Daisy Miller

“Henry James was born at two Washington Place in New York City on April 15,1843. He was the second son to Henry James, Sr., an independently wealthy intellectual, and Mary Robertson James. From 1843 to 1845, James took his first trip to Europe. He lived in New York City with his family at 58 West 14th Street. James was educated privately by governess and tutors in New York and Albany. In 1855, he traveled to Europe with his family and attended schools in Switzerland and France.
In 1860, with the outbreak of the Civil War, The James family moved back to the United States and settled in Newport. James was unable to enlist in the Union army with his two younger brothers due to a back injury he received when putting out a fire. In 1863, James and his older brother William attended Harvard. James left his studies to pursue his writing career. William graduated from Harvard and became one of the most prominent American philosophers and psychologists of his time.

James began his professional writing career with book reviews for the North American Review. His first short story, “The Story of the Year,” appeared in Atlantic Monthly in 1865. In 1866, the James family moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts. James had his first novel, Watch and Ward serialized in Atlantic Monthly in 1871. In 1877, James wrote The American, while visiting Paris and Rome. In 1878, The Watch and Ward appeared in book form, and James wrote French Poets and Novelists (criticism), and The Europeans (novel). While visiting Paris and Italy in 1879, he wrote Daisy Miller (novella), An International Episode; the critical biography, Hawthorne; and The Madonna of the Future and Other Tales. The following year, he wrote the novel, Confidence, while traveling in Italy. In 1881, James wrote the novels, Washington Square and The Portrait of a Lady. He traveled back to the United States due to his mother’s weakening health. James’s mother died in February of 1882. His father died shortly after in December of the same year. He returned to the United States for a short period to settle family matters before leaving to establish permanent residence in England.

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In 1883, James published his first collected edition of novels and tales in fourteen volumes in The Siege of London (tales) and Portraits of Places (travel). In 1886, James published the novels The Bostonians and The Princess Casamassima. In the same year, he leased a flat in Kensington, England. In 1887, James traveled around Switzerland and Italy in the company of Constance Fenimore Woolson, a novelist, and grandniece to James Fenimore Cooper. In 1888, he published Partial Portraits (criticism), The Aspern Papers (tales), and The Reverbrator (novel). James published A London Life (tales) in 1889 and the following year published The Tragic Muse (novel). James wrote two unproduced plays called Theatricals. In 1898, James’s The Turn of the Screw was serialized in Collier’s Weekly January through April and was also published in book form.
Between the years of 1899 and 1910, James published The Awkward Age (1899 novel), The Soft Side (1900 tales), The Sacred Front (1901 supernatural novel), The Wings of the Dove (1902 novel), The Ambassadors (1903 novel), William Wetmore and his Friends (1903 biography), The Better Sort (1903 tales), The Golden Bowl (1904 novel), The English Hours (1905 travel), The American Scene (1907 travel), The High Bid (1908 drama), Views and Reviews (1908 criticism), Julia Bride (1909 novella), Italian hours (1909 travel), and The Finer Grain (1910 tales).

In 1904, James visited the United States for the first time since 1883. He suffered from a nervous disease in 1909. In 1911, James received an honorary degree from Harvard and returned to England. The following year, he earned one from Oxford University. In 1913, James wrote his autobiography entitled A Small Boy and Others. The following year, he wrote Notes on Novelists with Some Other Notes (criticism) and another autobiography entitled Notes of a Son and Brother.

Deeply disturbed by World War I, as with all wars, James did volunteer refugee and hospital work during the war. In 1915, James became a citizen of Great Britain. On December 2nd of the same year, James suffered from a stroke. After receiving the Order of Merit from King George V, the following year, James died in Chelsea on the 28th of February. His ashes are buried with his family’s in Cambridge Massachusetts. In 1917, an unfinished autobiography was published entitled, The Middle Years.” (Heller)
Daisy Miller is a story related by a young, American man named Winterborne, who lives mostly in Europe. Winterborne meets a lovely young lady named Daisy Miller at a Swiss resort in Vevey. He notices her naivete, having no reservations about talking to strangers. He befriends this young girl very quickly. He would love to introduce her to his aunt, but she thinks that Daisy is common, vulgar, and refuses to meet her. Daisy and her family decide to leave the resort and visit Italy. Several months passe until Daisy speaks to him again. She invited him to Italy. He finds Daisy with an Italian man named Giovanelli. Winterborne notices that Giovanelli is not what he considers a gentleman. After finding Giovanelli and Daisy at the Coliseum late one night, Winterborne thinks of Daisy as “a young lady whom a gentleman need no be at pains to respect”. Daisy, unfortunately dies of Roman fever a week later. In some messages Daisy sent to Winterborne from her deathbed, he realizes that she was still a very innocent girl and desired his respect. Winterborne realizes that he has indeed lived “too long in foreign parts.” He has been so influenced by conservative European social conventions that he was unable to appreciate Daisy’s free and natural spirit.

The theme of the novel focuses on the harm that is done when an individual is rejected by society for unconventional behavior. Non-conformists are type cast in a negative way and their individuality is devalued. James presents Daisy as the “free, spontaneous, independent, natural” (Fogel p.3) American girl who is stereotyped as “disreputable” (Fogel p.9) by the highly conventional Europeanized Americans she meets in Vevey and Rome. At the same time, James shows how Daisy’s “utter disregard for convention prevents her from successfully relating to others” (Fogel p.9) and leads to her death when she disregards warnings not to go the Coliseum at night.
James conveys the poetic dimension of Daisy Miller by using symbolism in the names of the characters in the novel. Daisy’s name suggests her innocence and freedom. “Etymologically, daisy means the day’s eye’ suggesting Daisy’s radiance, her fresh morning’ quality, and beautifully fitting into the further symbolism that flowerlike Daisy closes up and then dies after Winterborne cuts her.” (Fogel p.38) Thrice, Winterborne met Daisy in a garden, a place where flowers grow, once in Vevey and the second time in the Pincian Garden in Rome, and the third, and final time he saw her was at her grave, which was “beneath the cypresses and the thick spring flowers.” (James p.115) Daisy’s last name, Miller, suggests her family’s common origins. “Miller is derived from the trade of grinding grain.” (Fogel p.39) Though wealthy, her family is snubbed by other people of wealth because Daisy father most likely made his fortune through commerce.
Frederick Winterborne’s surname is also symbolically suggestive. “Winter suggests coldness and the death of vegetation. Winterbornes’s rigidity and his frosty treatment of Daisy in the Coliseum when he believes she has shown herself disreputable chill her, eliciting her exclamation, I don’t care whether I have Roman fever or not after which she promptly succumbs to the disease.'” (Fogel p.39) Though Daisy died of malaria, Winterborne’s frost is what truly killed the flower, Daisy. Had Winterborne pursued his interest in Daisy instead of rejecting her, the story would have turned out differently.
The settings of the story also conveyed symbolism. Daisy Miller began in Vevey, Switzerland, the same setting for Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Hlose, “and it may be that James deliberately introduces his heroine in this same setting because he wishes to remind us of Rousseau’s belief that innocence and contentment of natural’ man have been destroyed by the conventions of civilized’ society.” Crick (p. 119) The Castle of Chillon, which Daisy visits on an unchaperoned trip with Winterborne, was once used as a prison for religious non-conformists. Daisy being a non-conformist like the Protestants of the prison and the Christians of the Coliseum would meet scrutiny and finally death.

Daisy is the easiest to relate to in this story. She is ahead of her time. In this time and age, she would be considered a normal young woman. Walking with a man in public is no longer considered risque. Flirting is part of every young person’s life. I could feel Daisy’s pain. A broken heart can sometimes make one feel like dying.

I loved Daisy Miller. It is the best book I have ever read by Henry James. Though I did enjoy The Turn of the Screw, I found this novel easier to relate to because the heroine was a young lady who was about my age. It was also much better than The Bostonians, which I did not enjoy, because all of the characters acted like the Europeans in Daisy Miller.

The most memorable moment of this book was when Winterborne was sitting in the garden of the Swiss resort and was introduced to Daisy’s little brother. Though this moment was insignificant to the novel as a whole, I thought it was funny when the toothless little boy asked Winterborne for a cube of sugar.

I would recommend this book to anyone who would like to view society in a whole new light. Daisy Miller makes one realize how different America is to Europe even though its roots are set there.

Auchincloss, Louis. Reading Henry James. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press 1975.

Bellringer, Alan W. Modern Novelists: Henry James. New York: St. Martin’s Press 1988.
Long, Robert Emmet. Henry James: The Early Novels. Boston: Twayne Publishers 1983.

Sears, Sallie. The Negative Imagination. Ithaca, New York: Cornell University Press 1963.