Read our detailed study guide on the novelby Henry James. Our study guide covers, themes, characters, and literary analysis.
The novella opens in an appealing resort town of Vevey, Switzerland. The young American man Winterbourne is on his visit to his aunt and meets Daisy Miller and her brother Randolph. Daisy Miller is an American girl. When Winterbourne sees her, he is both confused and attracted by her. Daisy is very pretty, and Winterbourne sees him as pleasingly spontaneous yet little unrefined.
Winterbourne has never met or heard of any woman who is well-brought yet carries herself in this way. Daisy is openly chatting about herself and her family. She also brags about her gentlemen friends.
After seeing Daisy, he wonders that he has been living abroad for such a long time that he really forgets how Americans speak or express themselves. He also thinks if all girls from New York are like Daisy or Daisy is trying to seduce him into an act of indecency that will compel him to marry her. However, he perceives her too unsophisticated to have strategies on him. He concludes that Daisy is a harmless American flirt. He feels relieved to have hit to categorize her as harmless American flirt.
Long before they proceed further, Daisy expresses her wish to visit the famous Chillon Castle, the local tourist attraction. The Chillon Castle is located across Lake Geneva. Winterbourne sees himself in a pleasant yet shocking position as he is expected to take Daisy there alone and unattended.
When Eugenio, the Millers courier, arrives to call Daisy and Randolph for lunch, Winterbourne gets more shocked. Daisy addresses Eugenio as if she is equal in her status and tells her about her plan to visit Chillon with Winterbourne.
Eugenio responds in an ironic tone of disapproval. Winterbourne finds the tone as disrespectful. Eugenio also gives Winterbourne a look that suggests that Daisy is used to picking random men. Winterbourne also makes a promise to introduce Daisy to his aunt as a guarantee of his respectable intentions that appears to benefit the courier more than a daisy. Daisy seems like she has no idea of what is going around.Chapter 2
Mrs. Costello has already observed the Millers at the hotel and disapproves of them. She sums them as common. However, Winterbourne proposes that the Millers family is simply uncultivated.
To prove his opinion about Daisy, he decides to take her to Chateau de Chillon. However, this only confirms the dreadful opinion of Mr. Costello that she is a terrible girl. Mrs. Costello warns Winterbourne to make a connection with the girls like Daisy Miller. She also tells him that he has not been living in America for such a long time, and if he is not careful, he will commit a big mistake.
Winterbourne runs into Daisy again in the hotel garden later that evening. She says that she has gathered information about his aunt from the chambermaid of the hotel, and now she wants to meet her. Winterbourne feels embarrassed and tells her that his aunt is not feeling well, and the introduction is not possible.
At that instant, she does not understand Winterbournes rebuke. However, when she understands, she responds that if she really does not want to know her. Winterbourne contemplates that her voice shivers a little.
Winterbourne takes Daisy to Chillon after two days. He is exceedingly excited as he has not done anything like that before at all. He feels relieved on the boat when Daisy does not talk too much and too loudly. He also thinks that if she is less than common that he thought of her earlier or he is getting used to her behavior/vulgarity.
Daisy becomes animated and lively when they are at the castle. She is responding with a kind of mock horror to all the gothic things in the castle. She does not show her interest in history and tradition. However, she utilizes all of her time talking about her personal life and asking personal questions from Winterbourne.
Daisys mood alters suddenly when Winterbourne informs her that he will be going back to Geneva in a day or two. She becomes angry and calls him horrid. She relentlessly teases him until he promises to come to see her in the following year in Rome. On the way back, Daisy remains silent for most of the time.Chapter 3
Chapter three opens after one year when Mrs. Costello writes a letter to Winterbourne. She has asked him to visit her in Rome and also bring her a novelPaule Mere. The Millers family is still in Rome. Mrs. Costello has informed Winterbourne that Daisys strange behavior has led to many gossips among the American expatriates.
She also tells him that Daisy is seen as socializing with the known fortune hunted and is unattended at the parties with an unfamiliar Italian gentleman who has a wonderful mustache and a good deal of manner.
When he reaches Rome, he meets Millers on the first day at the house of Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker is a well-connected and wealthy woman that he knows from Geneva. Daisy criticizes Winterbourne for calling Mrs. Walker before he calls her. Daisy seeks permission from Mrs. Walker to bring her handsome and beautiful friend Giovanelli to the party that Mrs. Walker will be throwing next week. No one in the acquaintances of Mrs. Walker knows that person. Mrs. Walker reluctantly gives her permission.
Daisy informs them that she is going to meet Mr. Giovanelli for seeing and being seen at the Pincio Garden. Mrs. Miller and Mrs. Walker advise her not to go. Mrs. Walter tells her that in Rome, it is not custom for young ladies to walk alone in daylight with gentlemen while Mrs. Miller fears for the health of Daisy.
In the evening time, people are most vulnerable to Roman Fever. Daisy does not want to be discouraged and also suggests that Winterbourne will accompany her. Winterbourne agrees to do so.
When they reach Pincio, Winterbourne is shocked to see Mr. Giovanelli. He appears to be the clever imitation of gentlemen. He is unable to understand why Daisy brags about her relationship with such an unfamiliar man. He only appears to be a third-rate artist or a musician. To Winterbourne, Daisy appears to be an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.
A carriage pulls up near them, Mrs. Walker is sitting inside. She fears the reputation of Daisy and comes after them. She tries to convince Daisy to get into the carriage and leave the place with her and Winterbourne. She refuses to go with her saying that if it is improper to that, she is all improper, and she must give up on her. Daisy continues with her walk with Giovanelli. Mrs. Walker is left behind, stunned and hurt.
While descending from the carriage of Mrs. Walker, she sees Daisy and Giovanelli sitting on a bench looking at the Villa Borghese. In the meantime, Giovanelli takes Daisys parasol and opens it. He leans it against her shoulder so that she does not think about it.Chapter 4
At Mrs. Walkers Party, Winterbourne tries to make Daisy see the logic behind her behavior. He tries to explain that it is purely American behavior to flirt. However, Italians never understand and accept any young unmarried woman to be flirting. Even though she is flirting with Giovanelli, he is not flirting. Daisy confesses that she is a frightful and fearful flirt.
When if Giovanelli and Daisy were actually in love with each other, that would be another matter. Daisy blushes and says that he is speaking disagreeable things to her. She spends the rest of the evening with Giovanelli in another room.
Mrs. Walker turns her back when the Millers take their leave at the end of the party. Winterbourne sees Daisy genuinely shocked and hurt for the first time. He then tells Mrs. Walker that her gesture towards Daisy was very cruel. However, Mrs. Walker is unapologetic and asserts that Daisy will never come to her place.
Winterbourne always finds Daisy with Giovanelli whenever he calls on her. Roman society is speaking badly about her. After the party of Mrs. Walker, the colonists of America cease their invitation to her.
While walking through St. Peters with Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne hints at Daisy, who is walking with Giovanelli. Winterbourne has learned that Giovanelli is actually a lawyer. Mrs. Costello says in a humoristic manner that the courier could have introduced Daisy to him and would be taking his commission when they wed.
Winterbourne asserts that he does not think that Daisy will be thinking of marrying Giovanelli. Mrs. Costello replies: You may be sure she thinks of nothing. She goes on from day to day, from hour to hour as they did in the Golden Age.She also says that she cannot imagine anything more vulgar than this.
That day, Winterbourne tastes the resentment and indignation that is excited by Daisys behavior. Many American colonists come to Mrs. Costello while walking to St. Peters. They talk to her about Daisy and tell her that she is going too far. Winterbourne can hardly hear the things the colonists talk about her and feels pity for her.
On some other occasion, a friend of Winterbourne tells him that he runs into Giovanelli and Daisy isolated in a small room at the Doria Palace. Over there, the famous portrait of Pope Innocent X by Velasques is hanging.
Winterbourne goes to see Mrs. Miller. He tries to make Mrs. Miller see the logic and indignation that Daisys behavior is causing. Mrs. Miller regards that she thinks Giovanelli and Daisy are engaged, even though Daisy refuses to accept this. Winterbourne suggests Mrs. Miller be her guard.
Winterbourne is continuously obsessed with the character of Daisy. She wonders if her disobedience is because of acknowledgment that she is innocent or she truly belongs to the class of women who does not really care about their reputation. He also thinks over whether her lack of regard is something personal or national. He gets angry and frustrated when he does not understand the motives of Daisy.
In the spring, Winterbourne runs into Giovanelli and Daisy at the Palace of the Caesars. Daisy accuses Winterbourne that he is judging her relationship with Giovanelli when Giovanelli leaves them alone for a moment. Winterbourne tells her that everyone is judging her. Daisy asks why he does not defend her.
Winterbourne responds, saying that he does and also informs her about his mothers assumption, who thinks that she and Giovanelli are engaged. She says that they are engaged. And then she says that she is not and suggests that Winterbourne doubts her.
While going back home after a dinner party, Winterbourne decides to go to the Coliseum and look at it by moonlight. He is shocked to see Giovanelli and Daisy there. Both of them are standing together at the base of the great cross. On the spot, Winterbourne decides that Daisy belongs to the category of the woman whose reputation is not worried about. He is both relieved and angry for spending too much time in an attempt to figure out what he should think about Daisy.
However, Winterbourne cannot think of leaving Coliseum without warning Daisy about the upcoming danger of her behavior. Moreover, the ancient arena is famous for malaria. He goes and asks them how long they have been sitting in that place. Daily tells him that All evening.
Winterbourne proposes that they must leave instantly. He also asks Daisy to take some pills. Daisy tells him that Eugenio will give her those pills. When Giovanelli leaves to get a carriage, Daisy asks Winterbourne if he believed her when she said she is engaged. Winterbourne responds, saying it relay does not matter what he believed or thought. When Daisy asks him what he believes now, he tells her that it does not matter and makes no difference if she is engaged or not.
Within a few days, Winterbourne learns that Daisy is severely ill. Mrs. Miller nurses her devotedly and tirelessly. She also tells Winterbourne that Giovanelli has not visited him once since Daisy is ill. She also gives him the message from Daisy that she gave in one of her lucid moments. In the note, Daisy states that she was never engaged to Giovanelli and also wonders if Winterbourne remembers the time when they visited the castle in Switzerland.
Daisy dies after a week. She is buried in the Protestant Cemetery in Rome. During the funeral, Giovanelli tells Winterbourne that among all the ladies he saw, Daisy was the most beautiful and the most amiable lady. He also tells him that she was the most innocent. Winterbourne inquires why he had taken her to the Coliseum that night. Giovanelli replies that if she was alive, she would never ever marry him.If she had lived, I should have got nothing.
When the funeral ends, Winterbourne also leaves Rome. However, he is always occupied with the thought of Daisy and her strange behavior. When he visits his aunt the next summer, he tells his aunt that he did a great injustice to Daisy. He informs her about the letter which she sends him before her death. At that time, he did not understand the import of it. However, he does understand it now. Daisy only cares about what Winterbourne thinks about her.
Mrs. Costello thinks that Daisy was trying to convey that she would have returned the affection of Winterbourne. Winterbourne also tells his aunt about her prediction that he will make a great mistake. He says that she was right. He also adds that he had lived too much in foreign parts and goes back to Geneva and starts living his former life.Background of the Novel
Daisy Miller was published in 1878 by Henry James. The novella accounts for the tale of Daisy Miller, who is courted by Winterbourne. Winterbourne is a sophisticated countryman of Daisy Miller. Winterbournes pursuit is hindered by his own flirtatiousness. Other expatriates frowned upon his flirtatiousness when they met in Italy and Switzerland.Historical Context
In the United States, the last three decades of the nineteenth century are known as the Gilded Age. The term Gilded Age was coined by Mark Twain while referring to the thin polish of wealth and luxury that masks the reality of desperation and corruption.
It was the time of the rapid increase in industrialization in the country. There was the expansion of corporations, railroads, and American imperial ventures. Many thinkers and writers of time start criticizing the things they saw as cultures of excess in which they left out the poor and ethnic minorities of such growth. The last three decades of the nineteenth century is also known for its suffragette movements that struggle for womens rights.
The protagonist of the novella, Daisy Miller, is from the family that benefited from the Gilded Age production. Daisy Millers father is a businessman in New York. They often wear their wealth too openly without showing any pleasure.
In the period, a great number of young Americans, including American women, were part of the Grand Tour in America. The Grand Tour was a chance for them to spend some time abroad and get to know about the culture of the Old World.Literary Context
Henry James refers to many of the stories of Americans that are in Europe in his literary works. The main works in which he refers to Americans abroad areThe Portrait of a Lady,The Ambassadors,andThe Wings and of the Dove. He tries to make a contrast between the European age and convention and American innocence and freedom.
In Daisy Miller, Henry James particularly focuses on the group of a young American lady who encounters an unknown culture and society in Europe. It is assumed that Mill Temple, the cousin of James, is the model and inspiration for Daisy Miller. However, Henry James elaborated on his stud of Daisy and made it deeper. Same is the case in the novel, A Portrait of a Lady. The protagonist of A Portrait of a Lady, Isabel Archer, bears similarities with Daisy Miller.
Just like Henry James, Edith Wharton also talks about the psychological and cultural portraits of women, particularly those women who have spent time aboard or are foreign. Her novels dealing with these aspects are The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth. At the beginning of the twentieth century, James and Wharton started corresponding.
French novelists like Honore de Balzac and Gustave Flaubert are also great influencers of Henry James. Henry James works on stylistic innovation and establishes a psychological realism in which readers observe the action in the novella through the consciousness of one character. For example, Winterbourne in the novellaDaisy Miller.
This tool of narration is then radically evolved by Virginia Woolf and James Joyce through Stream of consciousness and through the approach of free indirect discourse.Characters AnalysisDaisy Miller
Daisy Miller is a rich American girl. She is very pretty and traveling to Europe with her brother and mother. Even though Daisy wants to witness the high society of Europe, she refuses to conform to the notion of propriety of the old world that is set by the community of expatriates in Europe. Daisy becomes involved with a man Giovanelli in Rome, and she dies of malaria as she was out with him at night. She is the other possible protagonist of the novel.
Daisy is a mixture of different traits. She is independent, spirited, and well-meaning. However, at the same time, she is ignorant, shallow, and provincial. She proposes her opinion that Europe is flawlessly sweet. She talks about the tiresome details of the habits and idiosyncrasies of her family with shameless monotony. Moreover, she also thinks that Winterbourne may also know a woman who lives in Europe because he is from Europe. She also wonders if Winterbourne had ever heard of New York.
Daisy is an annoying flirt. She has no gifts of conversation or social grace, such as wit, charm, and skill of wordplay. She is only interested in manipulating men and wants her to be the center of attraction.
Throughout the novel, Winterbourne is preoccupied with the question of whether Daisy is a nice girl, as the behavior of Daisy never reveals that she is really a nice girl. Winterbourne acknowledges the vulgarity of Daisy; however, he is still confused as to whether she is really innocent.
The readers never know the truth. Daisy often appears to be not innocent as Winterbourne has caught her with Mr. Giovanelli at night. However, it is a matter of social conventions if such actions are or are not appropriate. At the end of the novel, what we find out is that what Winterbourne thinks of Daisy is true.Winterbourne
He is a young American who lived in Geneva. He is the center of the narratives consciousness and also the first possible protagonist of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, he is captivated by Daisys independence and frivolity, but he ultimately loses interest as well as respect for her. However, when Daisy dies, he feels regret for his harsh judgment and also thinks that if he has made a mistake in breaking up with her.
Winterbourne has spent most of his life in Europe; he is a Europeanized expatriate like Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello. He is also linked with the New England Puritanism as he has made his home in Geneva city, which is the dark city on the other side of the lake. James painfully identifies this city as a wellspring of Calvinism.
It is from the perspective of Winterbourne that the readers see and perceive the events of the novel. At the beginning of the novel, Winterbourne is shown as someone who observes and analyzes the feminine beauty out of his addiction and habit. However, he is not a very deep and discriminating thinker.
Winterbourne spends time in the company of his aunt not because he likes her company or has affection towards her but because he is made to learn that one must always be attentive to ones aunt.Whatever Mrs. Costello tells him, he appears to hold that in high regard, particularly about the Millers.
Even though throughout the novel, he defends Daisy, he still cannot define her clearly in moral terms. Throughout the novel, he is always preoccupied with analyzing the character of Daisy Miller. He wants himself to be able to categorize her and define her and pin her down to the familiar class of woman that he is clearly able to understand.
For Winterbourne, Daisy is a novelty, something unique that he is not able to comprehend properly. He is charmed by Daisys openness and frankness. However, he is also curious about Daisys lack of concern for social niceties and rules of propriety that has been established by the European civilization in centuries and then adopted by the expatriates in Rome. He makes good friends with Daisy to save her; however, he eventually concludes that she is beyond redemption.Randolph Miller
He is the younger brother of Daisy. He is an ill-mannered, loud, and uncontainable little boy of almost nine or ten years old.Mrs. Miller
She is the ineffectual, weak, and vague mother of Daisy and Randolph. She appears to be too obsessed with her health and completely incapable of governing the behavior of Daisy and Randolph. She is a clueless and silly woman. However, Daisy suffers from malaria. She is evidently the most efficient and judicious nurse.Mrs. Costello
She is the aunt of Winterbourne. She is a self-important and shallow woman who appears to be fond of Winterbourne. She reflects the arrogant high society. She also has a role in confidante a character that is frequently part of Henry Jamess novels.Eugenio
He is the arrogant guide or interpreter of Millers. In the novel, she is often called the courier. Eugenio appears to have a much better sense of modesty and judgment than Mrs. Miller and Daisy Miller. He often treats them with the veiled dislike.Mrs. Walker
She is a well-connected and wealthy American widow who lives in Rome. She also knows Winterbourne and befriended Daisy. She shares the common values of the American expatriate community in Rome. She also cares about what really happened to Daisy and also wants to save her.Mr. Giovanelli
Mr. Giovanelli is an Italian of unknown origin and background. The American expatriate community misinterprets his friendship with Daisy. His friendship directly or indirectly leads to Daisys exclusion and death.Themes in Daisy MillerEuropean and American Character
Henry James is an American expatriate, and many of his novels are fascinated with the Old World and New World. The Old World and the New World are not necessarily taken as places, but how these places shape and affect the development of a particular character.
The American and European continents symbolize the European age, subtlety, and complexity versus the American innocence, youth, and spontaneity. The difference can be seen and challenged by the individual characters themselves in the novel.
By birth, both Daisy Miller and Winterbourne are American. However, both are taking an opposite journey of the Explores of Europeans when they took the voyage of America centuries earlier. However, they run into a society with strict rules for propriety, social behavior, and attitudes instead of a new world.
Even though the little brother of Daisy Randolph is portrayed as a spoiled, wild and American child, he is the only character who is allowed to sing the praises of America and to compare the two countries only because of his age.
The older visitors or tourists appear to understand European social conduct. The character of Daisy Miller appears to epitomize the mentality of American. She is always eager to get hold of new opportunities. She also experiences new things regardless of what others will think of her. Winterbourne says that Daisy is the most chatting girl that he has met in many years. He views that Europeans are more reserved than Americans.
Many American colonists distance themselves from Daisy because they think that Europeans will look down upon them and consider them as Vulgar Americans who flock to their cities. By birth, Winterbourne is also American, but he has lived many years of his life in Geneva and assimilated its culture. However, he likes Daisy. He is the only character in the novella who appears to be feeling strung between the two different ways of life and cultures, even after aligning himself to the lifestyle of Europe.
In the novel, The death of Daisy functions as a threat as it shows the danger of the naivet and total frankness of Americans. However, the judgmental attitudes of European and their unwillingness to see the charm in the innocence of Americans are bitterly criticized by Henry James.Living vs. Observing
At the beginning of the novel, the readers presume that the novella would be about the romance between Daisy and Winterbourne. However, the expectation is thwarted when Winterbourne goes back to Rome, and Daisy involves herself with Mr. Giovanelli, an Italian gentleman.
However, the relationship of Winterbourne with Daisy is based more on observation than interaction. This manner of constant observation is associated with the inability of Winterbourne to embrace his circumstances and live at fullest.
Even though the narrator of the novella appears to be an objective observer, he or she cleaves to the perspective of Winterbourne so as the readers see Daisy through his eyes. Certainly, the narrator, most of the time, observes that Winterbourne is looking at Daisy when she is interested in someone else.
The gaze of Winterbourne appears to be that of a regular admirer. However, he does not feel any fascination when she makes social mistakes. He observes her and does not really intervene in her matters in more than a half-hearted way.
Winterbourne is always curious to know what Daisy will do next. He perceives her as a theatrical spectacle that is unfolding before his eyes. This is most evident when Winterbourne sees Daisy with Giovanelli at the Coliseum late at night. Regardless of the fact that Daisys reputation is at danger and she may contact malaria, which she does, and could possibly die because of it. Winterbourne, at that time, appears to be at ease because he has finally categorized her.
The constant observation of Winterbourne of Daisy is his attempt to understand her. He also wants permission to win her as Daisy seems to be giving her mixed signals regarding her interest in him. However, Winterbourne pays himself for his search for a greater understanding of Daisy. Winterbourne loses his motivations of any kind and constantly observes Daisy and watches her unfold before him.
Winterbourne is tied to a relationship that remains ambiguous to him and moves through the novella in a kind of rested/paused state. The novella ends with the same note with which it begins, and Winterbourne goes back to the pursuit of the Old World. The novels appear to belong to parentheses from his point of view that could not have much effect on his later behavior and action. Winterbourne is not able to make a choice, even the wrong ones like Daisy.Judgment and Know-ability
The main character of the novella Daisy Miller is a riddle to the possible protagonist, Winterbourne, and to the readers as well. Despite the fact that Winterbourne is watching all the time and watching, and moreover, they both have the same national categories that could explain and identify the actions of Daisy, Winterbourne is unable to understand and figure out her character.
Throughout the novel, the character of Daisy is very much ambiguous. It is this ambiguity in her character that makes her fascinating to the readers. It also suggests the ambivalence of Henry James regarding one should or should not parcel out the characters judgment.
Winterbourne is always preoccupied with the thought of why Daisy acts like the way she does and in what category he should categorize her. For instance, the regular and nonstop meetings with Giovanelli suggest that she is having an affair with him. However, she would also invite the intrusions of Winterbourne on her dates which makes Winterbourne think that what is at truly at palisade in their relationship,
Moreover, Daisy Miller herself appears to be unsure about the judgments of others. She, at times, claims that she does not care what others think about her while sometimes she is growing anxious and blushing about the rude response of people to her actions and strange behavior.
Other characters, such as Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker, know where to categorize Daisy. They condemn Daisy for her lack of social propriety and free spirit. They know about the character of Daisy and refuse to believe that there could be more in her than her improper behavior.
However, Winterbourne cannot make any final judgment about her or embrace any judgment with certainty. He is only sure about one thing, and that is Daisy is very pretty this judgment repeats many times in the novella. However, he is unable to decide whether she is an American flirt or an innocent youth.
Winterbourne also rebels against when society condemns Daisy, however, at the same time agrees with the condemnation. He starts questioning the social customs and traditions that he had taken for granted for a long time after meeting Daisy. However, he is not able to throw them off completely like Daisy.
The character of Daisy is never completely resolved in the novel. Apart from her national character, the part of Daisys character remains mysterious to both Winterbourne and to readers. Daisys character is a central mystery to the novel. Henry James portrayal of Daisy and other characters tries to make readers know and judge the characters. He also appears to make a gesture that one cannot know a person to a greater extent.Innocen