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Dialogism in Daisy Miller

Bakhtin’s explanation of dialogism can help us understand the dynamics and narrative

direction of Henry James’ Daisy Miller. Winterborne is the Bakhtinian “arena” in which the

opposing discourses of Daisy Miller engage in a struggle with each other. Daisy Miller

represents the American discourse of innocence and naïve purity. Mrs. Costello and Mrs.

Walker, on the other hand, represent the European discourse of aristocratic elitism and strict

adherence to social conventions. Winterborne starts out as a Europeanized American, as one

who has assimilated the European discourse into his ideology. When Daisy enters his life, her

challenging dialogue with Mrs. Costello, Mrs. Walker, and the rest of the European society

sparks a simultaneous internal dialogue within Winterborne. The intercourse between the

different dialogues within Winterborne creates the potential for what Bakhtin calls the “birth” of

a “new word.” It is this potential for Winterborne’s ideological evolution and reawakening that

drives Daisy Miller.

Bakhtin claims that “the ideological becoming of a human being… is the process of

selectively assimilating the words of others” (532). Similarly, James acknowledges discourse’s

extensive influence, even allowing the narrator a significant degree of unreliability and

subjectivity. Winterborne’s prejudices and biased conceptions constantly find their way into the

narration. At the beginning of the story, the narrator lets us know that his descriptions are drawn

from previous discourses. In Winterborne’s introduction, the narrator uses what “his friends

spoke of him” as well as what “his enemies spoke of him” (James, 48). Thus, the reader’s first

impression of Winterborne comes not from the narrator’s original and objective observations, but

rather from a reproduction of previous discourses. Winterborne, likewise, formulates his first

opinion about Daisy based upon someone else’s discourse: “Some people had told him that, after
all, American girls were exceedingly innocent; and others had told him that, after all, they were

not” (James, 57). Thus we cannot perceive the narrative “purely as an object,” as an objective

representation of characters and events, else we lose the ability to understand the dialogical

conflicts that underlay the discourse (Bakhtin, 538).

To further explicate the influence of discourse, Bakhtin draws attention to the fact that

“people talk most of all about what others talk about” and that “the majority of our information

and opinions is usually not communicated in direct form as our own, but with reference to

some… source” (Bakhtin, 530). One cannot underestimate the importance and prevalence of the

Other’s discourse. In Daisy Miller, Mrs. Walker is highly attentive to people’s tendency to

reproduce and repeat any certain discourse, and realizes that this prolific transmission gives

discourse tremendous power in affecting what society says and thinks. She considers an

individual’s worth and identity to be largely dependent upon what people say about this

individual. Thus, she warns Daisy, “You are old enough, Miss Miller, to be talked about”

(James, 92). Mrs. Walker also laments over that fact that “at their hotel everyone is talking about

her” (James, 94). Even Daisy, who is generally indifferent regarding what others say of her,

recognizes the power of discourse. When Winterborne mentions that she is being slandered,

Daisy says, “I should think you would say something” (James, 109). Winterborne, for his part, is

upset over the fact that the hotel servants are forging discourse over Daisy, that Daisy is “‘talked

about’ by low-minded menials” (James, 113). The fact that Winterborne is so caught up over

who is talking about Daisy recalls the important Bakhtinian idea, “We do not separate discourse

from the personality speaking it” (Bakhtin, 531). In this case, Winterborne’s aristocratic

discourse, which includes such elitist phraseology as “low-minded menials,” makes class

distinctions in favor of the gentry and derisive of the common.

This aristocratic European discourse supplies the ideology with which Winterborne starts

out, even though he is technically an American. His initial assumptions regarding the standards

for female propriety come largely from the ideas “he had imbibed at Geneva,” which stand

against the American discourse of unrestrained spontaneity. The frequency with which

Winterborne uses Italian words is just one indication of how extensively he has assimilated the

European discourse. In fact, Daisy notices that Winterborne is not like a “real American,” that he

speaks more like a German (James, 53). Winterborne himself admits that “he had lived at

Geneva so long that he had lost a good deal; he had become dishabituated to the American tone”

(James, 57). Winterborne opposes the American discourse by telling Daisy that “flirting is a

purely American custom” (James, 99), and thus should no longer be done.

The European discourse engages in a dialogic struggle against Daisy’s American

discourse. Daisy, by defying European conventions, “rackets about in a way that makes much

talk” (James, 79). Bakhtin says that “another’s discourse, if productive, gives birth to a new

word from us in response” (535). Daisy supplies this other discourse that propels the society in

which she lives into dialogical reflection. Her discourse also launches Winterborne into a crisis

over and re-evaluation of his own discourse. Daisy offers a strangely fresh discourse of

innocence and whimsical abandon. She refers to the Chateau de Chillon as “that old castle” and

calls the tour guides “dreadful old men that explain about the pictures and things.” The language

that she uses stands in stark contrast to that of Winterborne’s starched formality. Daisy

temporarily adopts the European discourse by asking Winterborne how she should go about

protecting her reputation, which makes Winterborne think, “It seemed so strange to hear her

speak that way of her ‘reputation’” (James, 93). The word, “reputation,” is taken from the

European discourse, which is why it sounds so out of place within Daisy’s discourse. However,

she is not assimilating the European discourse of “reputation” into her own ideology for she is as

unconcerned about her reputation as ever. She simply represents “reputation” as a fallacy by

situating it within her own Bakhtinian “interpretative frame.”

Mrs. Costello, however, offers an opposing interpretative frame to view the escapades of

Daisy Miller, thus intensifying Winterborne’s internal dialogic struggle. Mrs. Costello, rather

than framing Daisy as innocent and guileless, frames her as an uncultivated, vulgar, and crude

girl. Mrs. Costello interprets Daisy’s male friends as “regular Roman fortune-hunters” (James,

80), Giovanni as “that little barber’s block” (James, 103), and calls Daisy, “that young lady…

what’s her name?” (James, 103). She represents Daisy within a derisive and aristocratic frame

that extols the refined and elite as opposed to the wild and common.

Initially, Winterborne assimilates Mrs. Costello’s discourse: “Winterborne listened with

interest to [Mrs. Costello’s] disclosures; they helped him to make up his mind about Miss Daisy.

Evidently she was rather wild” (James, 63). Afterwards, Winterborne, like Mrs. Costello, often

uses the word “crude” to describe Daisy’s behavior. Later, however, Winterborne begins to resist

Mrs. Costello’s discourse, saying that Daisy is “not bad” and realizing that Mrs. Costello is

actually more rude than Daisy. He disputes Mrs. Costello’s description of Daisy’s actions as

“intrigue” in the conviction that Mrs. Costello’s interpretative frame is wrong.

Mrs. Walker, like Mrs. Costello, offers a discourse pitted against Daisy. Mrs. Walker is

“the lady from Geneva” (James, 92), the embodiment of the European discourse of propriety,

customs, and reputation. In response to Mrs. Walker’s criticisms, Daisy says, “I don’t think I

want to know what you mean” (James, 92), effectively rejecting Mrs. Walker’s discourse.

Initially, Winterborne shares the same discourse as Mrs. Walker. When Daisy points out the

stiffness and formality of Winterborne’s speech, Mrs. Walker comes to Winterborne’s defense:

“Just hear him say that!” said Daisy… “Did you ever hear anything so quaint?”

“So quaint, my dear?” murmured Mrs. Walker, in the tone of a partisan of Winterborne. (James, 84)

While Daisy frames Winterborne’s discourse as absurdly old-fashioned, Mrs. Walker frames it as

the natural and correct discourse. Both Winterborne and Mrs. Walker tell Daisy that she should

stop cavorting in public, to which she responds that she would rather be “improper” than to listen

to them.

Daisy’s frustration over Winterborne and Mrs. Walker’s imperious imposition of their

discourse upon her resembles Bakhtin’s reaction towards “authoritative discourse.”

Authoritative discourse “demands that we acknowledge it, that we make it our own” (Bakhtin,

532). When Winterborne insists on chaperoning Daisy, she says, “I have never allowed a

gentleman to dictate to me” (88). To dictate means to “to impose, pronounce, or specify

authoritatively” (Merriam-Webster), to exclude the possibility of mutual dialogue. Just as

Bakhtin cites religious dogma as an example of authoritative discourse (Bakhtin, 532), Daisy

refuses to allow Winterborne to “preach” to her (James, 100). When Daisy chastises

Winterborne for never having offered her any tea, Winterborne replies, “I have offered you

advice” (James, 100). Because advice is a form of authoritative discourse, Daisy’s response is:

“I prefer weak tea!”

While Mrs. Walker remains inflexible and authoritative, Winterborne starts to sense the

superiority of Daisy’s discourse within his internal dialogic struggle. In doubt over the European

discourse, he tells Mrs. Walker, “I suspect… that you and I have lived too long at Geneva!”

Winterborne adopts Daisy’s discourse against rigidity, telling Mrs. Walker, “I think it’s a pity to

make too much fuss about [Daisy’s behavior]” (James, 90). Mrs. Walker’s discourse has the

most adverse effect upon Winterborne when she shuns Daisy at the party. Winterborne begins to

favor Daisy’s discourse over his previous European discourse, calling her “poor little Miss

Miller” who has to live in “the cynical streets of Rome” (James, 104). In this case, Winterborne

frames Daisy not as a wild degenerate, but as a wrongly spurned and innocent girl that must live

within the interpretative frame of an unjust and “cynical” discourse.

As a result of Daisy’s pure and honest discourse on female innocence, Winterborne

laments that he has “lived too long in foreign parts” (James, 116) and assimilated too much

European discourse into his ideological being. James implies that Daisy’s discourse stirred up an

internal dialogue that created the potential for the birth of a new word, for Winterborne to be

reborn into the American discourse. However, the last sentence mentions that Winterborne is

interested in a “very clever foreign lady” (James, 116), probably the foreign lady that he was

dallying with at the beginning of the story. Thus, the European discourse of Mrs. Costello and

Mrs. Walker ends up overpowering the delicate Daisy. As a result, Daisy Miller dies both

physically, by malaria, and in discourse, by Winterborne’s reversion to the European discourse.

-structure of paper: See how external discourses interact in a dialogue, and how it affects
Winterborne’s internal discourse.
-Daisy Miller’s depth comes from the potential for internal dialogue within Daisy Miller. In fact,
most of the action and conflict in this novel involves deciphering this internal dialogism.

narrator/Winter unreliability
-Henry James purposely presents Daisy in such a way that we don’t know what she’s thinking,
we are completely ignorant of her internal discourse. We see her mostly thru Winterborne’s
“interpretative frame,” thus we must question whether the representation of her that we see really
resembles her or rather Winterborne’s prejudices about her. Many of Daisy’s depictions may tell
us more about Winterborne than about Daisy (p. 111). We can’t separate Winterborne’s
personality from his discourse, from his represenation of the narrative. Winterborne can’t be
taken of as “authoratative discourse”.

what others say

-The narrator introduces Winter with what others say of him, what “his friends spoke of him”
and what “his enemies spoke of him” (48) The narrator is unreliable, his own discourse contains
the previous discourse of other prejudiced people.
-“Some people had told him that, after all, American girls were exceedingly innocent; and others
had told him that, after all, they were not” (57).
-Mrs. Walker’s opinion that other people’s discourse is so important to an individual, because, as
Backtin points out, it will probably be repeated/reproduced/transmitted again and again. She
wants to drive Daisy around in the carriage for “the world” to see that Daisy is not a wildly
independent woman. “You are old enough, Miss Miller, to be talked about.” (92). “I’m told that
at their hotel everyone is talking about her,” to which Winter responds, “The servants be
hanged!” (94) his concern that “the little Americna flirt should be ‘talked about’ by low-minded
menials.” (113); it matters WHO talks
-Daisy says Winter should have helped her: “I should think you would say something.” (109)
-when Mrs. Costello and Winter talk about Daisy and Giovanelli, they imagine what D and G
would say or think. (p. 103)

American vs. European/Geneva

-Italian/upper-class discourse encounters American(?) discourse about female propriety and
innocence. Externally, this happens betwixt Daisy and ?, Daisy embodying the American
discourse and ? embodying the other discourse. This “struggle” between discourses also occurs
internally within Winterborne. Winterborne’s assumptions about female propriety comes from
other discourses that he had assimilated into his own ideology. (example: “he had imbibed at
Geneva the idea that one must always be attentive to one’s aunt.”) This discourse is
“omnipresent” throughout the text, constantly casting suspicion and creating internal conflict
within Winterborne regarding Daisy. Winterbornes starts out with a discourse predisposed

against Daisy, but it is gradually revised (?) and a “new word” seeks to emerge. But in the end
he reverts to the Geneva discourse.
-American vs. Italian: ‘flirting is a purely American custom”, (99) says Winter. Daisy says she
doesn’t see why she has to conform to the customs of the young ladies of Italy. the Americans in
Rome, however, have assimilated the Italian discourse into their own ideologies. Winter does
not seem to Daisy to be a “real American”, mentioning that he speaks more like a German (53).
He assimilates Geneva stuff into his discourse, which is in turn assimilated by the narrator: “And
yet he was to accuse Miss Daisy Miller of actual or potential inconduite, as they said at Geneva?
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.” (57) constant assimilation of Italian words into the

-Mrs. Costello says “The young lady, however, is also very intimate with some third-rate Italians,
with whom she rackets about in a way that makes much talk.” (79) by breaking conventions, she
creates a new discourse
-‘As [the Chateau(punctuated) de] Chillon was “that [old] castle” so the guides in Rome are
“dreadful old men that explain about the pictures and things.”’
-When Daisy asks for Winter’s opinion, narrator says, “It seemed so strange to hear her speak
that way of her ‘reputation’.” (93) The word, ‘reputation’, is taken from the Geneva-discourse
altogether which is why it sounds out of place within Daisy’s discourse.

Mrs. Costello
-Mrs. Costello and Daisy: discourse betwixt common/uncultivated and aristocratic, proper vs.
improper/wild. Mrs. Costello is actually more rude than Daisy. When Mrs. Costello talking
about Daisy, “Winterborne listened with interest to these disclosures; they helped him to make up
his mind about Miss Daisy. Evidently she was rather wild.” (63) after Mrs. Costello calls her
crude the narrator and Winter constantly are using the word “crude” to describe Daisy’s behavior.
-Mrs. Costello with Winter: Mrs. Costello calls Daisy’s male friends, “regular Roman fortune-
hunters” (80). She calls Daisy’s family “dreadful people.” Winter starts reacting against this
discourse, saying, “They are very ignorant – very innocent only. Depend upon it they are not
bad.” (80) Mrs. Costello counters with “They are hopelessly vulgar.” Mrs. Costello also
describes a gentleman with a “wonderful moustache,” a particular piece of discourse that sticks
with Winter and agitates him. In fact, this piece of discourse “checked Winterbourne’s impulse
to go straightway to see her.” It is because it destroyed his previous conception of Daisy, who he
imagined would be awaiting chastely and anxiously for him. As result of his dialogue with
Costello, he don’t go see her.
-Mrs. Costello, Winter: “Of that young lady’s, Miss Baker’s, Miss Chandler’s – what’s her
name? – Miss Miller’s intrigue with that little barber’s block.” (103) choice of words,
descriptions, provides as derisive and Puritanical interpretative frame as before. Winter then
disputes Costello’s use of the word, “intrigue,” saying that they are public and innocent.

Mrs. Walker
-Mrs. Walker and Daisy: Walker is “the lady from Geneva” (92) even though she’s from the US;
she has Geneva’s discourse embedded in her. discourse against impropriety, disreputation (“Fifty

people have noticed her.” (90)), in favor of “the custom here”, social conventions, concern over
what other people think and say about her.
-In front of Daisy, Winter takes Mrs. Walker’s side. Daisy repudiates them as “stiff” and decides
she would rather be “improper.” (93)
-Daisy responds, “I don’t think I want to know what you mean,” (92) rejecting Walker’s

Daisy’s frustration with authoratitive discourse

-Daisy and Winter:
‘Pray understand, then,’ said Winterborne, ‘that I intend to remain with you.’

‘I don’t like the way you say that,’ said Daisy. ‘It’s too imperious.’
‘I beg your pardon if I say it wrong. The main point is to give you an idea of my
meaning.’ (88) While Winter focuses on the meaning of his words, while Daisy focuses on the
tone with which they are imbued.
-“He [mr. giovanelli] isn’t preaching, at any rate.” (100) Daisy’s frustration at authoratative
discourse. she also says she never lets a gentleman tell her what to do. She doesn’t let anyone
tell her what the “right” thing to do is. She offers her own interpretations of what is right; she
said it would have been “wrong” to get in the carriage and leave Giovanelli there.
-‘It has never occurred to Mr Winterborne to offer me any tea,’ she said, with her little
tormenting manner.
‘I have offered you advice,’ Winterborne rejoined.
‘I prefer weak tea!’ cried Daisy, and she went off with the brilliant Giovanelli. (100)

illustration of Winter’s internal dialogue and how it relates to external dialogue

-Winterborne dislikes Giovanelli as a form of competition so he takes on the “Geneva-Costello-
Walker” discourse by saying that Giovanelli is not a real gentleman, even though Winterborne
should have no reason to presume that Daisy is looking for a real gentleman since he has pointed
out before that she is a not a conventional lady. the narrator similarly presents Giovanelli as
having ulterior motives, however, by the end, Giovanelli reveals he never had such devious
-conversely, Mrs. Walker later also grates negatively upon him so with her, he again adopts the
opposing discourse. “I think it’s a pity to make too much fuss about it.” (90, something Daisy
would say, her discourse) “I suspect, Mrs. Walker, that you and I have lived too long at
Geneva!” Especially the most intense incidence of Mrs. Walker’s dialogue with Daisy, when she
turns her back to her, does Winter’s internal dialogue get most affected by Mrs. Walker. “He on
his side was greatly touched.”
-Daisy and Winter, Daisy and Mrs. Walker:
‘My dearest young lady,’ cried Winterborne, with eloquence, ‘have I come all the way
down to Rome to encounter your reproaches?’
‘Just hear him say that!’ said Daisy to her hostess, giving a twist to a bow on this lady’s
dress. ‘Did you ever hear anything so quaint?’
‘So quaint, my dear?’ murmured Mrs. Walker, in the tone of a partisan of Winterborne.
(84) Daisy finds Winter’s formality of discourse very strange. Mrs. Walker in support of the

Winter’s final judgements
-you can see Winter begin to take Daisy’s side. Winter’s pity  narrator  “poor little Miss
Miller” (104), “the cynical streets of Rome”
-p.111 is when the dialogue stops; Winter draws a firm conclusion that Daisy was not innocent.
The narrator says, “What a clever little reprobate she was, and how smartly she played an injured
innocence!” this gives us not so much a conclusion about Daisy, but an insight into Winter’s
-Daisy was anxious to let Winter in on a final bit a discourse, that she was not indeed engaged, as
she had said she was. “Mind you tell Mr Winterborne.” (114) the effect of this last piece of
discourse lead him to realize the injustice of his previous judgement upon Daisy, which was
sparked by her assertion that she was engaged to Giovanelli.
-Winter says “I have lived too long in foreign parts.” (116) but it ends up he’s interested in a
“very clever foreign lady.” (116)
-Can we take Daisy’s words at face value? Do they say, “I am innocent,” or do they say, “I am
making a pretense to be innocent.”?? We must ask the question, are Daisy’s words “double-
voiced”?? in general, Daisy is not very double-voiced, very straight-forward.
-“I’m not afraid!” “tremor in her voice”; single instance of Daisy’s blatant double-voicedness,
showing that she’s not really good at lying (66).
-When Daisy called Winter horrid (77), this was double-voiced. She actually liked him, and was
actually saying that she was very fond of him, however, Winter was distraught by what she was

?-Mrs. Walker says, “I shall be glad to see Mr Giovanelli,” (85) even though given who is
speaking, and the context, she will not be glad to see him at all.

?-Eugenio vs. Daisy: Eugenio made an ostensibly polite inquiry, but his tone made what he said
double-voiced; it also voiced rude disapproval: “Eugenio’s tone apparently threw… a slightly
ironical light upon the young girl’s situation” (60). Eugenio offers his own interpretative frame.

-Mrs. Walker, at her party, is very rude to Daisy. She decides to break off dialogue with Daisy by
not talking to her.

Winterborne remonstrates Daisy for being a flirt, but then admits, “I wish you would flirt with
me, and me only.” (99)

“The young man asked Mrs. Miller how she was pleased with Rome. ‘Well, I must say I am
disappointed,’ she answered. ‘We had heard so much about it; I suppose we had heard too
much. But we couldn’t help that. We had been led to expect something different.’” (82).

also difficulty in deciphering Giovinelli’s internal dialogism, authenticity of gentlemanlyness


“in the garden, wandering about in the warm starlight, like an indolent sylph, and swinging the
largest fan he had ever beheld.” (Intro, 14; 65)

Winterborne and Mrs. Miller: he kept assuming that she disapproved of him going to the castle
with Daisy. however, there is no evidence of this. eventually, Winterborne had to revise his
conceptions, realizing that Mrs. Miller is not very protective of Daisy. (70-71) thus he comes to
see Daisy as an “unprotected daughter”

“she was opening and closing her enormous fan”; Winterborne pointing out these things, his
discourse invading the narrative discourse


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