Course Hero. "Daisy Miller Study Guide." Course Hero. 25 May 2017. Web. 15 May 2021. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daisy-Miller/>.
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(Course Hero, 2017)
Course Hero. "Daisy Miller Study Guide." May 25, 2017. Accessed May 15, 2021. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daisy-Miller/.
Course Hero, "Daisy Miller Study Guide," May 25, 2017, accessed May 15, 2021, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Daisy-Miller/.
Course Hero Literature Instructor Shobha Tharoor Srinivasan provides an in-depth analysis of the plot, characters, symbols, and themes of Henry James's novella Daisy Miller.
An unseen, unnamed first-person narrator gives the reader a tour of Vevey, Switzerland, a popular summer vacation spot for wealthy Americans in the 1870s. The Trois Couronnes, where the first scenes of Daisy Miller take place, is a luxurious and well-known hotel that attracts everyone from Russian princesses to American upstarts. Frederick Winterbourne, a 27-year-old American expatriate living in Geneva, is there to visit his aunt, Mrs. Costello. Finding her indisposed with a headache, he dines in the hotel's garden, where he meets a nine-year-old American boy, Randolph Miller. Randolph tells Winterbourne bluntly that he hates Europe and finds America superior to it in every way. He introduces Winterbourne to his older sister, Daisy.
Daisy Miller is a beautiful young woman. Wearing a white muslin—plain-woven cotton fabric—dress "with a hundred frills and flounces," she talks only to Randolph until Winterbourne mentions that he and Randolph know each other. Even then, she is cool toward Winterbourne, who continues trying to gain her attention. He notices she doesn't seem flustered or embarrassed by his gaze and wonders if she is a dangerous flirt but decides against it as "in her bright, sweet, superficial little visage there was no mockery, no irony." Soon he wins her over, and they chat amicably. Daisy, whose real name is Annie, intends to spend the winter in Rome, along with her mother and brother. Her father is at home in Schenectady, New York, where he runs a "big business."
Daisy likes Europe, but she's disappointed in the lack of "society." "I'm very fond of society, and I have always had a great deal of it," she says to Winterbourne. She tells him how popular she is in New York City, particularly with men. "Poor Winterbourne," as the narrator refers to him, doesn't quite know how to respond to Daisy's candor. He still can't decide if she's an innocent flirt, as it seems all young American women are, or if she's someone not to be trusted. It is considered improper in Europe for unmarried women to go out with unmarried men without a chaperone, but Daisy agrees to visit the nearby Chillon castle alone with Winterbourne, who finds this both shocking and exciting. Eugenio, the Millers' hired travel companion, appears. He seems skeptical of Daisy's hasty arrangements to see the castle with Winterbourne, so Winterbourne vows to introduce her to someone who will vouch for him—his aunt, Mrs. Costello.
His aunt,, however, wants nothing to do with Daisy or her family. Mrs. Costello prides herself on being "very exclusive," and, according to her, the Millers are "common." She does not consider them socially respectable. Even Winterbourne's protestations about Daisy's beauty don't sway her. Part of the problem is how familiar the Millers act with Eugenio, whom she feels they treat "like a familiar friend—like a gentleman." This leads Winterbourne to decide Daisy is "rather wild."
Later that night, Winterbourne tells Daisy his aunt will not meet with her because of her recurring headaches. "She doesn't want to know me!" Daisy laughs. Winterbourne wonders whether Daisy is hurt by his aunt's refusal, but secretly wishes her to be upset enough that he can comfort her. Before he can make his move, Daisy's mother approaches. She isn't surprised when Daisy announces Winterbourne is going to take her to the castle, nor does she seem to think it improper they intend to go without a chaperone. Daisy interrupts the conversation to ask whether Winterbourne would like to take her out in a boat under the stars immediately. Her mother protests, but Daisy insists Winterbourne wants to take her, as "[h]e's so awfully devoted!" Winterbourne agrees. Eugenio arrives and tells her it's a bad idea and then changes his mind when he learns Winterbourne is to take her. Daisy changes her mind and decides she doesn't want to go anymore—she just wanted someone to make a fuss.
Winterbourne and Daisy visit Château de Chillon two days later. Winterbourne is disappointed because he hoped she would be flustered and embarrassed to have everyone on the steamboat looking at her, but she is calm and pleasant as usual. She chatters happily throughout the tour of the castle and afterward asks him if he would like to accompany them to Rome as Randolph's tutor. Winterbourne says he would love to, but he has other commitments and plans to return to Geneva the next day. Daisy throws a fit and decides he must be hurrying home to a "mysterious charmer." Winterbourne denies there is another woman. At Daisy's request, he promises to visit her in Rome over the winter.
Winterbourne lands in Rome near the end of January. Thanks to a letter from his aunt, he knows that Daisy is flitting about the city with several men. However, there is only one man she brings to parties with her, a "gentleman with a good deal of manner and a wonderful mustache." Winterbourne pretends he isn't jealous but decides to hold off on visiting her for a few days. Much to his surprise, he runs into the Millers at the home of Mrs. Walker, an American he knows from Geneva.
Daisy is furious Winterbourne didn't come to see her the day he arrived, and she all but ignores him. Mrs. Miller and Randolph don't care for Rome at all, but Daisy loves it "on account of the society," particularly that of so many young gentlemen. Daisy finally speaks to Winterbourne, and then tells Mrs. Walker she is bringing an "intimate friend" named Giovanelli to Mrs. Walker's upcoming party. Daisy insists on going for a walk to the Pincio, a spot that overlooks the city, instead of going back to the hotel with her mother. Mrs. Walker protests that such a walk at "this unhealthy hour" is dangerous because Daisy could catch Roman fever, another name for malaria. It is also improper for Daisy to meet an unmarried man on her own. Daisy doesn't hesitate to continue with her plans, but to keep the peace, she volunteers Winterbourne to accompany her.
The locals stare as Daisy and Winterbourne stroll down the street. He can't figure out why Daisy would want to "expose herself, unattended" to a crowd of foreigners. After spotting Giovanelli, Winterbourne vows, much to Daisy's displeasure, not to leave her side. Upon their introduction, Winterbourne immediately understands that Giovanelli is merely an "imitation" of a real gentleman and thinks that if Daisy were a "nice girl," she would recognize this difference in social status as well. He's also upset that Daisy seems perfectly content to divide her attention between him and Giovanelli. Even a "perfectly well-conducted young lady" would want to be alone with her love interest, but Daisy shows no such inclination.
A carriage pulls up to the group. Inside is Mrs. Walker, who tells Winterbourne she simply can't let Daisy walk around the city with two men—it's unseemly. She tries to convince Daisy to ride in the carriage with her, but Daisy, "scent[ing] interference," isn't interested, even when Winterbourne supports the idea. "If this is improper, Mrs. Walker, then I am all improper, and you must give me up." She says goodbye and continues walking with Giovanelli. Mrs. Walker then demands that Winterbourne ride in the carriage. He agrees. Mrs. Walker is visibly upset by Daisy's refusal. Mrs. Walker tells him that Daisy has been flirting, dancing, and receiving late-night visits from various men ever since she arrived in Rome. Winterbourne defends Daisy, and Mrs. Walker beseeches him to give up the young woman's company altogether. He declines, promising "there shall be nothing scandalous in [his] attentions to her." He leaves the carriage to rejoin Daisy and Giovanelli, who are overlooking the parapet with their heads hidden behind Daisy's parasol. Winterbourne takes one look at them and heads in the opposite direction, toward his aunt's home.
Winterbourne calls on Daisy for the next two days, but she is never at her hotel. He finally sees her again at Mrs. Walker's party. She purposefully arrives late with Giovanelli, which Mrs. Walker interprets as revenge for her insistence that Daisy alter her behavior. She vows not to speak to the girl, but those plans go out the window as Daisy explains that she and Giovanelli were late because he was practicing songs to sing at the party. As he sits down at the piano, Daisy and Winterbourne argue over Daisy's behavior. Winterbourne thinks Daisy should flirt only with him, to which Daisy responds he is "the last man [she] should think of flirting with" because he's "too stiff." Furthermore, she isn't flirting with Giovanelli as they are instead "very intimate friends." Winterbourne, thinking it impossible to shock Daisy, is surprised that she blushes when he says she and Giovanelli must be in love with each other. Angry, Daisy spends the rest of the evening with Giovanelli. Winterbourne is annoyed with her, yet he feels bad when Daisy tries to say goodbye to Mrs. Walker, who responds by turning her back on her.
Winterbourne continues to call on Daisy at her hotel, but when he visits, Giovanelli is always there. He talks over the situation with his aunt. Mrs. Costello thinks Giovanelli wants to marry Daisy for her money, but Winterbourne disagrees. He thinks Giovanelli knows Daisy is too good for him and will never agree to marriage. One day, when he knows Daisy is out on the town with Giovanelli, Winterbourne visits Mrs. Miller to warn her about the repercussions of Daisy's unconventional behavior. Mrs. Miller is sure Daisy and Giovanelli are engaged, although she admits Daisy denies it. Winterbourne realizes he'll never be able to get Daisy's mother to see her daughter's wrongdoing.
It becomes harder and harder for Winterbourne to run into Daisy, as she's never at her hotel, and all the American expatriates he knows have ceased issuing her invitations. A few days after talking to her mother, he stumbles upon Daisy and Giovanelli at the Palace of the Caesars. Winterbourne once again tries to tell her how her public excursions with Giovanelli are damaging her reputation, but Daisy thinks onlookers are "only pretending to be shocked." Winterbourne assures her their shock is indeed real and more people will reject her as Mrs. Walker did. She becomes angry with Winterbourne for not defending her. He swears he has. Then he mentions that her mother believes she is engaged to Giovanelli. Daisy says she is but questions whether Winterbourne believes her. When he says he does, she doubts him and then says that, in that case, she is not engaged.
A week later Winterbourne is taking an evening stroll near the Colosseum. He looks inside, quickly deciding to stay only a moment so as not to catch malaria, the "Roman fever" known to spread through the evening hours in Rome. Then he sees Daisy and Giovanelli, who are alone, seated at the base of a large cross. All at once, he realizes Daisy "was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect." He is disgusted with himself for spending so much time thinking about her. He turns to leave, but she has already spotted him. He warns her about "Roman fever" and scolds Giovanelli for letting her be outside in the evening. Giovanelli says he warned her, "but when was the signorina ever prudent?" Winterbourne insists she go home. Before she agrees, she asks whether he believed her when she told him she was engaged. He says her marital status is of no importance to him.
A couple days later Winterbourne learns that Daisy has fallen ill. He makes frequent trips to the hotel to learn about her condition. He eventually runs into Mrs. Miller, who is trying to nurse her daughter back to health. She says Daisy wants Winterbourne to know she was never engaged to Giovanelli, who disappeared after Daisy fell ill. Winterbourne runs into him a week later, at Daisy's funeral. Winterbourne is angry at him for taking Daisy to the Colosseum at night, but Giovanelli only seems sad that Daisy would never have married him in the first place. He tells Winterbourne that Daisy is the "most innocent" young lady he's ever met.
The next summer, Winterbourne reunites with his aunt in Vevey. He tells her he had done Daisy an "injustice" by not showing her more consideration. He then acknowledges Mrs. Costello was right when she told him to stay away from Daisy—he has "lived too long in foreign parts." He returns to Geneva. There are conflicting reports of his motives. Some people say he is going to study there, while others say he is "much interested in a very clever foreign lady."
The story may be called Daisy Miller, but the young woman in question isn't the protagonist, or main character, of James's tale. That distinction goes to Winterbourne, with whom the story begins and ends, and whose point of view the narrator relates. Everything the reader knows about Daisy comes strictly from Winterbourne's perspective or from what he hears about her from others. She exists primarily to be the object of his desire and to inspire his internal struggle about social customs and propriety, which is the story's major conflict. Winterbourne is not a sympathetic character—it is hard for the reader to relate to his snobbery and ultimate cruelty to Daisy at the end of the story. Even his very name evokes a sense of frigid coldness and establishes him as someone who is unable to comprehend the warmth of love or true friendship. Although he is the protagonist of Daisy Miller, Winterbourne is not the hero. More often than not, he seems to be the villain. Nor does he show an ability to change or grow as a result of encountering Daisy. By the end of the story, while he recognizes that he has been unfair in his judgment of her, his aunt, Mrs. Costello, convinces him that he is better off having avoided trouble. He simply resumes his life in Geneva, where he pursues a "foreign woman," and his life continues as if Daisy had never existed.
Winterbourne represents everything Henry James, an American expatriate living in Europe himself, dislikes about European social customs and society. Winterbourne, who was educated in Geneva and still resides there, admires Daisy but also looks down on her, whom he considers uncultivated, or uncultured. Her family, unlike his, does not come from established wealth but sounds more like new money—her father runs a big business. The society to which she belongs in Schenectady, New York, is not nearly as refined or "proper" as the society he encounters in Europe.
It is obvious to Winterbourne that Daisy is ignorant of the more rigid European social customs, but instead of trying to help her fit in, he views her as a riddle or puzzle to be solved. She is an amusement for him, an attractive plaything he can't quite figure out. Via the narrator, Winterbourne constantly comments on her appearance: in Vevey, he makes note of her "extremely pretty hands" and "her pretty eyes," while in Rome he speaks of the "tremendously pretty" flush in her cheeks. Over and over again, he reduces Daisy to one word: pretty. It doesn't matter that they are compatible in terms of their personalities or interests—he is concerned only with outward appearances. Likewise, he cares less about Daisy's motives for gallivanting around Rome with different men than he does about the opinions of his social circle. He is more concerned about how his relationship with Daisy reflects upon him than with the actual relationship itself.
In fact, Winterbourne classifies everyone he meets in a similar fashion: Randolph is a "little boy," Mrs. Miller is a "simple, easily-managed person," and Giovanelli is a "clever imitation" of a gentleman. Putting people into these little boxes not only helps Winterbourne make sense of them, it allows him to keep them at a distance. He believes he can tell all he needs to know about someone at first glance, which means he needn't spend time getting to know them. Complying with Victorian-era Genevan culture, he forgoes intimate friendships for pleasant, superficial social interactions—they extend no further than what is seen on the surface.
Part of the reason Winterbourne is so fascinated with Daisy is that he is unable to figure out how to classify her according to the social hierarchy established for women by Victorian society. Winterbourne believes there are three classes of woman: the "low" woman, who freely gives of her innocence (virginity) before marriage; the "nice" girl, who flirts but does not engage in an intimate relationship until after marriage; and the matronly "coquette," or flirt, who has extramarital affairs. He knows Daisy does not fall into the third category, but he can't decide whether her actions, which indicate she's a "low" woman, outweigh her appearance and manner, which make her seem like a "nice" girl. This is his ultimate conflict.
Like the Millers, Winterbourne was born in the United States, but that's where the similarities end. His European upbringing and lifestyle have disconnected him from traditional American ideals of independence and individuality. He doesn't fully appreciate Daisy's free-spirited nature because it is so out of line with European customs and values.Although Winterbourne is American, he has shifted his allegiance to European social conventions, and they define how he thinks and acts. This is also evident in his speech, which is peppered with French and Italian words. He wonders if Daisy is guilty of inconduite (French for misconduct, or bad behavior), and describes Giovanelli as Daisy's amoroso, which means sweetheart in Italian. The longer Winterbourne remains in Europe, the more he thinks like a native European, which, in James's depiction, makes him intolerant of those outside his social class. It is this intolerance that drives Daisy into the welcoming arms of Giovanelli, a man of a decidedly lower social class than Winterbourne.
The titular character of Daisy Miller is interpreted by almost all the other characters in the story in one of two different ways: she is either a complete innocent who knows not the havoc she wreaks, or she's a manipulative flirt who thrives on male attention and the subsequent scandal. From her flirtatious banter to her well-timed tantrums to spark Winterbourne's interest, Daisy seems aware of her actions and their effects.
This is also the opinion of two of her more outspoken opponents in the novel, Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. They believe even a girl from upstate New York like Daisy would understand how unacceptable it is to go unaccompanied on excursions with unmarried men she barely knows. Mrs. Walker, giving Daisy the benefit of the doubt, tries to warn her about the magnitude of her indiscretions, but Daisy won't hear of it. "I don't think I want to know what you mean ... I don't think I should like it," she protests. Even after Daisy realizes her reputation is at stake, she defies the counsel of her friends and continues her very public walks with Giovanelli. Although she has been made aware of the repercussions of her actions—a damaged reputation—she appears genuinely shocked weeks later when Winterbourne tells her why she has been exiled from American expatriate society in Rome. Daisy isn't stupid. It is possible, even likely, that she knew why she was increasingly shunned by those whose admiration she craved. They saw her innocence as nothing but an act and treated her accordingly.
Yet according to Henry James, Daisy's innocence wasn't an act—it was the real thing. He said as much in a letter to a concerned reader. James assured his correspondent that Daisy was, above all else, innocent. She was so ignorant about the ways of the world that she couldn't even comprehend that her behavior was wrong, and her "poor little heart" was deeply wounded by the judgments of others. He goes on to insist that Daisy never intended to pit Giovanelli and Winterbourne against each other as she could never imagine that Winterbourne would have any interest in her whatsoever because of her lack of class and sophistication. James's wholly sympathetic attitude toward Daisy explains why she is positioned as a Christian to society's lions when Winterbourne sees her at the Colosseum: she is a martyr to society's cruelty. It may also explain why Winterbourne finally learns the truth about her relationship with Giovanelli, although all he has is Giovanelli's word for it. She is redeemed in Winterbourne's eyes, at least temporarily, and he questions whether he judged her too harshly.
Modern readers may have a tough time believing Daisy didn't know exactly what she was doing, but Giovanelli's insistence on her innocence complicates such an assumption, as does her cruel exile from expatriate high society and her rejection by Winterbourne. But there may be other ways to interpret her. The tension that arises in the story for Winterbourne is between classifying Daisy as innocent or immoral, unaware or manipulative, because in his social world, there are no other alternatives that would provide a more flexible, forgiving view of her character. Winterbourne occasionally notes that Daisy is "an extraordinary mixture of innocence and crudity" and, later, that she "present[s] herself as an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence," but he struggles to understand how these categories can coexist rather than cancel each other out. The novella suggests that perhaps neither category is sufficient to describe an independent young woman who prefers to go her own way and therefore often appears to contradict herself. She is neither innocent nor immoral but merely an independent young American woman who cannot be classified by the society she encounters in Europe. In this way, Daisy Miller challenges the rigid categorizations that Victorian culture used to define women as pure or impure in order to keep them in their place.
James may have intended for Daisy's character to be seen as an innocent, and the novella may present her as even more complex than that, but even readers of the original 1878 printing misinterpreted his depiction of her. They believed her to be guilty of the social sins of the era: forward flirtatiousness, impetuousness, and premarital relations. This is in part because of Winterbourne's uncertainty about her character and in part because the reader sees Daisy's actions but is left to guess her motivations.
Criticisms about James' portrayal of "American girlhood" abounded, but very few readers, if any, had qualms about Winterbourne's behavior. After all, he was eager to accompany Daisy to the castle without a chaperone despite the look of impropriety, and he chased after her in Rome even when it appeared her affections belonged to another man. Lest the reader forget, Winterbourne was already devoted to an older woman in Geneva, to whom he returned after Daisy's death. Why is this sort of behavior okay for him but not for Daisy?
That's a good question, and it's one James tries to address in Daisy Miller. Winterbourne, who assures his aunt he is "not so innocent," is repulsed by Daisy when he determines the same thing about her. He, like James's Victorian audience, holds women to a higher standard of conduct than is expected for men. The confirmation of her innocence by Giovanelli is meant to point out the hypocrisy and double standard for women in Victorian society, a theme that was, at the time, lost on the reading public at large. This was due in part to the rigid social standards James was protesting in the first place.
Daisy Miller is also a criticism of the attitudes and customs of the upper class, particularly those inspired by European culture and adopted by American expatriates. The entire idea of having "good manners" was meant to make social interactions more pleasant and put guests (and hosts) at ease. Yet it could be argued that this 19th-century etiquette was so restrictive that it did more social harm than good. Daisy is excluded from European society because she violates its unspoken rules, with which she is unfamiliar. The truly gracious thing would have been for her hosts, including Mrs. Walker, to accept her as she was. Instead she was shunned for being too "common." "[The Millers] are the sort of Americans that one does one's duty by not—not accepting," Mrs. Costello tells Winterbourne. Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker aren't concerned about Daisy's physical well-being but are concerned about her reputation and how it will ultimately reflect upon them should they forge a relationship with her. Their insistence about what is right and proper is a thinly veiled attempt to keep someone they perceive as lower class outside of their exclusive social circles.
Historical and literary allusions, or references, further emphasize the message and tone of Daisy Miller. For example, Mrs. Costello requests Winterbourne bring her a book called Paule Méré, by Victor Cherbuliez. Published in 1865, Paule Méré is about a young woman who encounters the rigidly strict social customs of Geneva society and ultimately dies of a broken heart. If it sounds a lot like the plot of Daisy Miller, that's because it is—some literary scholars even believe James was inspired by Cherbuliez's novel. This tongue-in-cheek reference to Cherbuliez's book serves as foreshadowing for the well-read Victorian, signaling Daisy's untimely end and the driving force behind it. It also shows how blind Mrs. Costello is to her own treatment of Daisy. Already acquainted with the "pretty novel," she doesn't see the similarities between Cherbuliez's heroine and her nephew's new friend.
James looked to another, more recognizable author for two more literary allusions: the English poet Lord Byron. While wandering toward the Colosseum in Rome, where he will discover Daisy and Giovanelli alone together in the moonlight, Winterbourne begins reciting an excerpt from Byron's Manfred, a dramatic poem meant to be read aloud. Laced with descriptions of evil and the supernatural, the poem's dark tone enhances the eerie mood of the shadow-filled scene and increases the rapidly rising tension of the story, which provides the reader with a sense of the unavoidable danger to come.
The explicit allusion to Manfred is countered by a subtler reference to another of Byron's poems. In Part 1, Winterbourne and Daisy visit the Château de Chillon, a nearby castle immortalized in Byron's "The Prisoner of Chillon." The narrative verse describes the experiences of a man imprisoned in the castle alongside his brothers. He watches them die and becomes the sole survivor of his family. When the man is finally released, he is uncomfortable in his freedom. "My very chains and I grew friends / So much a long communion tends / To make us what we are." The tender mood of the poem is a departure from the ghostly Manfred, and its message speaks to Winterbourne's reaction to Daisy's behavior. Acclimated to the constraints of Genevan social customs, Winterbourne doesn't know how to respond to a flirtatious, forward young woman who refuses to bow to social convention. He realizes most men would be excited to be in the presence of such a social anomaly, but, as Daisy points out, he looks as if he's "taking [her] to a funeral." Like the narrator of "The Prisoner of Chillon," Winterbourne feels ill at ease without his restraints.
Historical allusions also deepen the reader's understanding of the characters and themes of Daisy Miller. In Part 2, Winterbourne compares Randolph to "the infant Hannibal." He's referring to Hannibal of Carthage, a general hell-bent on destroying Rome during the Second Punic War (218-202 BCE), in order to characterize Randolph's dislike of Europe. Winterbourne's witty joke falls flat on his American-educated audience as Randolph and Mrs. Miller both protest that Randolph is nothing like an infant. This brief exchange shows the cultural and educational gulf separating Winterbourne from the Millers. Although they were all born in the United States, Winterbourne was raised and educated in Geneva. James presents him as being more knowledgeable and worldly while the America-loving Millers look like dolts. This helps establish the ongoing notion that Europeans are more cultured and sophisticated than their American counterparts.
Daisy Miller Plot Diagram