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Henry Jamesʼ Daisy Miller – among America and Europe

Born in a wealthy family, in New York and living in England a long period, Henry
James managed to be the greatest novelist in the English language of the end of the 19th
century and the beginning of the 20th century, through his origin becoming an important
figure in the transatlantic culture. An major impulse in creating an immense number of novels
were his journeys in Europe, that helped him to prove his identity and the diversity between
the two continents. Since he was an teenage, Henry had the gift of reading and writing,
preferring to spent his time in remoteness in order to start his works. At the request of his
father, the writer starts to study mathematics and engineering in Switzerland, despite of his
hate for this sphere. Later, he attempted Law School at Harvard, but again without any
success. In an end, he has decided to dedicate himself to writing, creating a career that very
soon help him not count on financial dependence on his family. His primal works were based
on Civil War, as the main subject following this event. Later on he starts writing for
remarkable magazines such as The Atlantic Monthly and The Nation, but just as he could save
money to travel to Europe where he could settle himself.
Daisy Miller is one of the brilliant novels of Henry James that design the image of the
destiny of a young American lady on a European land. Her credulity causes the loss of her
reputation and in the last even her life in the effort of constructing her ideal of keeping her
individual freedom. The main idea of this creation is most likely as another important novel A
Portrait of a Lady, both following the same concept. The trips in Europe and coming after his
remain in the capital of England helped him in constructing his masterpieces, being located
between two minds, of the American innocence and way of thinking and the liberty and the
evil Europe behaviour. The importance of the international subject stands in the fact that it
helped shaping and understanding much better the American and European culture,
illustrating the experience of a young American lady. The story is narrated by Winterbourne,
a young compatriot of the feminine character, who has spent most of his life in Geneva.
Henry together with other characters in the novel condemns the courage and disobedience of
the American female. He often describes Daisy as seductress, who is trying to trap
Winterbourne. Despite of this state, feminist interpretation of the novel brings forward Daisy
as a heroine who represents first generation of the coming femininity does not fit into social
collective norms. She acquires her freedom in male dominated world through confrontation.
The story deals with the distinction between the two continents reflected in the
narrative through the main character. In Daisy Miller, the thing that supremely matter is
Winterborne's attempt to discover how innocent Daisy really is. That is, could she possibly be
a mistress of the art of deception and in truth be essentially an improper girl, or is she simply
responding so innocently and spontaneously to life that she ignores all the rules of civility. In
such a way, every scene is structured to illustrate something more about Daisy's personality.
Besides, in The Turn of the Screw, the thing that "supremely matters" is the innocence of the
young children. Consequently, every scene and every action is designed to further illuminate
this question. We are constantly pondering the relative innocence or evil of the young
children. The central situation in Daisy Miller is the arrival in Europe of a charming young
girl who feels restricted by the formalized rules of behavior in Europe. Owing to her failure to
observe certain social restrictions, she is considered improper by many people. But others
recognize that her actions are a part of her free American ways and maintain that she is
innocent. Consequently, Daisy is placed in various situations where we can observe her
actions and determine to what degree she is innocent and spontaneous.
The main character, Daisy Miller, on her real name Annie P. Miller is the one around
the feminine perspective is contructed in whole novel, over all the actions happend she has the
most important role. She represents the femininity, the kindness, delicacy, the rich, pretty
Americane girl that wants to discover the high society of Europe, but nevertheless to conform
with the Old world. She is spirited, independent, and well meaning, but she is also shallow,
ignorant, and provincial, almost comically. She offers the opinion that Europe is “perfectly
sweet”, talks with shameless monotony about the tiresome details of her family’s habits and
idiosyncrasies, thinks Winterbourne might know an Englishwoman she met on the train
because they both live in Europe and wonders if Winterbourne has heard of a little place
called New York. Daisy is also a tiresome flirt. She has no social graces or conversational
gifts, such as charm, wit, and a talent for pleasent conversation and she is really interested
only in manipulating men and making herself the center of attention. She is the one who starts
to highlight the difference between the two countries, since she claim: '' I can t get any candy
here- any American candy. American candy s the best candy'' (James,1879:9). This is seen as
a absolutely delight and also as an regret because of the unlike culture, between the Old and
the New World. Henry James seems to relate his stories or expressing his discontent in his
search for culture through his characters. James saw Europe as his ideal land for the search of
culture, therefore he has moved Daisy Miller from America to Europe, first to Switzerland
and later to Rome. The character Daisy Miller has became with the time the symbol of
American girl in her inspiration and imature combined with her recklessness. The
critic,William Dean Howells, affirmed that ''there was never any civilisation offered a more
precious tribute than that which a great artist paid theirs in the character of Daisy Miller"
(Rahv, 1989:87). The central theme of the story is therefore, American snobbishness
abroad. Daisy’s problem was not really from the Europeans, but from their compatriots of the
expatriate colony, who in their provincialism and inferiority complex, felt it their duty to
reduce Daisy’s liberty, because to them she was a disgrace to American identity and secondly
they were ashamed of the ‘unbridled’ American freedom, which they felt Daisy presented
by her free manners. The American snobs like Mrs. Walker and especially Mrs.
Costello saw nothing in Daisy’s positive qualities which are also typical of American
girls: "her charming look, which they all have, and which she can’t think where they pick
up; her perfect way of dressing, which she can’t think where they get it from, and
though she was pretty, but that also amounts to nothing, because she was common, she
treats her mother’s courier like a gentleman" (James,1879 :23). The way James portrayed the
European girl in the various novels, depends also on the major themes being treated in
each novel of him. In Daisy Miller it was convention and liberty or freedom, in which the
italian Gioanvanelli represented Europe, although, we are told how a typical European girl
should behave there, more restraint.

In conclusion, Daisy Miller shows the outcome of European life on the American
identity and the way in which an American, in the person of Daisy Miller, may end up be the
victim of a different social and moral system, which she cannot understand. The difference
between America and Europe, or, more exactly between the New and the Old World and
Europe’ s corruption and composure, reflected in the opinions of the citizens, can lead to
disaster the young immature American which confront themeselves with the these bizzare

James,Henry,Daisy Miller. London: Harper&Brothers,1879.

Rahv,Philip,Daisy Miller and Other Stories. London:Wordsworth Classics, 2006.

Rahv,Philip,Intro. To Daisy Miller, in The Great Short Novels of Henry James.London 1989.

William Dean Howells, Heroines of Fiction,New York and London, 1901