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.