Artboard Created with Sketch. Close Search Dialog
! Error Created with Sketch.

Daisy Miller

Henry James

Chapter 1

Summary Chapter 1

James had a particular gift for capturing the voice and spirit of childhood, and our first glimpse of young Randolph Miller, as he strolls up the path, poking his alpenstock into everything he sees, including benches, flowerbeds, and the skirts of passing ladies, is wonderfully realistic. Winterbourne’s first introduction to the Millers comes by way of Randolph, who accosts Winterbourne in the garden. Randolph is a significantly American breed of child. Unlike the little Polish boys the narrator has described, Randolph is allowed to roam wild. He has no compunction about approaching a complete stranger and starting a conversation. Clearly, he has never encountered the European view that children should be seen and not heard. Randolph is loud, ill mannered, overly assertive, and self-important. In fact, he very much resembles a particular type of well-to-do American tourist who boasts of his wealth, thinks everything made in America best, and cannot wait to go home.

If Randolph represents “the ugly American,” Daisy may represent the innocent, unworldly America. Like America, she is the beneficiary of a newly created wealth that she displays with more liberality than taste. She is frank, open, uncomplicated, and hopelessly provincial. She thinks the social whirlwind of Schenectady, New York, represents high society and that Europe is “perfectly sweet” but consists entirely of hotels. Daisy has no social graces, such as tact or an ability to pick up signals. She natters on thoughtlessly about whatever is on her mind, happy to regale a complete stranger with details of her family’s personal habits and idiosyncrasies. This self-imposition and self-absorption, both amusing and an affront, suggests qualities of America itself that both attract and repel Europeans.

Very little about Daisy is charming, yet Winterbourne is charmed—partly because her inane chatter represents a novelty and partly because she is inordinately pretty and Winterbourne considers himself a connoisseur of feminine beauty. His inability to read and understand Daisy makes him uneasy. Winterbourne is a man who likes being able to classify and categorize people, and he doesn’t know how to classify Daisy. He spends the rest of the novel trying to figure out where to place her in the scheme of what he knows and understands.