a lingering untrue truism that, with the publication in 1878 of Daisy Miler, James "invented the international novel," what is both enduring and true is that, with the character of Daisy Miller herself, James auspiciously identified as his special imaginative territory the plight of the international American girl. Well after he had transmuted her into Isabel Archer of The Portrait of a Lady and, much later, into Milly Theale of The Wings of the Dove—by which time he was willing to consent to the view that "my supposedly typical little figure [Daisy] was of course pure poetry, and had never been anything else"—even then James was likely to be identified as the author of Daisy Miller. A tale that was pirated immediately in this country, that sold twenty thousand copies in pamphlet form in weeks, that was oft reprinted, translated, and given a different form as a play and even as a hat, and that generated some heated discussion when it first appeared, Daisy Miller was as close as Henry James ever came to becoming a popular novelist in his own lifetime. To committed Jamesians, especially in the American academy, Daisy Miller has frequently seemed like a mixed blessing within the novelist's momentous and immense body of work, for it occupies, along with The Turn of the Screw, perhaps, a somewhat disproportionate importance in that canon.

Yet that importance still persists and will, I should think, continue to do so. For one thing, those who teach Henry James often discover each year that, as with The American, so much a piece of the same vintage, university students respond exceedingly well to Daisy Miller, respond to it despite—I shall shortly argue even because of—the outmoded manners that constitute the narrative conflict. For another thing, the tale itself remains accessible to students and teachers alike because of its beautifully swift focus on the antagonism between Daisy and the Europeanized "gang" abroad, because of the vividly convincing "moral muddlement" rendered by James of his register Frederick Winterbourne, and because of the yet uncomplicated syntax of James's prose idiom—another element in common with the much-taught book The American. For still another thing, Daisy's plight, her character, and her willingness to take risks against the conventional mores all appeal immediately to the deep feminism of these times; the specific issues may seem tame, even quaint, but a great many young women college students, upon reading Daisy Miller for the first time, are convinced at once that she is their "sister." They see in her not only a victim of Victorian views about the conduct of women, but more generally a sacrificial victim of some amorphous "societal" set of "female expectations," of traditional "role models," the challenging of which is for them the first, or close to the first, priority of our own times. (It is always tempting at that juncture for a teacher to inform his students that Daisy Miller, after being rejected unceremoniously by an American publication, was first accepted and printed in the Cornhill by none other than Virginia Woolf's father!) That Daisy's principal antagonists are themselves women, older women with a sort of moralist-custodian station, is a feature of this tale that particularly appeals to these young readers; they "empathize" with her in that conflict, one in which men like Winterbourne are permitted to have their Geneva lady friends without any criticism from the Mrs. Costellos and Mrs. Walkers of the world, but in which Daisy herself is abominated, as it were, by these same vindictive ladies. A double standard derived from men but enforced by women! Finally, even the fantasies of such young college women, I recently discovered to my great surprise, may manage to connect up with the story of Daisy Miller: a particularly vivacious student informed the present writer and her own classmates that, upon reading this tale, she immediately "understood" Daisy because she herself had always wished to appear at her mother's bridge party, or else cocktail party, in a bathing suit! Both the fuss and the challenge to respectability were very important.

Those students who are sympathetic to the woman's movement and who are otherwise students of literature go on, of course, to read The Portrait of a Lady rather soon after their baptism into Daisy's cause. But after The Portrait they are not so sure what to think. If they have by then become appreciative readers of James, they will obviously read other tales and some of the other novels, perhaps, but they will no longer "relate" to James, or to his young American heroines, in quite the same way. One might even, at that stage, inform the few students who remain after the natural attrition process of the existence of The Bostonians, though hastening to add that James himself thought so poorly of it that he chose to omit it from the New York Edition! For those exceedingly few students who eventually become Jamesians themselves, it is hence-forth perhaps Kate Chopin or Edith Wharton, not the author of Daisy Miller, who will better represent for them the late nineteenth and early twentieth-century American contribution to "women's literature." And yet, like all readers who come to admire Henry James, these last will permanently wish they could puzzle out the "bottom line" on this issue in the fiction of James.

But of course the great majority of responsive young readers of Daisy Miller are precisely not the small sifted group above; they are those who feel an instinctive affinity with Daisy, yet one that hardly compels them to undertake the later prose style or sensibility of Henry James. In short, Daisy perhaps continues, in a real sense, to be as close as James can come to popularity, and this despite the vast and distinguished academic criticism and scholarship given to him. As for the young "feminist" response to the tale? It is anything but easy to know how much to challenge that response; how much, really, to complicate it—though complicate it, I am convinced, one should. But how much? The issue is a surprisingly intricate one, for not only is the tale itself far more intentionally ambivalent than a pro-sister-Daisy reading might wish it, but the cultural ambience out of which that reading comes manages to recomplicate things. For instance: it is not so hard to perceive, with Leslie Fiedler, that Daisy is, from a certain angle, the "Good Bad Girl" recast, the "virtuous whore," the "mythically innocent" figure, and the "prototype of all those young American female tourists who continue to baffle their continental lovers with an innocence not at all impeached, though they have now taken to sleeping with their Giovanellis as well as standing with them in the moonlight." Yet this kind of insight gives us but the lightest of Daisy's threads of continuity with our own day. Likewise, the instinctive response by young college students, especially young women, to Daisy's cause and "feelings" will remind us that these students too are after all themselves "intelligent but presumptuous" American people prepared to "affront their destiny," and thus that James always knew generically of what he wrote. But neither revelation is quite the "complicating cultural ambience" to which I referred before. Even less, nay least, penetrating is the sort of cultural interpretation that says the young sisters of Daisy Miller are today similarly poetic, endlessly baffling and appealing, and wonderfully "audacious and innocent" while pursuing merely a different, or heightened, set of goals, such as "self-fulfillment," a "nonsexist," "non-judgmental" social order, a "healthy sexual identity," or even a full "economic equality." That kind of analysis does not really complicate anything very much, although, like Fiedler's approach, it does exhibit a thread of continuity between Daisy's drama and our own day. But what I meant earlier by a complicating cultural ambience is, rather, something very different. It is my sense that, when studying Daisy Miller, the most enthusiastic young students, especially the pro-sister-Daisy interpreters and, if I may so metonymize it, the "bathing suit" response, depend in no small measure on the "quaintness" of the mores in conflict, depend on the formality, even, of the acts of conduct in question. In other words, I sense that the innocently anachronistic forms themselves, not to mention Daisy's own sexual innocence, are central to a contemporary response by the young reader to Daisy's predicament. I do not say that this young college reader has the more refined and ambiguous understanding of the story that the Jamesian has. Indeed, that reader does not, for, whereas the adult Jamesian will wish to emphasize the novelist's realism and, especially, his vigorous departure from siding with any Victorian value system, the young student may, without quite realizing it, be responding to a certain inchoate attractiveness in Victorian formalities, imperatives, and even conceptions of respectability. To put this another way, I sense that the young American reader may be attracted to the "outmoded manners" in conflict within the story in a way not unlike the way Daisy herself responds so excitedly on those few occasions that Winterbourne speaks hyperpoetically, formally, and anachronistically to her—" 'Dearest young lady,'" he cries, "'have I come all the way to Rome only to be riddled by your silver shafts?'"; and Daisy typically explodes, "'Just hear him say that!'" It is surprising just how often that sort of exchange occurs in the tale. In teaching Daisy Miller we are, properly enough, attuned to James's critical position. But I think our students who, after all, no longer need convincing that they are free and entitled to abide by the manners of nineteenth-century Schenectady (which is, after all, what Daisy "perpetrated," and nothing more)—such students find instead intrinsically fascinating the sort of formal code with which Daisy has to contend.

This is one reason, then, why Daisy Miller will most likely keep that "disproportionate importance" in James's canon. It will continue to attract young Americans, and now especially young women, to Daisy's cause; yet that very enthusiasm will, I believe, continue to be fed by a subterranean romance for the past, a kind of dimly understood nostalgia for a social context in which the high drama of such outmoded manners is still possible. If this assessment is correct, there is much irony in the fact that the student so taken with Daisy and her predicament can consciously only transfer her terms of allegiance with Daisy to her own contemporary cultural or sexual goals, ones which, enunciated now primarily by the language and thought of behavioral psychology and counselling—e.g., "feeling good about oneself," "personal growth," "sexually active," "non-judgmental," "reproductive freedom," "getting in touch with my feelings," "letting me be me," "a good self-image," "pro-activist input"—can hardly fail to reinforce the sort of jadedness which gave rise to the attraction of Daisy's charmingly "other" version of the moral drama in the first place.

These few reflections on Daisy Miller and the modern student are occasioned in part by the frame of a "centennial" consciousness, to be sure; but they arise pertinently too as a meditation on a very recent study of American social fiction by C. Hugh Holman, whose title Windows on the World not only recalls a famous passage in James's Preface to The Portrait of a Lady but whose argument contends, against the current academic fashion, for the significance of Realism as a fundamental American literary mode. Holman reminds us of what Realism and its ramifications were for the novel of society, but also points out the appropriateness of the Realistic Movement to the cultural and intellectual milleu out of which it came. He summarizes that overall view with words that evoke immediately the essential spirit of James and his contemporaries and that speak directly to the meaning, then and now, of a touchstone-document of imagination like Daisy Miller.

The surface details, the common actions, and the minor catastrophes of a middle-class society constituted the chief subject matter of the movement. Most of the realists avoided situations with tragic or cataclysmic implications. Their tone was comic, frequently satiric, seldom grim or somber, even when situations have—as they often do in Henry James's novels—tragic overtones.

I believe that realism as it was self-consciously practiced by the American novelist in the last half of the nineteenth century was the literary mode that most adequately embodied the assumptions of the thoughtful American of that time, as existential romanticism seems to embody the assumptions of ours. The major tenets of realism were called forth by the postulates of the American dream; at its apex realism proved to be a reasonably accurate expression of that dream; and the decline of realism into doctrinaire naturalism, symbolism, and expressionism in our century has been the result in part of a decline in an active faith in that dream. This position is, I believe, in accord with the facts of literary history.

Indeed, Holman's formulation not only "accords with the facts of literary history," it simply evokes at once, as was said before, the very world of James's social and moral vision. When we teach Daisy Miller now to our responsive students we are deeply obligated by the "facts of literary history" no less than by the complexity of James's imagination to present the nouvelle as the true, critical dialectical inquiry it is. But we must also recognize, by virtue of the same facts of literary history since 1900 with the diminished importance of realism, that the nostalgic reach backward to the "quaintness" of the moral issue on the part of present-day readers, ourselves as well as our students, is as intrinsic to our collective character and circumstance as Daisy's instinctive response to the flowery language of courtly romance. It is that sense of a "backward imagination" that I have found lacking in the cultural approach epitomized, on the one hand, say, in Leslie Fiedler's view, or in the less formal "literary" application, primarily through feminism, of the language and thinking of counselors and therapists; in a strange quirk of recent history, requiring only a centenary, the obsessions of Victorian sentimentality—the family, motherhood, the respectability of the "Young Girl" (as Howells denominated her in his Criticism and Fiction)—are about to be replaced by the sentimentality of our own era, that of sexuality and feeling good about ourselves. We are becoming perhaps the new Mrs. Walkers and Costellos with, from their point of view, such unlikely doctrines! No wonder, then, that our enthusiastic students think uncritically that they "understand" at once what it is Daisy "feels," despite the fact that the tale never enters within her point of view. But no wonder, also, that the same students cannot help but be charmed deep within their being by the presence of a moral and social code like that which Daisy dared to flout.


To present Daisy Miller as the "true dialectical inquiry it is," and thus to present it also as a vintage expression of the literary milieu described by C. Hugh Holman, it may be helpful to take brief stock of certain configurations found in the critical literature of the work. Perhaps it should first be said that virtually all of its legendary "rumpus," and particularly its alleged "outrage on American girlhood," has been greatly overstated. Indeed, this notion, one that has accompanied the academic history of this story for years, is simply not to be found in the written contemporary reviews and response to Daisy Miler, with the exception on occasion of remarks by Howells, who of course attributes the sense of outrage elsewhere. Doubtless there was some talk along these lines, but the written record will not justify the legend. On the other hand, what cannot be overstressed is the extent to which Daisy Miller did immediately "click" in the reading public, did create overnight its vogue; in no time at all everyone did seem to know what "a Daisy Miller" was, in much the same way that today we all know immediately what "an Archie Bunker" is. In that respect, Howells' casual reference in The Rise of Silas Lapham to Daisy Millerism, or even his well-known comment about society's dividing itself into "Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites," is well justified, for it is after all possible to disagree about her in literary conversation while all participants agree that James's portrayal was appropriate and, to a greater or lesser extent, on target. If that sounds more like an academic discussion of the story than its supposed contemporary disrepute and scandal, that is nevertheless closer to what appears to have been the case. Everyone seems to have recognized Daisy as a "real" phenomenon, and the number of contemporary allusions to her, both individually and generically, is even astonishing. Yet what is finally compelling is the extent to which James's story had the effect of "teaching" the real Daisy Millers to behave differently, and even the extent to which he himself, along with others, believed that Daisy was almost an extinct species by, say, 1905.

There is some reason to believe, however, that James later thought Daisy extinct for reasons quite different from those marked by natural changes or increasing tolerance in social manners within international society. That James thought differently about the whole issue is almost surely the case. James may have felt by the first decade of this century that his Daisy Miller figure was inevitably more jaded than he had portrayed her earlier and was perhaps even sinister. Indeed, his reaction in this regard is almost a synecdoche for the reaction C. Hugh Holman points to in the demise of literary realism when it begins to lose faith in, and feel the decay of, the American dream. In other words, James's reconsideration of Daisy, a grimmer, more "realistic" reconsideration, we might say, is meanwhile symptomatic of the decline of Realism as the dominant literary movement!

This crux and paradox is, I believe, central to an understanding of James and of the Daisy Miller text that eventually came out of James's revision for his New York Edition. The viewpoint that Daisy had lost her innocence for James, a view corroborated by his portrayal of Julia Bride and by his discussion of those contemporary young Daisies in his later "Preface," is one that must register on the literary historian following the lead of C. Hugh Holman.

It is one side of the equation. But what is likewise part of that same moment, both for James and for literary history, is the other side of the equation. The American Daisy-figure underwent an idealized transformation, while the cultural ambience associated with her became, for James's sensibility, part of a poetic past subject to the ravages of the present. In other words, "the decline of active faith in that [American] dream" at the turn of the century, of which Holman speaks, took the form in James of subjecting the international American girl to the corruption of the modern world. In the case of Maggie Verver it meant fighting like nature herself red in tooth and claw against a hideous modern evil "seated all at its ease where she had only dreamed of good.… like some bad-faced stranger surprised in one of the thick-carpeted corridors of a house of quiet on a Sunday afternoon." Like Isabel Archer, another of Daisy's sisters, Maggie Verver had to fight for her life in a domestic framework of deception and brutal manipulation. It might even be said that, unlike Isabel, Maggie had no choice but to become deeply tainted morally, suffer the "miasma" of the corruption of modern life in order to survive.

In the case of Milly Theale, James even went so far as to identify her with the very poetry of Venice, a poetry, that is, which James interpreted as tied intimately to the beautiful city's own slow, inevitable decay from within, an intricate conception and interpretation that anticipates by about ten years a comparable one by Thomas Mann. James's haunting explication of Venice as "the poetry of misfortune" provides for us a deep analogue by which Daisy Miller, no less than her own prototype in his cousin Minnie Temple, had now been transformed into the Milly Theale phenomenon. "Is it the style," he asks, while pondering Venice's immemorial beauty,

that has brought about the decrepitude, or the decrepitude that has, as it were, intensified and consecrated the style? There is an ambiguity about it all that constantly haunts and beguiles. Dear old Venice has lost her complexion, her figure, her reputation, her self-respect; and yet, with it all, has so puzzlingly not lost a shred of her distinction. Perhaps indeed the case is simpler than it seems, for the poetry of misfortune is familiar to us all, whereas, in spite of a stroke here and there of some happy justice that charms, we scarce find ourselves anywhere arrested by the poetry of a run of luck. The misfortune of Venice being, accordingly, at every point, what we most touch, feel and see, we end by assuming it to be of the essence of her dignity.… What was most beautiful is gone; what was next most beautiful is, thank goodness, going—that, I think, is the monstrous description of the better part of your thought. Is it really your fault if the place makes you want so desperately to read history into everything?

By the time the metamorphosis of the Daisy figure into Milly Theale and the poetry of her misfortune had taken place, James had likewise begun to turn, at least partially, again toward Hawthornean romance as the vehicle for this tenor. In this respect James is, once more, a legitimate barometer of the change Hugh Holman points to in the beginning of the decline of Realism's dominance at the turn of the century. We have already noted, of course, that the elder James of the New York Edition was apt to refer to Daisy as having been "pure poetry." James's comments are confirmed by the findings of those scholars who have studied at close hand his textual revisions for the New York Edition. The consensus is that James's revisions serve to coat his earlier comedy of manners with a symbolic and poetic overlay, one that emphasizes not only Daisy's charm and the general disagreeableness of her critics in the story, but especially that stresses her symbolic ties to nature, ties which, inevitably, betoken also her subjugation to its laws and processes. It is thus at once an idealization of his heroine which, at the same time, makes symbolic connections with her fragile mortality. While it is most understandable that interpreters of James's nouvelle will wish to see this textual evidence as confirmation that Daisy was innocent, blameless, and beautiful of spirit, a true and modern victim whose Colosseum death is as unprovoked as those of the Christian martyrs preceding her, my own viewpoint is that James's revisions, together with his statements in the New York "Preface," have more to do with his own reinterpretation of the cultural past epitomized in the American girl abroad, a reinterpretation as "the poetry of misfortune," a perspective in which the elements of romance are part of the real, the "poetry" even part of the "monstrous" realization of a decay in the dream. Above all, perhaps, it was clear that in the New York Edition James would no longer prefer to emphasize his comedic objectivity and distance from the heroine in a comedy of manners by titling his nouvelle "A Study": the affinities with Milly Theale and the cultural reconceptions she symbolized made that impossible. Thus, despite the fine academic criticism James has received, no one, I think, has perceived this deep connection between Daisy and Milly any better than did Howells. He writes [in North American Review 176 (1903)]:

Milly Theale is as entirely American in the qualities which you can and cannot touch as Daisy Miller herself; and (I find myself urged to the risk of noting it) she is largely American in the same things. There is the same self-regardlessness, the same beauteous insubordination, the same mortal solution of the problem. Of course, it is all in another region, and the social levels are immensely parted. Yet Milly Theale is the superior of Daisy Miller less in her nature than in her conditions.

If one had to pick a single feature, or perhaps two, which have become crucial in interpreting the text of Daisy Miller by academic critics, those would be, first, the emphasis on James's "middle point of view" in the conflict he portrays, and, second, the importance to the story of Winterbourne, who is, after all, our narrative register rather than Daisy (who remains instead the "phenomenon" she is and could no longer quite be were we permitted within her consciousness). For obvious reasons these two approaches tend to overlap, because James's balanced objectivity relies in part on his, and our, keeping in mind that Daisy is perceived and evaluated from without, which in turn means from a point of view largely, but not entirely, that of Winterbourne. In the 1950's, for example, F. W. Dupee and Christof Wegelin represent two versions, if you will, of a balancing interpretation of the tale. Dupee emphasized that Daisy was indeed no martyr, but that James was addressing critically the sentiment of the American girl and the "legend of American innocence," not merely participating romantically in it himself (as James in retrospect, we recall, thought he had done erroneously in the case of Newman in The American). "Daisy's death" in the Colosseum, observed Dupee [in Henry James, 1951], "if it proves anything, proves that not every superstition is a fraud." For Wegelin, on the other hand, James's critical distance was keynoted by the fact that all of Daisy's own critics and censors in the story are Americans in Europe, a colony which bends over backwards to ape European practices and judgments. In this framework it is, of course, appropriately ironic that Mr. Giovanelli, the one actual European in the tale, pronounces accurately the "innocence" to Daisy's character denied by her own Europeanized compatriots! In still another vein, Leon Edel perceived James's social criticism to lie in no small measure in the "unerring vision which James had of the total abdication, by the mass of American parents, of all authority over their children."

But I think it fair to say that the most elucidative energy expended on Daisy Miller, at least in its comparatively recent critical history, has been a refocusing on Frederick Winterbourne as the Jamesian "center". of the story. Perhaps one measure of this refocus is a most recent comment au contraire by Edward Wagenknecht, in his book Eve and Henry James, that in the "one hundred years that the story has now been in existence, has a single human being ever read it not because he was interested in Daisy but because he was interested in Winterbourne?" Perhaps not, yet one can hardly blame a number of Jamesians for gravitating in the direction they have. Daisy is, after all, seen from without, is indeed misinterpreted from without; so it is natural to follow, as it were, the story's own narrative lead. This seems especially appropriate since all know that James himself became preeminently concerned with, and masterful at, developing the viewpoint character. Finally, a Winterbourne-focus in this tale does not divert us from the social conflict or "international theme" which comprises James's real subject, since Winterbourne is himself a solid representative, albeit in a softer key, of the Europeanized American colony comprising the story's collective antagonist.

In any case, there is no gainsaying the tendency toward a kind of emphasis in the past twenty years to the effect that Winterbourne is really the pivotal character. This view was taken in Wayne C. Booth's influential study The Rhetoric of Fiction, but his emphasis remains there primarily technical; others, however, have sought to construct social, cultural, psychoanalytic, or moral interpretations of Daisy Miller extracted from a reading of, or by way of, the character of Winterbourne. With occasional exception, these readings concur that Winterbourne is morally culpable, as his name insinuates; indeed that he freezes to death this American Daisy as effectively, let us say, as Emily Dickinson's frost in her poem "Apparently with no Surprise." Perhaps this is only a newfangled way of continuing to read the story with a strong sympathy for Daisy's beauty, freedom, innocence, and vulnerability. But on closer inspection one discovers also that the real villain, for these commentators, is Puritanism, whether American- or Geneva-style; or, worst of all, the two symbolically combined in the chilly Winterbourne. What is foremost to that position, then, is that James's famous tale is a harsh indictment of Puritanism, either in cultural or in sexual terms, or in both. Yet a new and interesting variation on this tendency in recent years to center on Winterbourne is provided by Holman in Windows on the World. He argues that Daisy Miller takes its place in a long line of distinctively American narratives which are adaptations of the nineteenth and twentieth-century Bildungsroman. In a group extending from Hawthorne's "My Kinsman, Major Molineux" to All the King's Men, Holman notes the persistence of the witness or spectator-characters, individuals who undergo a development toward wisdom and maturity by watching what happens to others, and who most often are instructed "in a dark dimension of life which that witness might otherwise never have seen." This version of the rite of passage associated with the Bildungsroman

comes not actually from his own experience or his own response to trials or actions or even from what is directly done to him, but from what he witnesses being done by and to others. The initiation through which he passes results from witnessing action not from taking it. That structure, in which a witness or a narrator watches actions by others and learns from them, has reappeared in so many American novels dealing with the maturing, development, or education of characters that it may be considered truly a peculiarly American form of the Bildungsroman.

Holman's argument is valuable primarily for his isolating a native sub-genre of the Bildungsroman rather than for his breaking much new ground on our analysis as such of Daisy Miller. And yet, what his remarks do perform for the nouvelle is an extremely helpful move away from using Winterbourne as the principal target for alleged anti-Puritan, anti-sexual-repression statements by James. Modern criticism has, I think, been wise to concentrate on the figure of Winterbourne, for one's reading of Daisy's character and her larger symbolic meaning is not impaired by that focusing; it is in fact enhanced. But psycho-sexual criticism, with its inevitable pillorying of "Puritanism," misses the whole point of James's moral world, at least in his international fiction. The drama of inner conflict, whether social or sexual, is the exciting stuff of James's viewpoint characters, especially when they are Americans. These critics sometimes seem to forget that James has created his own share of characters with emancipated views and practices in the domain of sexuality, and they are not the more compelling for it. Winterbourne's tale, if it is his tale, is essentially about the making of a Europeanized American. That sad and deleterious process has only completed itself by the very end, when his alternative possibility, in the person of Daisy, has been closed, and he returns to Geneva and to a "clever foreign lady." But we seem to forget that the issue was still in doubt only as long as he inclined toward Daisy's innocent and affecting ways and also kept vacillating from one moment to the next: thus, for example, when his aunt tells him Daisy "has an intimacy with her mamma's courier," Winterbourne, who had just before concluded that Daisy was an innocent American flirt, is caught off guard—" 'An "intimacy" with him?' Ah there it was!" There, of course, it was not; not even for Winterbourne, who changes his mind numerous times again before the story's climactic scene in the Colosseum. To put what is often said of him in a sort of obverse way, as long as Winterbourne remained truly puzzled by the question of Daisy's sexual innocence he was potentially worthy of her and worthy of our sympathetic engagement with him as narrative "center." Winterbourne's alliance with Geneva in the story does, I concede, suggest symbolically his association with the sources of Calvinism. But it primarily stands, I believe, for his amphibious attachments—national, cultural, and social—to the old and now worlds. It was really, without his knowing it, the new world element within his "queer mixture" that responded to the free spirit from Schenectady.


In 1870 James lost his beloved cousin Minnie Temple. Eight years later his conception of Daisy owed something central to his memory of her. Most important was a quality they both had of moral spontaneity, of questioning given institutions, and of a general natural free-spiritedness. Most different between them were Minnie's intellectual interests and her capacity for personal introspection—in that respect James's cousin resembles more the character of Isabel Archer. Still another element in common between Minnie and Daisy is, of course, their premature deaths. This parallel may be of particular importance, inasmuch as James seems always to have believed that Minnie's death, terrible as it was, at least precluded her discovery of the full extent of the world's evil. James always felt that she had died, not only betimes, but before the inevitable disillusionment with her reading of life had set in. Yet James simultaneously believed that he himself, and also his brother William, had been thrust rudely out of their own innocence and youth by her death. It is only extending slightly James's own lifelong analysis of the meaning of Minnie's death to suggest, then, that her liberation, even by death, from the darker interpretations of life became the occasion and even the requirement that James accept and convey them, as it were, for her. Daisy's abrupt death functions in a similar way in Daisy Miller. She remains, we are told, first by Giovanelli and then twice in echoing repetition by Winterbourne, "'the most innocent!'" And Winterbourne, who is the exact same age as was James when Minnie died in 1870, is left with the burden of consciousness, the loss of his own spiritual innocence. The manner of Daisy's death, too, suggests not so much a martyrdom perpetrated by the bad accusatory Americans—even though Winterbourne's reaction once she is at the Colosseum is, as she says, "'he cuts me dead!' "—rather it suggests that the "Roman fever" she catches is worldly evil, which is pervasive, whether she knows it or not. Whatever one might say of Winterbourne, his aunt, or Mrs. Walker, it might be suggested that Giovanelli's friendship, which Daisy prized, was somewhat less than elevated from his side by his willingness to take her to the "fatal spot." His explanation that he had no fear for himself and that Daisy "'did what she liked'" is accompanied by his raising "his neat shoulders and eyebrows to within suspicion of a shrug." From a certain angle, Giovanelli's actions and explanations are closer to the unprotected condition of life, the cruel Roman fever of experience, than is the misjudgment or even the rejection, on passionate ground, by Winterbourne. What is clearest at the end is that, apart from her own family, Winterbourne is the only one who continues to reflect on Daisy's fate and its implications for himself.

As is not the case with the later James, however, character analysis as such, whether of Winterbourne or of Daisy, will take us only so far. To appropriate Winterbourne's own language, the two principals in this story are "booked to make a mistake" with one another because the reactions by each to the other are culturally and socially predetermined and are psychological only in a subsidiary way. Given our general recognition that Henry James developed an extraordinary capacity in his mature fiction to translate cultural issues into the dominion of individual psychology, the emphasis in Daisy Miller remains at the level of social determinism; it is fundamentally what the nouvelle immediately following it was called, "an international episode." And it is not even necessarily a better intrinsic piece of work than the latter (which has also its Daisy Miller/Isabel Archer American girl in the person of Bessie Alden). What it does have, however, is the special conflict and mutual misunderstanding that arises between the "natural" American free spirit and the complicated response to that spirit by the Europeanized American who is at once attracted and repelled by it. Yet it is still, at least at this stage in James's career, a case of a quasi-tragedy through cultural implantation; or we might want to call it a social comedy of errors with a darkening and lyric edge.

For this reason, Daisy's name functions emblematically in the tale in a way that would almost be worthy of James's predecessor Hawthorne. She is, of course, the North American "daisy," thus by association a "natural" and "common" flower from the region of her native land: indeed, Winterbourne's initial response to what he thinks of as her "natural elegance" is much in keeping with this typology. Etymologically, as several critics have mentioned in passing, she is the "day's eye"; I think it is interesting that not only does she, like certain species of the daisy, "close up again" at night when she visits the Colosseum with Giovanelli, she also puts off her earlier nighttime sojourn with Winterbourne to the castle of Chillon at Vevey until another time when it becomes instead a daylight excursion. And even though Mrs. Costello, so to speak, "cuts her dead" verbally when hearing about the Chillon outing—"And that … is the little abomination you wanted me to know!"—nevertheless Daisy herself is anything but "closed up" by that earlier expedition with Winterbourne. Thus, while the two trips to Chillon and the Colosseum are clearly structural opposites in the story, and are largely ironic in the fact of the two companions and the different social conventions governing Vevey and Rome (so that Winterbourne is, in a sense, the prototype of Giovanelli while at Vevey), the same structural opposition is enhanced with additional meaning when looked at through the iconography of Daisy's name.

But Daisy's name also carries emblematic associations with the other principal species of the flower, the European plant, sometimes called the "English daisy." Here I suspect we have not so much a type to which Daisy herself refers, as with the North American species, but more the expectations made of her by critics and verbal adversaries throughout the tale. For this latter European species of daisy is commonly referred to as "bachelor's button," suggesting, as boutonniere, a number of images antithetical to Daisy's free-spiritedness and natural state, indeed suggesting elements of conformity, of unlimbered rigidity, of exactness and precision, all by dint of being severed from the natural soil. (Daisy, we recall, continually calls Winterbourne "stiff "; Winterbourne, in lamenting often that Daisy fails to "compose," is surely not thinking of the "bachelor's button," but I am not sure James himself does not have that, along with much else, in mind.)

Still another meaning connected with Daisy's name is the colloquial, or slang, expression of "daisy" meaning something which is fine, first-class, first-rate. A beautifully memorable use of the word that way, an ironic use, is by Mark Twain when characterizing Natty Bumppo's following the canonball track in "Fenimore Cooper's Literary Offenses." This slang meaning parallels, perhaps, something of the ambiguous resonance we are left with in our reflection upon Daisy after taking stock of many factors, both those denoting her natural elegance and victimization as well as those denoting her foolishness, stubbornness, and, more than once, a sort of tactless crudity. More immediately, the "daisy" of the slang meaning conveys, I think, the sort of dramatized ambivalence concerning her which is found in Winterbourne's puzzled consciousness.

Let me say that, having taught James and written about him for many years, I have found "allegorical" approaches to his fiction halting, to say the least. My analysis here, however, by way of Daisy's name, is meant to elaborate two points. First, I have meant to suggest that these emblematic features tie into and support the very same kind of social drama we would ordinarily explicate without such typology. Second, I wish to suggest again by this approach the extent that Daisy Miller is primarily governed by cultural determinism, and is not primarily an example of James's depth and complexity at rendering individual psychology. Though other Jamesians may doubtless disagree, it is my own view that, in the novelist's later, more complex idiom, the typology of his fictional names is in itself less enhancing, but instead functions as a kind of first-level framework of meaning and interpretation, the point of which is usually to be complicated and qualified through further analysis—as with "Marcher" and "May," for instance, in The Beast in the Jungle.

In a somewhat different vein, yet pointing to the same overall meaning, James's craftsmanship in Daisy Miller is particularly evident in his masterful use of verbal foreshadowing, one of the strongest features of his mature fiction as well. Thus, in addition to the kind of ironic adumbration found in Winterbourne's early excursion to Chillon with Daisy at Vevey, we find that the early designation by Mrs. Costello of Daisy as "a horror" actually anticipates the very term for the emotion Winterbourne feels when he finally makes up his mind against her in the Colosseum: "Winterbourne felt himself pulled up with final horror now—." Such verbal echoing has the force of aligning Winterbourne with his aunt, thus telling rhetorically against him despite the fact that the moment comes to us from within his own consciousness. Still another, powerfully subtle case of such verbal foreshadowing in Daisy Miller occurs in connection with the phraseology of going "too far." When Winterbourne first meets the young lady, he "wondered whether he had gone too far, but decided that he must gallantly advance rather than retreat." After a number of references throughout to Daisy's having gone too far by exceeding the limits of propriety, we find, once again in the climactic Colosseum scene, that Winterbourne's original motive for visiting is said to be the following: "The air of other ages surrounded one; but the air of other ages, coldly analysed, was no better than a villainous miasma. Winterbourne sought, however, toward the middle of the arena, a further reach of vision, intending the next moment a hasty retreat." The configuration here of a "further reach of vision" followed by a "hasty retreat" is an extraordinary case of the sort of "reflexive" language James mastered in his fiction throughout his career. The literal reasons—to gain a more general look and then leave before the bad air harms him—give way quickly to the key idea that Winterbourne has, with Daisy, been struggling to extend his vision, to discover her special goodness and beauty (and his own shortcomings in the light of that discovery) but is now about to "retreat" hastily again into the prejudices and judgments of others against Daisy when, in the next moment, he sees her there with Giovanelli. The same phrasing of his now "retreating" also, of course, reverses the earlier articulation at Vevey when he was cast in a different role, as we have seen. James's conscious, intentional use of such phrasing is unquestionable. In this case, for instance, he altered the Scribner's text from the earlier version so that the idiom would carry the full reflexive force just described.

Winterbourne's moral failure in James's tale, as many readers agree, occurs the next moment he recognizes Daisy's presence in the Colosseum with Giovanelli and determines for himself that she is base. He feels himself, as we have seen, "pull up with final horror now—"

and, it must be added, with 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. That once questionable quantity had no shades—it was a mere black little blot. 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.

James's moral "ricochet," as before, is the great achievement here. Who else could inform us that Winterbourne's false conclusions about Daisy, conclusions in the very act of forming in his reflective consciousness, are themselves only too clear to the reader, so that, whatever shade of truth may attach from them to Daisy and to her companion, Winterbourne himself is, without of course his perceiving it, all the "more brightly presented" in his transgression against Daisy's character? Who but James could do that—make the very articulation immediately subject to the light of moral reflex, while on its surface level the passage only says that Winterbourne was more visible by moonlight than the two he just now condemned? So tight in this respect is James's moral landscape that should we, say, want to embroider the surface meaning, as by calling Winterbourne "caught in a shaft of light," or some such parallel, we could hardly avoid expounding figuratively the inner meaning along with it. All of this is, certainly, a function of the creative principle James was later to call "operative irony"; generically it is the same kind of irony that elsewhere occurs when, for instance, Mrs. Costello and Winterbourne both claim at different times that Winterbourne has "lived too long out of the country"—each attaching opposite implications to that shared proposition.

But in the passage above the operative irony is particularly dense, because there it converges with several other verbal and thematic elements, and does so at this appropriate moment of crisis. Thus, the "sudden clearance" connects beautifully and ironically with the "further reach of vision" from the earlier passage. Likewise, the "final relief" he feels has the effect of his letting go of the uncertainty which has been the hallmark of his "Puritan" vacillations concerning Daisy, the presence of which uncertainty, I would argue against some commentators, has merited on his behalf our sympathetic engagement. Especially important to the passage, however, is the language and meaning attached to the issue of "shades," language, I should add, entirely introduced by James into the later Scribner's text. Whether we think of it as shades of interpretation of Daisy's character (her "riddle" as Winterbourne also calls it) or perhaps as shades of moral and ethical responsibility, in which case it might well apply to both main characters, the whole conception at this moment of "shading" is imaginatively deep and powerful. Daisy herself, of course, has been from the start transparent in her absence of coquetry, of discrimination, or of subtlety of any kind (except perhaps her deeper attraction to formal and courtly expressions on the part of her admirers). Winterbourne, by contrast, has, by virtue of his own "queer mixture" of European and American allegiances (symbolized by his "Geneva-ness") translated that shadowy ambiguity into his vacillation regarding Daisy. This moment of ironic epiphany, then, manages to reverse and fuse both sides of the moral equation. Winterbourne finally discards "shades," thereby being himself exposed to our moral censure; Daisy simultaneously takes on the shades Winterbourne discards, for not only does she literally sit there in vague silhouette obscured from the moonlight, she moves swiftly out of the tale, as well as the Colosseum; this disappearance effectively leaves us to ponder, not so much about her essential character as about her judgment, especially with respect to this last, and final, episode in her short history. Jame's transpositions here of Winterbourne's shades and shadings into Daisy and of Daisy's transparency into Winterbourne (don't we judge and condemn him right at this moment with a decisiveness comparable to that of Daisy's censors in the tale generally?)—these constitute a feature which is found in his finest work. For those who have studied it, his extraordinary inversions of lightness and darkness in The Portrait of a Lady will be seen at once to function in the same way.

Jamesians should know, of course, that shades and nuances constitute in the last analysis virtually a microcosm of James's own epistemology and aesthetic practice. Winterbourne's relinquishing of "shades" at the crucial moment in effect pits him against everything James stands for as a writer. But whereas Daisy eventually "retreats" from us into the obscurity just mentioned, her character and her judgments while "planted straight in front" of us throughout the tale do anything but vindicate her, at least from this perspective of "shades." It is not Daisy's directness or obvious lack of ulterior design in her negotiations with people, any more than, say, Billy Budd's, which tells against her in this respect. It is, rather, her absence of real consciousness itself. In this sense it is almost a moot point whether we hold that her inward life is withheld from us because of James's choice of point of view, or that he made that choice because he wished to qualify Daisy's various positive qualities—naturalness, absence of guile, fresh beauty, true innocence—in this one important direction. Again, the comparison with Billy Budd is possibly instructive, for Melville apparently found, at one stage of composition, that he could not tell the story adequately without a Captain Vere, without, that is, a character who possesses a reflecting consciousness. The point is all the more acute when we recollect that James's principal quantum leap forward with the American girl after Daisy is his conception of Isabel, one which, as he insisted so strongly in the later Preface, constituted a singular decision to make this "frail vessel" type his reflecting consciousness as well. That decision transformed, among other things, "A Study" into "The Portrait," a figure into a character properly speaking. Yet it is remarkable to recall how much Isabel too is direct, is natural, is devoid of guile, possesses a fresh American beauty and a moral spontaneity. And it is just as remarkable to recollect that, on one level, Daisy fulfills James's famous Isabel-formula of the engaging, presumptuous "young woman affronting her destiny." But the difference, that Isabel's story is told from within, marked a momentous change in the whole trajectory of James's career, at least with respect to his international fiction and his conception of the American girl. Daisy's lack of maturity and judgment, as opposed to her beauty, innocence, and "poetry," is signified in her absence of reflection and consciousness. In that sense she resembles more the character in The Portrait of Henrietta Stackpole, although Henrietta has many more ideas, however blunt and unsifted by any real thoughtfulness, than does Daisy. In her own story Daisy reveals a capriciousness, usually based on the enjoyment of a "fuss," which effectively precludes any inward life whatever. She "chatters" in a way that, semantically as well as socially, sometimes resembles more the sound of a scattergun than the verbalization of real thought. That she is only one step removed from her mother is at times painfully obvious. And the fact that the two of them share in central and southern Europe only the topics of brother Randolph and Schenectady's Dr. Davis is wincing.

Even so, Winterbourne's off-repeated sense that Daisy's various parts fail to make an "ensemble," or that she somehow doesn't quite "compose," has occasionally suggested to this writer a qualification James made in his otherwise strong approbation of the fiction of his colleague Howells. My point is not, obviously, one of comparing the minds of Daisy and Howells, but of recalling that, for James, composition had its analogues outside the aesthetic sphere. Perhaps Howells, whose imagination and dominion was, from James's viewpoint, particularly American, and whose work and method is dominated sometimes by long and uninterrupted conversations, could be said to exhibit a kind of spiritual kinship with Daisy. Perhaps it might be added that Howells represented in his fiction something like the highest terms of a tutored vision of the sensibility which in its primitive state resides in Daisy. And this is only to say, too, that perhaps Winterbourne is, in his primitive state, something like the answering sensibility in James himself.

Although the emphasis is on the appeal, Winterbourne's formulation of Daisy's "queer little native grace" hints at her limitations as well. James's own Winterbourne-like formulations from his later "Preface," that with a "sufficiently brooding tenderness" he could "eventually extract" from Daisy as his subject "a shy incongruous charm," hints at the same appeal and limitation. The word sincongruous" especially echoes her "want of finish," her absence of "form" which Winterbourne frequently remarks to himself. Daisy is, then, as much a "queer mixture" as is Winterbourne himself. Even the young man's potential for romantic love for her is a mixed issue. While it is certainly the case that he "liked her awfully" and that, as much as anything else, Winterbourne's conflicts with her in Rome arose from a combination of jealousy and disappointment that she had not been pining away for his arrival, it is equally true that: "It pleased him to believe that even were twenty other things different and Daisy should love him and he should know it and like it, he would still never be afraid of Daisy. It must be added that this conviction was not altogether flattering to her: It represented that she was nothing every way if not light." This judgment by Winterbourne is sufficiently of a piece with the James of the later "Preface." Indeed, here the later Scribner's text makes the assessment more generalized, more "reliable," less Winterbourne's own opinion subject to a distorting lens. And since it is already the consensus of those who have studied the matter that James chose to render Daisy herself more poetic and idealized in the revised text, it suggests that at no time, early or late, did James fail to perceive his heroine's limitations. A "lightweight," in Jamesian terms, most often means someone without sufficient consciousness.

Daisy and Winterbourne were not really star-crossed lovers, because they never did have a sufficient meeting of minds to become lovers in anything but a preliminary sense. At best they were perhaps complementary figures. Daisy's enthusiasm and spontaneity needed to be tempered by a capacity for analysis, reticence, discrimination, if you will the critical faculty, whereas Winterbourne, as she kept insisting to him, was not spontaneous enough, hadn't enough "give." One of the most humorous aspects to the story, yet finally a sad one, is that unconsciously Daisy is reaching out for Winterbourne's funny-bone; when she teases him time and again she is truly searching for his American "funny" side, which is still latent within him, but which is already obstructed, as her opposing latent possibilities are obstructed, by presuppositions culturally planted and entrenched within their beings. Out of the Daisy/Winterbourne opposition were to emerge the great sets of American and European opposing correlatives in the international fiction of James. Nature required art; activity and energy required meaning and consciousness; innocence required experience; freedom demanded an awareness of life's limitations; the ethical temperament required its aesthetic understanding; spontaneity must always inhabit the conditions of history and custom. Daisy's will was at once strong and weak by virtue of the indistinctness of her aims and, of course, the absence of any critical reflection on them. Her family situation betrayed the same problem, for it is clear from the vivid presence of Randolph, of her mother, and the situation of her absent "downtown" father, that they all inhabited a vacuum, all were deprived (as our early novelists themselves lamented) of a cultural "content." Winterbourne, like many another James character to come, was flawed spiritually by his preconceptions, by his either-or thinking, by the very "relief" he experiences, both early and late, when he thinks he has discovered "the formula." And so the story does remain a true dialectical inquiry, as well as an unforgettable early success of James and of American Realism. With the great international novels ahead of him, and certain very special lessons learned from this piece of work as well as from its predecessor, The American, it was to be James himself, rather than Winterbourne, who had discovered the formula.

Frankie Wilson and Max Westbrook (essay date 1980)

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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 complexity.

Critics writing on Daisy Miller, however, accept the judgments of characters who, by the Jamesian definition of experience, are not qualified to judge. Mrs. Costello has no desire to explore complications but the critical consensus accepts her simplistic analysis of Winterbourne: his problem is that he has been living "too long out of the country." Winterbourne seeks a formula to live by, but the consensus accepts his belated discovery of Daisy's innocence as if it were a tardy but meaningful revelation. Actually, Winterbourne has allowed himself only two possible views of Daisy, good or bad, which does not suggest that he has learned to make discriminations in the "immense sensibility" of human experience.

What happens in Daisy Miller cannot be evaluated by the snobbish disinterest of Mrs. Costello or by the absolutes of her Calvinistic nephew. Daisy is innocent, yes, but Henry James was not content with one-dimensional character portraits. The habit of his mind was to explore. With Daisy Miller—subtitled A Study—his probings led him through the context of social innocence and into the troublesome land of primal innocence, something closer to the Undine myth than to the "victimized innocence" of Catherine Sloper in Washington Square. Daisy is undone because she is a creature of inclinations, a willful child of nature whose vulnerability is more psychological than social. She is undone, also, by Winterbourne's failure to love her, but the reasons for Winterbourne's failure go beyond society's corruption of good manners from grace to tyranny and include a Calvinistic betrayal of his own primal self.

When Winterbourne protests that the Millers are "'innocent only'" and "'not bad,'" the distinction does not interest Mrs. Costello. The Millers, she argues, are "'hopelessly vulgar,'" bad enough so that one knows not to associate with them, which is sufficient information for this life. She says, "'Whether or no being hopelessly vulgar is being "bad" is a question for the metaphysicians.'" Clearly, it is not a question for Mrs. Costello. It is equally clear, however, that the question is of intense interest to the author of Daisy Miller. The "metaphysician," it follows, is Henry James.

Winterbourne, for his part, is interested and even bedeviled by the question of Daisy; but he seeks a "formula," an answer that will save him the pain of confrontation with himself. At the beginning of the story, he is said to be "studying." Rumors mention a mysterious "foreign lady—a person older than himself." At the end of the story, he is again said to be "studying" and to have, perhaps, a "very clever foreign lady." In brief, he is back where he started, the implication being that he has learned nothing, or that anything he may have learned has not come with fire sufficient to change his life of Calvinistic retreat.

Beyond manners, and invisible to the snobbish eyes of Mrs. Costello and the categorical eyes of Winterbourne, is another dimension. After establishing his hero and the setting, James introduces the Miller family—all a bit strange—through a puzzling character, the oft-noted but never-analyzed Randolph. A nine-year-old little brother with only seven teeth and a face that is "aged," who carries a sinister alpenstock "the sharp point of which he thrust into everything that he approached …", a child who talks and intimidates as Randolph does is not the ordinary little brother.

Wearing red hose and a red cravatte, Randolph is introduced as he pauses in front of Winterbourne: "'Will you give me a lump of sugar?' he asked, in a sharp, hard little voice—a voice immature, and yet, somehow, not young." James and many others were concerned about a current issue, the damage done to spoiled rich children being dragged around Europe, but that does not account for Randolph, who looks like a homunculus and is sometimes a classically impossible child. At Mrs. Walker's, Randolph declares, "'We've got a bigger place than this.… It's all gold on the walls.'" And when his mother replies that she told him he would "'say something'" improper, he snaps back, "'I told you,'" and gives "Winterbourne a thump on the knee." Randolph is not a Tom Sawyer grown rich.

Like his parents, he has dyspepsia. Like his strangely passive mother, he suffers from insomnia. Randolph—in face, voice, and manner—is an amorphous combination of the child and the old man. Henry James as metaphysician is weaving his "spider-web."

Randolph is unshaped, an energy of inclinations, a striking example of what C. G. Jung calls the "irrational third," the child at a preconscious stage of development and with an uncertain potential. Far from being odd merely, or a sociological example merely, Randolph is very much his sister's little brother. Both are in a primal state of development. Both follow their inclinations. For his role as the one who introduces Daisy to Winterbourne, Randolph is specifically appropriate.

Daisy's manner, like her prepared-for entrance, is carefully managed. She poses before Winterbourne, before his bench, with the garden and light just right. James is creating a portrait, a technique he often used to interweave the inner and outer worlds. In The Ambassadors, for example, Strether sees the canoe come drifting in, just right, to complete the picture, as if by surprise and yet as if from the personal unconscious.

In keeping with the autonomy associated with the unconscious, Daisy is very much in command. She is not silent, at first, from being shy, and then suddenly talkative, from shyness released. Daisy is "not in the least embarrassed." She is "neither offended nor fluttered" by Winterbourne's forwardness. She has posed for him, in front of his bench. He responds. She looks at him briefly, then looks away, and waits. Daisy is a cool and even aggressive innocent, and there is—in the presentation and withholding of her self, in her elfin emissary, in her affinity for garden, water, and the dark—a suggestion of the natural in the archetypal sense of that word.

Beyond the social themes, the realistic basis of Daisy Miller, there are parallels with Nathaniel Hawthorne's Beatrice, Freud's concept of the unheimlich, Rudolph Otto on the nouminous, Jung on the unconscious, and with the myths of Lamia and Undine. These parallels, we think, argue for a corrective in our standard reading of Daisy. By definition, a social innocent is too self-conscious and gives excessive weight to the rules and powers of propriety and the dating game. A primal innocent is just the opposite: there is no blushing or flirtatious self-consciousness, and social rules are not felt to be real. That which brings pleasure—sugar, dinner parties, or whatever—is desired, but what is real to the primal innocent is inclination; and the development of the self is in jeopardy. Daisy's manners are American, but her psyche is unformed by any standards—European or American—and the person invited to love her will contribute to the decisions of her developing soul by his capacity to love or to betray. And that is why she responds to Winterbourne as if they were old friends, then turns away, blank. Daisy breaks rules by inclination, not from ignorance; her being is at stake, potential.

Dangers awaiting the primal innocent, furthermore, are substantive and personal as well as social. Thus the frightening delicacy of Henry James makes it seem, at times, that the innocent Miss Daisy may be evil after all. One can even begin to imagine that something is going on between Eugenio and Daisy. In the scene in which Daisy teases Winterbourne about the 11:00 p.m. boatride, for example, Eugenio's role is suggestive of the sinister; and yet Daisy teases him, even flirts with him, as her helpless mother watches. Then suddenly, with the information that Randolph is finally asleep, the whole scene is dropped. The passive mother makes a rare decision, assuming Daisy's assent, which comes automatically as the mother knows it will: with Randolph in bed, they will now retire. Supporting evidence comes from Daisy's love of the dark, the hint that she can see in the dark (as her mother approaches from a distance), her many and often mysterious gentlemen friends, and her disturbing affinity for the miasma of the Colosseum, where she settles down peacefully in the moonlight, as if at home in a place of evil and death.

But before the Colosseum scene—at the party, when Mrs. Walker snubs Daisy—all hints of evil are undercut. Suddenly, a marked change occurs in the story. Daisy, who seems to know exactly what she is doing, who has been told the rules repeatedly by her mother and by Winterbourne and his friends, is genuinely surprised and hurt. How can that be? After all her social experience in America and Europe, after all the explanations by so many people, after acknowledging the finality of her decision not to get into Mrs. Walker's carriage (" '… you must give me up' "), how can she be shocked? It is not possible to believe that Daisy is naive to the point of idiocy. Her shock cannot be accounted for in terms of social innocence; but it can be accounted for, we believe, in terms of primal innocence. Daisy is energized by a spontaneity long since buried in the Calvinistic soul of her friend Winterbourne, and the harsh forces of propriety are not yet real to her nature. Daisy, in fact, resists the loss of her preconscious state of being: "'I don't think I want to know what you mean.… I don't think I should like it.'" Since it is difficult to mature without betraying the spontaneous preconscious, Daisy accepts those social rules which are games merely, but rejects the threat of a developing consciousness.

When the harsh forces of society do finally penetrate her spontaneous nature, she changes. Society for Daisy is pleasure, not ultimate reality as it is for Mrs. Costello, and its loss is merely the loss of one possible source of pleasure. But Winterbourne's refusal to return her love—a refusal sponsored and supported by social forces—is a rejection of her being. Daisy is jolted rather than guided toward consciousness. Her independence does not mature from the spirit toward the world, as it might were she moved lovingly into it by Winterbourne. She becomes defiant. With her natural joy short-circuited, she moves toward despair. The manner of telling the story changes also, with the narrator using ironic language to describe Daisy's detractors: "these shrewd people had quite made up their minds"; her fellow countrymen "desired to express to observant Europeans the great truth that … Miss Daisy Miller … was not representative—was regarded by her compatriots as abnormal."

"Innocent" and "bad" are abstract categories used by Calvinists, gossips, snobs and other narrow-minded people who are impatient with distinctions. James the metaphysician is concerned not only with types and combinations of innocence and evil but with the drama of meta-physics, a changing land in between. And the concern is pervasive. Even the apparently innocent Mr. Giovanelli has his dark moments. He must have known, without needing any information from Mrs. Walker, that Daisy's reputation would be injured if she strolled with him on the Pincio. Did Giovanelli mean to appease Daisy at any cost, or feel that he had a better chance of marrying her if she had no American friends? The rhetorical sequence of the conversation in the cemetery is worth considering. Winterbourne asks Giovanelli "'[w]hy the devil'" he took her to that "'fatal place.'" Giovanelli says "'she wanted to go.'" Winterbourne rightly says this is "no reason.'" Under pressure to explain why he took Daisy to a place he knew to be lethal, Giovanelli says, "'If she had lived, I should have got nothing. She would never have married me, I am sure.'" In what way is that an answer to the question asked? It strains critical good manners to think that Giovanelli, finding that he could not have Daisy, consciously tried to kill her, or let her commit suicide; but ominous possibilities have been suggested in this scene and passim and are substantive to the story.

The special tension of James, that air of things beings up for grabs, unknown, not yet through happening, is due in part to his fascination with human intercourse as a drama in which the end—contra the predestination of Calvinism—is not determined. Daisy is warned, and Winterbourne was "booked" to make a mistake; but the motivations and decisions of both involve character, an identity which describes but does not prescribe. Daisy, like Alice Staverton and May Bartram, is potential, alive, asking to be loved; and Winterbourne, like Spencer Brydon and John Marcher, is also in dramatic suspension, his soul too at jeopardy.

A critical language for this dimension of Daisy Miller—no claims of influence intended—is available in the Undine myth. In The Uncreating Word: Romanticism And The Object, Irving Massey provides an excellent and useful analysis.

The real problem is that consciousness itself, without the intervention of other people [Winterbourne is excessively self-conscious, and he lives, essentially, without other people], produces a division between the inner and outer dimensions of the self [Winterbourne vacillates between his attraction for Daisy and his Calvinistic suspicions].

For self read "Winterbourne," for innocence read "Daisy," as Massey continues:

A self which has become an object is a contradiction in terms. The attempt of the self to escape the status of an object is the pursuit of innocence, the attempt to recapture the primal, preconscious harmony. But it is an attempt which is doomed, for the self that wishes to recall its object-self is already compromised. It has been guilty of the original act of objectification; it is contaminated with self-consciousness. And consciousness is incompatible with innocence; inevitably, it leads toward experience, a sinister state which in these terms turns out to be strangely similar to abstraction or theory.

The Undine myth itself, as told by Massey, bears a striking relevance to Daisy Miller: "The story begins with the arrival of a young knight at the shore of the lake." Then a young girl arrives, a "quicksilvery, willful, temperamental girl, totally spoiled and uncontrollable.… On being crossed in a whim, she stamps out into the night." Later, she is discovered "on an island in the midst of a torrent… lying in the moonlight, apparently completely unafraid." After persuasion by the knight, Undine "finally agrees to return." But she does not return "because of any sense of impropriety in her behaviour or of duty or guilt towards her foster-parents. She is innocent.… She does not know the meaning of repression or voluntary self-frustration."

Winterbourne is unable to persuade his primal innocent to return; but the end, for Daisy and Undine, is the same, and the parallels are clear. Daisy's strong desire to enter society is coupled with an even stronger determination that her gentlemen friends must not tell her what to do. Daisy's cheerful American manners are coupled with a strange affinity for water and darkness. She wears Paris gowns in exquisite good taste but is nicknamed "Daisy."

The Undine parallel, furthermore, helps explain why Daisy must die. She is not an American flirt who is disappointed in romance and therefore courts death, a reading which reduces Daisy to contradictory stereotypes. The actual case on which the story is based does invite sentimentality, and James may well have felt the tug; but Daisy Miller is not the story of a romantic pining-away. On the level of character motivation, Daisy is hurt by Winterbourne's perfidy and does something she is not supposed to do, something like climbing too high or too far out because someone one loves does not love in return. On the psychological level, not to be loved in youth is not to develop to the next stage. Growth stops. Undine, as Massey explains, "has no soul; totally moved by the elements and the natural forces of the world, she will, at the end, dissolve and return to them." Daisy, a lovely and natural American girl, is innocent, in part, because she is motivated more by the vitality of what she feels and sees and wants than she is by the importance of society's strictures. This is her charm, her present personality, but it is also dangerous. If the primal innocent does not grow and mature beyond her natural vitality, then she must return to nature, back to the sea, or, in Daisy's case, "beneath the cypresses and the thick spring-flowers."

Again, we do not intend to argue that Daisy is Undine or that Henry James (who was interested in psychological and occult materials) made conscious use of the Undine myth. The intent of the comparison is to suggest a critical language to account for specifics in the story which cannot be accounted for by the simplistic terms of social innocence and social knowledge.

This argument holds not only for Daisy herself, but for Winterbourne. If the standard reading is correct, Winterbourne is a good and sensitive man who—too late—understands Daisy. But this approach does not account adequately for Winterbourne's actions or attitudes, especially as regards Daisy, nor does it explain the emphasis on Calvinism. What is the purpose of the narrator's odd and seemingly pointless conjectures about Winterbourne's reasons for staying so long at Geneva? The first explanation is assigned to friends: Winterbourne "was at Geneva 'studying.'" The second explanation, offered by "certain persons," somehow different from friends, is that Winterbourne "was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there—a foreign lady—a person older than himself." Then a third explanation is offered, one which comes directly from the narrator:

Very few Americans—indeed I think none—had ever seen this lady, about whom there were some singular stories. But Winterboume had an old attachment for the little metropolis of Calvinism; he had been put to school there as a boy, and he had afterwards gone to college there—circumstances which had led to his forming a great many youthful friendships. Many of these he had kept, and they were a source of great satisfaction to him.

Winterbourne, as we see later, has probably never had a proper romance. And yet the mysterious foreign lady does exist. When Daisy assumes a "mysterious charmer in Geneva," Winterbourne is amazed: "How did Miss Daisy Miller know that there was a charmer in Geneva?" The narrator then tells us that Winterbourne, "who denied the existence of such a person," is "divided between amazement at the rapidity of her induction and amusement at the frankness of her persiflage." Daisy is just now, he feels, "an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity."

It seems that an affair, for this Calvinist, is dirty, something to be denied, a secret to be kept by American colleagues, who are presumably too refined to mention such matters (his friends say he is "studying"). It is only those who are really enemies (and Winterbourne is too nice and neutral to earn an enemy) who would mention the foreign lady or who (being Europeans) would ever be allowed to see the proof of her existence. For Daisy to sense the possibility of an affair is for her to be guilty of "crudity," even though her manner of chattering on in romantic anger is a sign of her "innocence." Winterbourne, in short, has already denied his foreign lady as, later on, he will deny Daisy. He has associated sex with the unmentionable, something gentlemen do not discuss. And a lady, of course, must not even realize the existence of such things.

What, then, are Winterbourne's motives? Repeatedly, he is struck by how pretty Daisy is. He likes her personality. He finds that her unaffected response to life tugs at his inner being. Outwardly, he defends Daisy as being, after all, innocent. In the privacy of his consciousness, he associates Daisy's charm with wickedness. The contradiction becomes clear when he listens to his aunt's report on the Millers:

"I shouldn't wonder if he [Eugenio] dines with them. Very likely they have never seen a man with such good manners.… He probably corresponds to the young lady's idea of a Count. He sits with them in the garden.… I think he smokes."

Clearly this is gossip: "I shouldn't wonder," "Very likely," "He probably," "I think." And yet Winterbourne accepts these conjectures as the truth. These "disclosures" help "him to make up his mind about Miss Daisy. Evidently she was rather wild." But when Mrs. Costello challenges the "respectability" of the Millers, Winterbourne pretends to be hurt: "'Ah, you are cruel!' said the young man. 'She's a very nice girl.'"

The "division between the inner and outer dimensions" of Winterbourne's "self" coincides in detail with the fragmentation described by Massey. Winterbourne thinks of Daisy as a type, he searches for a "formula" by which to accommodate his mixed feelings, he vacillates between thinking of her as good or bad, he contradicts himself by saying one thing and feeling the opposite, and he is intrigued as much by the hope that Daisy will prove to be virtuous as by the oblique titillation of the opposite possibility:

If, therefore, Miss Daisy Miller exceeded the liberal license allowed to these young ladies [Mrs. Costello's granddaughters], it was probable that anything might be expected of her. Winterbourne was impatient to see her again, and he was vexed with himself that, by instinct, he should not appreciate her justly.

The paratactical implications are that Winterbourne is "impatient to see her again" because "anything might be expected of her"; and the words "instinct" and "justly" are left to carry a deceptive, disturbing, and very Jamesian ambiguity.

So the critics are right to quote Mrs. Costello: Winterbourne has "lived too long out of the country." But this is merely the first strand in the metaphysician's web. Winterbourne has become, also, a foreigner to his own inner feelings. He cannot read his unconscious or natural self any better than he can read Miss Daisy. And the critics are right to say that Daisy is an American innocent, but her innocence is also a profoundly human determination to assert the original self, to resist the desire of consciousness to capture and enslave the unconscious. Youth wants to be what it wants to be.

Thus it is appropriate for the climax to come on a special territory. The moonlit night in the Colosseum—suggesting the unconscious—is for Winterbourne unbearable. Confronted with this ancient presence, unable to rationalize further with gentlemen-at-the-pub thoughts of Daisy as a woman capable of "anything," Winterbourne refuses to love his Lamia, Beatrice, or Undine. This is his personal tragedy; for, as we see in "Pandora," Henry James believed it was possible for a Daisy Miller type to be rescued by love.

Pandora Day has a vague father and mother, comparable to the vague Mrs. Miller and absent Mr. Miller (the preconscious is in need of a guide). Pandora's little-brother-Randolph has become a disturbingly independent youth of poise and strength. He is detached but contented, and older people recognize and respect his confident personality. Pandora herself is Undine matured, the amalgamation of consciousness and unconsciousness which Daisy Miller, with better luck, might have achieved. Count Otto Vogelstein, a "stiff" Germanic version of Winterbourne, is reading a story entitled Daisy Miller and doubting his ability to analyze Americans scientifically (Winterbourne's "formula"). The Count takes Pandora to be a flirt. She seems innocent yet forward, completely unaware of social restrictions. But this "Daisy" is married and mature. She is able to maintain her spontaneous charm and to function successfully at the presidential level of American diplomatic circles on behalf of her husband.

The implication of "Pandora," confirmed by Daisy Miller itself, is that Winterbourne's statement to Daisy at the Colosseum is terribly wrong:" 'I believe that it makes very little difference whether you are engaged or not!'" And his conclusion after Daisy's death is, however formal, unmistakably right: "It was on his conscience that he had done her injustice." But Winterbourne, to the very end, sees with the intellect. He is fragmented, a man with a good but timid will, living in fear of confrontation. Below the level of propriety and consciousness there exists another part of the self, a reality signalled by language and story: "'Quick! Quick!'" pleads Giovanelli at the Colosseum, "'if we get in by midnight we are quite safe.'"


Daisy Miller, Henry James