Vin's Reviews > Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller by Henry James
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Apr 12, 11

Read on April 12, 2011

A Most Common Flower
Henry James writes of the social mores of the expatriate American community living abroad in Europe in the late nineteenth century. His uses "Daisy Miller: A Study" to examine those social mores by giving the character Daisy Miller a freedom of expression and self not often seen amongst women in society of the day in Europe. He gives the reader a glimpse of how women were expected to behave. Daisy complains, “the young ladies of this country have a dreadfully poky time of it,” and Winterbourne lets Daisy know that, “flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn’t exist here” (251). In America I'm sure Daisy would have by some degree been view in almost the same way for her immodesty and lack of self censorship. Daisy's family fortune is that of new money which can explain her unsophisticated airs. Daisy Miller lives her life with capricious abandon regardless of how it affects others and is viewed by others. I think James does a great job of using Daisy as a study. I'm still uncertain how I feel about Daisy. Is she just a wealthy young woman in the prime of her life with independences and a zest for life, wanting to experience all she can in beautiful Europe or is she just an annoying self centered twit that deserves what she got?
When Daisy and Winterbourne meet he is intrigued by her innocents. Was the innocent show for Winterbourne? She speaks of a good teacher in Boston, Mrs. Sander and says, “perhaps you know her” and then she mentions an English lady they met in the cars, Mrs. Featherstone and says, “perhaps you know her” (225). Does Daisy really think that he might know both of these random people? “She told him she was from New York State,” and then proceeds to say, “if you know where that is” (224). Does she think this fellow American doesn’t know of New York State.
Understanding Daisy's erratic behavior is like trying to predict the wind and is difficult for both Winterbourne and Giovanelli to predict. She flirts with Winterbourne and then rebukes him. She flirts with Giovanelli but really has no further intention for him. Winterbourne is perplex in understanding if it is innocent naivety or experienced calculation that Daisy flitters about with. I think Winterbourne is attracted to the uniqueness of Daisy's manner. Obviously she is like no other woman he has met. I have to question if his interest would follow through to a serious relationship and marriage. There is another woman in Winterbourne’s life only alluded to in this story; the older Woman in Geneva. I'm not sure if when it came down to getting serious with Daisy that he would be ready for the change in status. Giovanelli on the other hand, seems to me, ready to do what he would have to get his hands on new American money. It appears that he is not as interested in Daisy as with the easy money she may bring. He has no regard to her reputation or health and has her out late at night, the worse time for Roman fever. He says, “for myself, I am not afraid” (258).
The ending of this sorry is sad. For her expression of freedom and disregard of social mores she puts herself in jeopardy by being out late at night with the threat of Roman fever. Here her innocents and ignorance shows. It is more important for her “to see the Colosseum by Moonlight” than to consider the threat of Roman fever (258). Daisy lives her live to the fullest. She never held herself back and has Winterbourne reevaluating his own views even after her death.
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