Wednesday, 18 April 2012

Daisy Miller: A Study

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Daisy Miller, written by Henry James in 1878, is about a young, na├»ve American girl who sacrifices her life for the society she wished to live in. When Henry James first wrote Daisy Miller, a friend told him that it was “an outrage on American girlhood” (Collins). Daisy Miller dresses elegantly, has the “tournure of a princess”, and yet is irredeemably vulgar in her talk and her conduct (Hayes 70).

Daisys social awareness is so primitive that it scarcely exists. She believes that she is indestructible and that everyone is oblivious to the things she does. When she first met Winterbourne, she informed him of her many gentlemen friends “Last winter I had seventeen dinners given me; and three of them were by gentlemen. I have always had a great deal of gentlemen’s society” (1500). As soon as Winterbourne arrives in Rome, he hears that Daisy has been seen around with many gentlemen friends. “The young lady is very intimate with some third-rate Italians, with whom she rackets about in a way that makes much talk” (151). When Winterbourne tells Daisy that everyone thinks she “goes around” too much with Giovanelli, she does not believe him. She exclaims, “But I don’t believe it. They are only pretending to be shocked. They don’t really care a straw what I do. Besides, I don’t go round so much” (158). Daisy is confined to her own world and does not realize that “society” is giving her the cold shoulder. She is bewildered at the cruelty of a sophisticated world.

Winterbourne’s relationship with Daisy Miller is based solely on appearance. “They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman’s various features-her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it; and as regards this young lady’s face he made several observations” (148). Winterbourne is reacting to a woman exactly the way society taught him to. In the beginning, Winterbourne thinks Daisy is a coquette, but then he realizes she may be interested in his conversation. Throughout the story, Winterbourne is focused on Daisy’s appearances.

In Geneva, a young man was not supposed to speak to an unmarried young woman except under rare conditions. Winterbourne knew this as he proceeded to speak to Daisy. She remained uninterested in him and he became very embarrassed “He was ceasing to be embarrassed, for he had begun to perceive that she was not in the least embarrassed herself” (148). Daisy was accustomed to simply ignoring a man until he gained her interest. Winterbourne did just that when he offered to take her to the Chateau de Chillon. Mrs. Costello found it absurd that Winterbourne was going alone with her after knowing her less than a day. “She is the sort of young lady who expects a man-sooner or later-to carry her off” (1504). Mrs. Costello did not think it was very proper for the two of them to be alone together at night.

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Although Winterbourne is influenced by Daisy, he is subject to the persuasion of his aunt, Mrs. Costello. Winterbourne finds her charming but impossible to assess her readiness to go on expeditions with him, un-chaperoned, delights but disconcerts him, though he realizes that, living so long abroad, he had become dishabituated to the American tone (Collins). When Winterbourne asks Mrs. Costello in Vevey if she has seen Mrs. Miller, Daisy, and Randolph, she declares, “Oh, yes, I have observed them. Seen them-heard them-and kept out of their way” (1508). He gathered from the tone of her voice that Daisy Miller was not of a high social class “They are very common. They are the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by not-not accepting” (150). After all of Winterbourne’s pleading, Mrs. Costello refused to meet Daisy “I would if I could, but I can’t” (150). Daisy Miller uses words and phrases that the European society thinks of as vulgar (Vann 0). “…Because you think I go round too much with him” (158). The eternal use of phrases such as “I shouldn’t think you’d want to” and “going round”, sound very odd coming from a young lady’s lips.

Daisy Miller aroused criticism when it first appeared because some people viewed it as a libel on American manners. Many readers felt that James had portrayed a charming girlish innocence, even if Daisy did live outside social standards and her life came to a tragic end. Daisy Miller one of James most popular writings.

Works Cited

1. Baym, Franklin, Gottesman, Holland, Kalstone, Klinkowitz, Krupat, Murphy, Parker, Pritchard, Wallace. “Resistance to Civil Government.” The Norton Anthology of American Literature. New York W.W. Norton & Company, 1.

. Collins, Phillip. “Daisy Miller Overview” in Reference Guide to Short Fiction. 1st ed., editied by Noelle Watson, St. James Press. 14.

. Hayes, Kevin J. The Contemporary Reviews. Cambridge University Press. 16.

4. Vann, Don. Critics on Henry James. University of Miami Press. 17.

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