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Daisy Miller

Henry James

Chapter 3

Chapter 2

Chapter 4, first half

Summary

The following winter, Mrs. Costello writes to Winterbourne asking him to come and visit her in Rome and to bring her a copy of a novel called Paule Méré. The Millers are also in Rome, and Mrs. Costello reports that Daisy’s behavior has excited much gossip among the Americans there. Daisy socializes with known fortune hunters and appears unchaperoned at parties with an unknown Italian, “a gentleman with a good deal of manner and a wonderful mustache.”

His first day in Rome, Winterbourne encounters the Millers at the house of Mrs. Walker, a wealthy, well-connected woman he knows from Geneva. Daisy reproaches Winterbourne for having called on Mrs. Walker before calling on her. She also asks Mrs. Walker’s permission to bring one of her gentleman friends, “the beautiful Giovanelli,” to a big party Mrs. Walker is giving later that week, despite the fact that no one in Mrs. Walker’s circle is acquainted with him. Reluctantly, Mrs. Walker grants her permission.

Daisy announces that she is leaving to meet Mr. Giovanelli at the Pincio Gardens, a favorite spot for strolling and slow carriage rides, for seeing and being seen. Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Miller advise against this, Mrs. Walker because it is not the custom in Rome for young ladies to walk alone in broad daylight with gentlemen, and Mrs. Miller because she fears for Daisy’s health. Evening is when people are thought most vulnerable to “Roman fever,” or malaria. Daisy refuses to be dissuaded but suggests that Winterbourne accompany her, and he agrees.

When they arrive at the Pincio, Winterbourne is shocked by his first sight of Mr. Giovanelli, who seems to him at best a clever imitation of a gentleman. He can’t understand how Daisy can flaunt her relationship with such an undistinguished man, one who appears to be no more than a musician or a third-rate artist, in the busiest section of Rome. Winterbourne finds Daisy “an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.”

A horse-drawn carriage pulls up. Inside is Mrs. Walker, who has come after them, fearing for Daisy’s reputation. She tries to persuade Daisy to get into the carriage and leave with her and Winterbourne. Daisy refuses, telling Mrs. Walker, “If this is improper [. . .] then I am all improper, and you must give me up.” Daisy resumes her walk with Giovanelli, leaving Mrs. Walker stunned and hurt.

As Winterbourne descends from Mrs. Walker’s carriage, he catches sight of Daisy and Giovanelli, sitting on a bench overlooking the Villa Borghese. While he watches, Giovanelli takes Daisy’s parasol from her hands and opens it, leaning it against her shoulder so that it shields them from view.

Analysis

Chapter 3 begins with a literary joke. In a letter to Winterbourne asking him to come and visit her in Rome, Mrs. Costello passes on some gossip about Daisy and, in the same paragraph, asks Winterbourne to bring her a copy of Victor Cherbuliez’s Paule Méré, a novel that bears a striking resemblance to Daisy Miller in several ways. Like James’s novel, Paule Méré takes its title from the name of its heroine and concerns a spirited, independent-minded young woman whose unchaperoned excursions with a man excite the censure of European society and make her an object of scandal. Even the settings of the two novels are similar: both open at a Swiss hotel and end in Italy. Paule Méré was considered a mildly scandalous book when it first appeared in Geneva in 1865, so it is ironic that the proper Mrs. Costello should think it “pretty.” James had reviewed the novel when it first appeared, so there is no question of coincidence in his choice of this particular work. By having Mrs. Costello request a novel with a plot that so closely mirrors the plot of the novel in which she herself is a character, James emphasizes a facet of the cultivated American expatriates’ relationship with art: Mrs. Costello may admire literature, but she does not understand it.

Whereas the first half of Daisy Miller is set entirely in Switzerland, the second half takes place in Rome, and here we meet Mr. Giovanelli (the name means “young man” in Italian), who will eventually play a role in Daisy’s demise. Giovanelli, an impoverished Italian of no particular social distinction, is a slap in the face to the American colonists in Rome. Mrs. Walker, who sees herself as a gatekeeper to the closed society of expatriate Americans, is stunned when Daisy asks to be allowed to bring him to the party and appalled when Daisy goes walking with him alone in the Pincio Gardens—a compromising situation from which she tries to rescue Daisy. Daisy’s free-spiritedness had been only mildly alarming and annoying in the past, but it takes on a more dangerous dimension once she takes up with Giovanelli.

We never get a full picture of Giovanelli, mainly because we see him only through Winterbourne’s eyes, and Winterbourne does not offer the most reliable point of view. We don’t really know what he wants from Daisy, especially since he must be aware that he is helping her to hurt her own reputation. Winterbourne doesn’t know enough to fully denounce Giovanelli, but this lack of information serves only to make Winterbourne suspicious. One possibility that never seems to occur to Winterbourne is that Giovanelli acts as a confidant to Daisy, in much the same way that Mrs. Costello fulfills that function for Winterbourne. At the Pincio Gardens, where he first meets Giovanelli, Winterbourne spends a good deal of time trying to figure Giovanelli out. Winterbourne notes that the little Italian does not behave like a jealous lover, and he seems to overlook any other possibility for what his relationship with Daisy might entail.

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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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10 out of 10 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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