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Daisy Miller

Henry James

Chapter 2

Chapter 1

Chapter 3

Summary

Winterbourne has promised to introduce Daisy to his aunt, Mrs. Costello, but Mrs. Costello has noticed the Millers at the hotel and disapproves of them, summing them up as “common.” Winterbourne suggests that the Millers are merely “uncultivated.”

As proof of his own favorable opinion of Daisy, Winterbourne volunteers that he plans to take Daisy to the Chateau de Chillon. This information only confirms Mrs. Costello’s opinion of Daisy as “a dreadful girl.” She warns Winterbourne against meddling with girls like Daisy and tells him he has been away from America too long and will make a big mistake if he is not careful. Later that evening, when Winterbourne runs into Daisy again in the hotel garden, she tells him that she has learned all about his aunt from the hotel chambermaid and wants to be introduced to her. Embarrassed, Winterbourne explains that his aunt’s health will make an introduction impossible. Daisy doesn’t immediately understand the snub. When she does, she merely laughs and remarks, “She doesn’t want to know me!” However, Winterbourne thinks her voice trembles a little.

Two days later, Winterbourne takes Daisy to Chillon. He has never done anything remotely like this before, and he is tremendously excited. On the boat over he is a little relieved that she doesn’t talk too loudly or laugh too much, as he feared she might. He wonders if she is less “common” than he had initially supposed, or if he is simply getting used to her vulgarity.

At the castle, Daisy is lively and animated, responding with mock horror to all the gothic attractions of the place. History and tradition do not really interest her, however, and she spends most of the outing talking about herself and asking Winterbourne personal questions.

When Winterbourne mentions that he will be returning to Geneva in a day or two, Daisy’s mood suddenly changes. She flies into a mock rage, calling him “horrid” and teasing him relentlessly until she has elicited a promise that he will come to see her in Rome the following winter. She is silent on the way home.

Analysis

The reclusive and uncompromising Mrs. Costello represents the snobbish voice of high society, and the fact that Winterbourne takes her opinions to heart casts him in an unflattering light. Mrs. Costello is a shallow, self-important woman whose own children seem to have as little to do with her as possible, though Winterbourne seems quite willing to spend much of his time with her. He takes seriously her assessment of Daisy and her family and defends Daisy only feebly, characterizing her as “completely uncultivated” but “wonderfully pretty.” He tries to prove what a “nice” girl he thinks Daisy is by telling Mrs. Costello he plans to take her to the castle at Chillon, but Mrs. Costello finds the fact that Daisy agreed to the trip so soon after meeting him very troubling. She raises the question of whether Daisy is actually as nice as Winterbourne thinks she is. At the heart of Mrs. Costello’s suspicion is the extremely European idea that Daisy might be an adventuress—a sort of social hustler whose whole object is to trick Winterbourne into compromising her and therefore obligating him to marry her. Such women actually existed, and indeed, Winterbourne has encountered them in Europe before. However, Winterbourne suspects Daisy of this maneuver almost too easily, which calls his judgment into question.

Mrs. Costello objects to the Millers and mocks their pretensions for two reasons: first, since Mr. Miller made his money rather than inheriting it, the Millers represent “new money,” and second, they are vulgar. The Millers are vulgar, especially Daisy. She tells Winterbourne about having grilled the hotel chambermaid about his aunt, which is a vulgar thing to do, let alone to admit to Winterbourne. Daisy’s speech habits are a clue that James intends us to regard her critically. She talks endlessly and monotonously about herself, with frequent recourse to expressions such as the phrase “ever so” that undereducated Americans thought were “refined.” Daisy seems to regard every thought that runs through her mind worth expressing, which is an extraordinary kind of egotism. Daisy is also silly and vapid, and even the atmosphere of the castle at Chillon, with its historic and literary associations, fails to distract Daisy from the business of flirting. Her focus remains trained on the trivial and personal, her own and Winterbourne’s “tastes, habits, and intentions.” Daisy’s almost infantile approach to conversation seems to be a symptom of her larger inability to adapt to her surroundings.

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Discussion question

by Susantizp, January 08, 2014

Daisy and Winterbourne. How do these names symbolically represent these characters? In what ways are the names appropriate? Can you suggest alternate names for both characters that would also be evocative of their nature? Explain.

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16 out of 16 people found this helpful

Daisy Miller-Stereotypes "American girl"

by sparklshine, February 02, 2014

How is Daisy Miller represented of the stereotype of he "American girl"?
And why is she so worried about her purity?

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1 out of 2 people found this helpful

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