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Title: Daisy Miller

Genre: romantic drama


Author: Henry James
Period/ School: Realism
Publication Date: 1878

The Author and His Times: Henry James was an expatriate, traveling frequently to Europe at a
fairly young age, and therefore had a greater understanding of European/American relations than
someone who lived just on one continent. The primary theme in his writing was a contrast
between the youth and exuberance of the New World with the age and wisdom of the Old. He
was very well-known in society and traveled extensively.

Form, Structure, Plot: split into two sections that take place several months apart, story is
sequential and linear. The plot elements are simple and there is only one primary story. The
action takes place over a course of about 6-8 months, but references are made by the narrator that
suggest more expansive timeline.

Point of View: for the most part, third person limited. The reader is much more in tune with the
thoughts, emotions, and personal history of Winterbourne than with any other character.

Characters: The main characters are Daisy, Winterbourne, Daisy’s mother and brother, Mrs.
Costello, and Daisy’s Italian suitor. There is a contrast between young and old, innocent and
wise, and those who fall in line with the social order and those who go against it. Judgment plays
a very important role in how characters behave and what they think of themselves and others. we
learn about characters primarily through how they act and what they say about themselves, since
what they say about each other is highly subjective.
Daisy: 17, young, pretty, flirtatious, naïve, spunky. Daisy loves attention, especially from men,
and either isn’t aware of or doesn’t care how this desire is perceived by others. She doesn’t fit
the European conception of how young women should behave, but has no intention of tailoring
her behavior to please others. She is independent to the point of being clueless. She enjoys
causing controversy and upsetting people, and sometimes does this at the expense of her own
honor, integrity, and well-being. She both craves and resists authority. Her true emotions are
very elusive. Daisy represents a challenge, both socially and intellectually, to traditional
European social conventions; perhaps people don’t like her because her behavior shows them the
hypocrisy of their own actions.
“ ‘Oh, I hoped you would make a fuss!’ said Daisy. ‘I don’t care to go now.’
‘I myself shall make a fuss if you don’t go,’ said Winterbourne.
‘That’s all I want—a little fuss!’ And the young girl began to laugh again. […] ‘I hope you are
disappointed, or disgusted, or something!’”
This conversation reveals the primary motive behind many of Daisy’s actions: she wants people
to feel something for her. In many cases, it doesn’t even matter what those feelings are, so long
as she knows that she can generate strong emotional reactions from people. For Daisy, if her
actions don’t challenge others or create controversy, then they aren’t worth doing.
Winterbourne: 27, self-centered, easily amused, controlling, attractive with a moustache, enjoys
playing with women and sees Daisy as another source of entertainment and enjoyment. He acts
very polite and proper but doesn’t seem to have a lot of genuine respect for people. He is caught
between following the strict social rules of Geneva, and wanting to play and be independent as
he perceives people to be in America. He feels a desire to protect Daisy, but this desire isn’t
completely well-intentioned because his main motivation is to keep her to himself. He feels a
certain since of entitlement when dealing with women that isn’t really justified. He does not have
strong emotions or care for the wellbeing of others as much as he cares for himself.
“Winterbourne colored; for an instant he hesitated greatly. It seemed so strange to hear her speak that
way of her ‘reputation.’ But he himself, in fact, must speak in accordance with gallantry. The finest
gallantry here was simply to tell her the truth, and the truth for Winterbourne […] was that Daisy Miller
should take Mrs. Walker’s advice. He looked at her exquisite prettiness, and then said, very gently, ‘I
think you should get into the carriage.’”
The scene in which this quote occurs reveals a great deal about the power play taking place
between Mrs. Walker and Daisy, and Winterbourne’s uncomfortable position in the middle of it.
because Mrs. Walker is a more powerful character is his eyes, he is inclined to agree with her on
social matters, and may feel the need to control Daisy as well so that she might feel reliant on
and loyal to him. He doesn’t want to acknowledge the true depth of Daisy’s independence, and
sees it as a threat to himself.
Mrs. Miller: 35, frizzy, feeble, tepid, unable to control her children, disheveled, dresses more
fancily than necessary, weak, does not take action or express strong opinions, passive. Unaware
of subtleties in social conditions, does not protect her daughter from malicious or ill-intentioned
people, unaware of what is going on around her. Perhaps it is Mrs. Miller’s lack of authority that
is responsible both for Daisy’s inability to deal with authority and direction, and her desire to
seek it out from others. She doesn’t sleep often and is frequently ill.
“Her mother was a small, spare, light person, with a wandering eye, a very exiguous nose, and a large
forehead, decorated with a certain amount of thin, much-frizzled hair. Like her daughter, Mrs. Miller was
dressed with extreme elegance; she had enormous diamonds in her ears.”
Mrs. Miller’s physical description has a strong correlation with her personality traits. She is weak
physically and has a weak role in her family; she doesn’t know how to dress appropriately and
has trouble integrating into European society.
Randolph: 7, precious, smart, bold, stubborn, quintessential young American boy. Hates Europe
and just wants to go home, doesn’t respect adults or authority, lacks social graces, independent,
has an adventurous spirit, doesn’t sleep often, unwilling to listen to others, doesn’t like his sister,
admires his father and loves New York.
“‘I haven’t got any teeth to hurt. They have all come out. I have only got seven teeth. My mother counted
them last night. She said she’d slap me if any more came out. I can’t help it. It’s this old Europe. It’s the
climate that makes them come out. In America they don’t come out. It’s these hotels.’”
This quote immediately establishes the rule that will control the Miller family throughout their
stay at Europe—the continent will tear them apart. The reader also sees how much of a free spirit
Randolph is, how he doesn’t respect authority, can think for himself, and is eager to blaze his
own trail.

Setting: the first section takes place in Vevey, Switzerland, a resort town that in the vacation
season attracts many rich tourists. Vevey is supposed to have more social freedoms that Geneva,
but the social attitude of a city can depend largely on those who inhabit it and the preconceptions
that they bring with them. Vevey has a magical air and makes Daisy’s insolence feel like charm.
The second part of the novel takes place in Rome, which is a more intense and rigid
environment, with more of a well-established history and more strict behavioral standards, at
least on the surface. Rome implies passion, violence, but also a strong religious background.
These competing elements make it a very caustic setting. There is a contrast between the
Romantic setting of Vevey and the more Classical setting of Rome. The setting itself acts as a
character, because its history and culture affects how characters perceive Daisy’s behavior, and
physical elements of Rome ultimately kill her.

Diction: it is clear from the way she speaks that Daisy is very young, and probably has not
received the best formal education. Both she and Randolph tend to speak in absolutes, without
softening their words for the comfort of others. Figures more representative of Europe, such as
Winterbourne, Mrs. Costello, and Winterbourne’s aunt, speak more formally and use more
elegant words. The narrator adopts a stance more similar to the latter, and always seems mildly
amused by and contemptuous of the actions and feelings of the characters.
“She had been walking some quarter of an hour, attended by her two cavaliers, and responding in a tone
of very childish gayety, as it seemed to Winterbourne, to the pretty speeches of Mr. Giovanelli, when a
carriage that had detached itself from the revolving train drew beside the path.”
The use of the word “cavaliers” creates a very Romantic image in which Daisy is a kind of noble
princess. “Childish gayety” is also a very fundamental aspect of her personality, and shows her
innocent and unadulterated view on life that ultimately hurts her. The “revolving train” may
represent the circular, inconsequential rules of European acceptability, something from which
Daisy is removed because she is moving linearly forward, whereas the gender expectations for
females in Europe do not change.
“Winterbourne wondered how she felt about all the cold shoulders that were turned towards her, and
sometimes it annoyed him to suspect that she did not feel at all. He said to himself that she was too light
and childish too uncultivated and unreasoning, too provincial, to have reflected upon her ostracism, or
even to have perceived it. Then at other moments he believed that she carried about in her elegant and
irresponsible little organism a defiant, passionate, perfectly observant consciousness of the impression
she produced.”
This passage uses many words that, while contradictory, all play a part in determining Daisy’s
character and defining the impression that she instills in people. Winterbourne seems puzzled
and interested in this mystery, but at the same time regards Daisy in a slightly patronizing
manner, thinking of her not as a complete person but as a “little organism” in which he would be
surprised to find sincere emotions.
“The historic atmosphere was there, certainly; but the historic atmosphere, scientifically considered, was
no better than a villainous miasma. Winterbourne walked to the middle of the arena, to take a more
general glance, intending thereafter to make a hasty retreat. The great cross in the centre was covered
with shadow; it was only as he drew near it that he made it out distinctly. Then he saw that two persons
were stationed upon the low steps which formed its base.”
Because this passage—though in third person—is told generally from Winterbourne’s viewpoint,
we can look to it as an indication of how highly structured and methodical his mind is. Even
when faced with great and overpowering beauty, his first response is to see the dangers in it, to
quantify it, and to analyze his own actions and motivations. He doesn’t comprehend emotional
beauty, only historical significance.

Syntax: American characters speak in a more simple, direct, and unelaborated manner, which
makes them seem both more honest and more socially unaware than their European counterparts,
who express their thoughts in a more complex manner.
“‘I’m a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not? But I suppose you will tell me
now that I am not a nice girl.’
‘You’re a very nice girl; but I wish you would flirt with me, and me only,’ said Winterbourne.
‘Ah! Thank you—thank you very much; you are the last man I should think of flirting with. As I have had
the pleasure of informing you, you are too stiff.’
‘You say that too often,’ said Winterbourne.”
This conversation builds on the conflict between being a “nice girl” and being a “flirt” that
reoccurs throughout the novel. We can see from the progression of the conversation that being a
nice girl is secondary to being a flirt, and Winterbourne ranks higher in importance than either of
these subjects, because the conversation continually returns to him.

Concrete Detail/ Imagery: Daisy and Mrs. Miller’s clothes are described in great detail, usually
to point out how ridiculously they are dressed. James tends to focus on specific details of
people’s dress and facial features—such as Winterbourne and Eugenio’s moustaches—and uses
them to highlight certain aspects of their characters.

Symbolism: Randolph’s stick is a phallic symbol that he uses to assert his masculinity and
distinctive Americaness. Wearing flowers represents frivolousness or social impropriety. Clothes
in general are a good indication of how socially aware a character is—the more outrageous the
outfit, the more outrageous the person wearing it. Daisy becomes a part of a religious symbol at
the end when she sits at the base of the cross, foreshadowing her passionate death and drawing a
parallel to the character of Mary Magdalene.

Figurative Language: there are many uses of foreshadowing pertaining to Daisy’s death.
Ironic Devices: the readers are informed immediately that Winterbourne is less rigid with regard
to social rules than he tries to let on to Daisy, which makes his intentions seem dubious. Mrs.
Walker is also an ironic contrast to Daisy because, while her actions are more immoral, she is
protected from society’s judgment because she is married, which is the very thing that makes her
actions seem more reprehensible to the modern reader.

Tone: the narrator always seems emotionally removed and somewhat amused by and
contemptuous of the actions of his characters. He views them with an unbiased and equally-
opportunity scrutiny with which the characters often do not see themselves. He sometimes makes
snarky references to the character’s personal lives—especially Winterbourne—leading the reader
down a particular train of thought but still leaving important details to the imagination.

Theme: the role of subjective experience plays a large role in this novel. People cannot control
how others see them, and therefore, in a certain sense, have little if any control over their own
identity. Everyone is a victim of judgment, prejudice, and ignorance, and the mindset of each
individual and each culture is so different that people have little hope of ever really
understanding each other’s motivations. There is also a strong contrast between innocence—as
exemplified by Daisy—and experience—as represented by Mrs. Walker. While Daisy does pay
dearly for her immaturity and typical American stubbornness, there is no clear “winner” in this
conflict because no one is really sincere or living an honest life. There is a constant interplay
between victim and victimizer in which no one’s intentions are selfless. People are so concerned
with what society may think of them that they have no independent conception of self. Youth
and wisdom are irreconcilable, one must eliminate the other.

Significance of Title: informs the reader that the novel will be about Daisy Miller and the many
meanings that various people assign to her.

Memorable Quotes:
“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.”
This quote takes the novel back to the opening scene, showing how little of an impact Daisy
made on Winterbourne’s life and how self-absorbed he is.
“‘I’m afraid you thought I was never coming, so I sent mother off to tell you. I wanted to make Mr.
Giovanelli practice some things before he came; you know he sings beautifully, and I want you to ask him
to sing. This is Mr. Giovanelli; you know I introduced him to you; he’s got the most lovely voice, and he
knows the most charming set of songs. I made him go over them this evening on purpose; we had the
greatest time at the hotel.’ Of all this Daisy delivered herself with the sweetest, brightest audibleness,
looking now at her hostess and now round the room, while she gave a series of little pats round her
shoulders to the edges of her dress. ‘Is there any one I know?’ she asked.”
This quote shows Daisy’s disregard for inconveniencing others, and an inability to comprehend
how her words and actions make her appear to others. She loves to have fun and thinks that by
telling people about it that they will live vicariously through her, but she is unaware of how
offensive she is acting.
“Poor Winterbourne was amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed. He had never yet heard a young
girl express herself in just this fashion—never, at least, save in cases where to say such things seemed a
kind of demonstrative evidence to a certain laxity of deportment. […] 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.”
This quote establishes the conflict between the American and European standards of behavior
that will become the central conflict in the novel. It begins innocently in Vevey, but becomes
much more dangerous in Rome.