Places Discussed

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*Vevey (vuh-VAY). Small resort city on the northeastern shore of Switzerland’s Lake Geneva, a large lake in the Swiss Alps. Daisy Miller, a seventeen-year-old American girl from Schenectady, New York, is traveling with her mother and younger brother. The Millers are vacationing in Europe to acquire some culture and because that is what they think rich people do. They are staying at an elegant resort hotel. Also staying at the hotel is American Frederick Winterbourne. Winterbourne went to school at Geneva and spends most of his time with other wealthy Americans in Europe. It is Winterbourne’s consciousness that readers follow through the story. Miss Miller and Mr. Winterbourne meet casually on the grounds of the hotel because of Miss Miller’s young brother Randolph. Ordinarily it would be improper in high society for a young lady to make the acquaintance of a gentleman without being formally introduced by a mutual acquaintance. At a resort, however, people are more relaxed about social formalities. When Miss Miller suggests that she is eager to see the nearby Castle of Chillon, Winterbourne offers to accompany her. Afterward, Winterbourne leaves Vevey for another social engagement. All of the action in part 1 takes place at Vevey. Winterbourne and Miller agree to see each other in Rome, where many wealthy Americans will spend the winter.

*Castle of Chillon

*Castle of Chillon. Ancient castle in Vaud on the shore of Lake Geneva. Miller expresses a desire to see the castle because it is a major tourist attraction and many people have told her of its beauty. The two take a steamer to the castle. His aunt, Mrs. Costello, does not think this proper, but Daisy and her mother do not seem to know that. Their guide, Eugenio, does not approve of the outing, but Miller goes anyway. In her immaturity she does not appreciate the history of the castle, but Winterbourne finds her charming nonetheless.


*Rome. Capital city of Italy. Most of the action of part 2 takes place at the Miller’s hotel, Mrs. Walker’s home, the Pincio (a large public garden), the ruins of the Colosseum, and a Protestant cemetery. The Americans living abroad are harsher in their judgment of the provincial Americans than the Europeans are. The ruins of the Colosseum are particularly important. Though they are a beautiful and significant historical ruin, it is a dangerous place to go after dark. First, for a young lady to be alone there with a gentleman would damage her reputation. Second, being out in Rome at night leaves one vulnerable to what is called “Roman fever,” probably malaria.


*Schenectady (skeh-NEHK-ta-dee). City in the northern part of New York State. No action takes place here, but this is the Millers’ home. Their provincialism and lack of education are emphasized throughout the story. The society in which the Millers wish to move regards Schenectady as something of a backwater.


*Geneva. Large French-speaking Swiss city on Lake Geneva. It is implied that Winterbourne, the character through whose eyes readers see the story, is having an affair with a married woman even though the social mores are conservative. He returns here at the end of the story, having realized that Daisy Miller admired him and that, because of his reserve, he has lost a chance for love.

Literary Techniques

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Daisy Miller is a novella, a fictional form which combines the single focus of a short story with the more leisurely development of various themes typical of a novel. James, who preferred the French term nouvelle, liked the form because its "main merit and sign is the effort...

(This entire section contains 1001 words.)

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to do the complicated thing with a strong brevity and lucidity — to arrive on behalf of the multiplicity at a certain science of control." To achieve the double effect of intensity and expansion that is its defining characteristic, a novella usually has a small cast of characters, a rather circumscribed physical and temporal setting and a limited set of associated themes and motifs which are developed in a highly suggestive manner. This description perfectly suitsDaisy Miller where the narrative focus is always on Daisy's behavior and how it is interpreted by others, a reiterated process of action and reaction that constantly acquires new and more profound significance.

Daisy Miller has four chapters, two of which are set in Vevey in June and two in Rome during the following winter and spring. Each chapter is structured in a series of scenes which become shorter and more numerous as the story progresses so that both the pace and the tension increase. In keeping with a technique characteristic of the novella as a form, James makes use of parallel scenes to develop the relationship between Daisy and Winterbourne and to accentuate the contrast between Daisy and her social world. For example, Daisy goes on an excursion with Winterbourne and on another with Giovanelli; she is snubbed by Mrs. Costello and then by Mrs. Walker; Winterbourne sees her with Giovanelli several times and discusses her repeatedly with his aunt and with Mrs. Walker. The crucial repetitions, however, regard the scenes linking Daisy with gardens and other outdoor locales. Symbolically, these scenes trace the cycle of her life. She meets Winterbourne in a garden in Vevey in the morning; she goes walking with him and Giovanelli one afternoon in the Pincian Gardens; she teases him about his Italian rival on the Palatine Hill at sunset; and Winterbourne surprises her with Giovanelli during a moonlight visit to the Colosseum.

In contrast to Daisy, whose thoughts and inner feelings are never revealed, Winterbourne is the "central consciousness" of the story. In fact, although the story is told by an authorial narrator in the third person, it is through Winterbourne's eyes and mind that the settings and the other characters are represented and it is he who reflects on the significance of the events. By adopting this point of view, James effectively shifted the narrative focus from the character at the center of the action (Daisy) to the character who observes the active figure (Winterbourne) and whose insights, vacillations and inadequacies form an equally important part of the reader's experience of the story. While Winterbourne watches and interprets Daisy, the reader observes and evaluates him so that the overall dramatic tension of the story resides as much in his thoughts and responses as in her actions.

The major settings — Lake Geneva, Vevey and the Castle of Chillon in Switzerland, and the city of Rome, especially the Pincian Gardens, the Palatine Hill and the Colosseum — are all places associated with leisure and beautiful scenery, and sometimes with antiquity, to which people go when they are on holiday from ordinary reality. The magical atmosphere of Vevey during the month of June provides an appropriate background for Winterbourne's encounter with Daisy. Their excursion to the Castle of Chillon, a place celebrated by Lord Byron in a poem about a Swiss freedom-fighter, adds a further romantic touch even as it reinforces the element of independence associated with Daisy. The Roman settings would have been familiar to James's readers as primary tourist attractions. The Pincian Gardens and the Palatine Hill offer magnificent vistas of the city and, frequently crowded with Italian and foreign promenaders, are places where it seems perfectly natural for Daisy to be admired and criticized. The Colosseum is a setting with multiple symbolic associations. Byron wrote of its romantic suggestiveness in "Manfred" which springs to Winterbourne's mind when he sees it on a moonlit evening. Also a place of human sacrifice of the gladiators and the Christian martyrs, it is an extreme reminder of the power of society to punish those who deviate from established norms. Another ominous aspect is the fact that at the time of the story and for many years afterwards, until the clearing of the Roman marshes, it was feared as a source of malaria, the then-mysterious illness known as Roman fever. James implicitly draws a parallel between the "unhealthy air" of the Colosseum and the corrupted atmosphere of the expatriate American circle in Rome in which a delicate flower like Daisy cannot easily survive.

The overall style of the work sparkles in the best tradition of the novel of manners. The language is distinguished by the humorous contrast between the Millers' colloquial American idiom and the more formal speech of the American expatriates. For instance, Randolph complains that Daisy is "always blowing at me" while she remarks that he "don't care much about old castles" and that she feared life in Rome would be "awfully poky." Winterbourne's more educated idiom denotes not only his higher level of culture but also the "stiffness" of his personality which is why Daisy likes to mimic it. In keeping with their snobbery, Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker use a refined and elaborate language which they like to sprinkle with foreign phrases. These voices intermingle with that of the authorial narrator which is consistently urbane, witty, and ironic. Moreover, the narrative is enriched with imagery and symbolism. Daisy's white dresses with their elaborate ruffles and wide skirts seem to announce her innocence; her ever-present parasol and her huge fan evoke her association with the sun; the gardens where she walks and proclaims her freedom point toward her wholesomeness; the interiors in which the expatriates pronounce their condemnation of her reflect their narrowness.

Literary Precedents

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As a novel of manners, Daisy Miller fits into the tradition of fiction that presents the prevailing modes of conduct peculiar to a specific time and place and examines how they control the characters' perceptions and behavior. This tradition reached its earliest perfection in Pride and Prejudice (1813) by Jane Austen, whom James admired intensely, and is best represented in America by Edith Wharton in The Age of Innocence (1920). James's interest in the "international theme" was partly stimulated by Nathaniel Hawthorne's The Marble Faun (1860) which focuses on American artists in Rome and deals with the differences between American and European manners and culture as well as with the themes of innocence vs. experience and naturalness vs. artificiality.

Daisy is a classic portrayal of the American girl as spontaneous, self-reliant, natural and generous in spirit. Her literary sisters include Jo March of Louisa May Alcott's Little Women (1868) and Penelope Lapham of William Dean Howells's The Rise of Silas Lapham (1885) as well as several of James's later heroines. For her independent character, her refreshing directness and her innocence, Daisy can also be related to the male protagonists of various American novels centering on adolescents encountering the limitations, corruption or violence of the adult world. Chief among these are Mark Twain's Adventures of Huckleberry Finn (1885), Stephen Crane's The Red Badge of Courage (1895), and J. D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye (1951).


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A cinematic adaptation of Daisy Miller was directed and produced for Paramount Pictures by Peter Bogdanovich in 1974. The film is visually very pleasing, has some memorable scenes such as Winterbourne's first encounter with Daisy in the hotel garden in Vevey and the party in Mrs. Walker's apartment in Rome, and is enlivened by fine performances by the supporting actresses Eileen Brennan as Mrs. Walker, Mildred Natwick as Mrs. Costello, and Cloris Leachman as Mrs. Miller. The overall result, however, is disappointing. The screenplay by Frederic Raphael remains very faithful to the original tale in terms of plot and dialogue but pushes the failed love story to the foreground and preserves little of James's social and psychological nuance. In addition, while Barry Brown convincingly conveys Winterbourne's divided attitude toward Daisy, Cybill Shepherd is miscast, or poorly directed, in the title role.


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Graham, George Kenneth. Henry James: The Drama of Fulfilment. Oxford, England: Clarendon Press, 1975. Concentrates on the tragicomedy of Winterbourne’s attempt to understand Daisy. Examines the interplay between the social and the personal, and the rational and the emotional.

Hoffmann, Charles G. The Short Novels of Henry James. New York: Bookman Associates, 1957. Examines how Daisy Miller presents European social codes as constraints on evil—and Daisy’s defiance as foolish American innocence of evil. Looks at the theme of appearance (Daisy’s corruption) versus reality (Daisy’s innocence).

Samuels, Charles Thomas. The Ambiguity of Henry James. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1971. Shows how Daisy Miller fits into James’s view of the guilt of innocence. Daisy is culpable, as are her persecutors—especially the fastidious Winterbourne, yearning for American purity in a fallen world.

Tintner, Adeline R. The Museum World of Henry James. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1986. Concentrates on James’s use of the portrait of Pope Innocent X as analogy and contrast to Daisy’s innocence in the work. Points out the ironic ending: that Winterbourne will be subject to the gossip he sought to avoid.

Wagenknecht, Edward. Eve and Henry James: Portraits of Women and Girls in His Fiction. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1978. Looks at the origins of the work, the controversy it aroused, and its literary counterparts. Considers Daisy’s character, her refusal to conform, and her ignorance of corruption.


Critical Essays


Teaching Guide