Someoneyouknow's Reviews > Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller by Henry James
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Jan 28, 2012

really liked it
Read 2 times

During the previous college term I’ve discovered some literary gems (a huge thanks to my Lit teacher!) and this novella is one of them. The true driving force of this story is the psychological ambiguity/ambivalence, so I’ll focus on the characters rather than the plot in my review.
At the beginning I found Winterbourne to be a rather interesting protagonist, the feelings he had for Daisy, his jealousy and failed attempts to understand her added spice and romance to story, made it even more enjoyable. Daisy’s brother was very amusing with his childish, vigorous and rogue-ish attitude towards grown-ups/life and Daisy’s mother is certainly not your typical Victorian conservative woman who guards her daughter’s good reputation and dreams about finding a wealthy match for her. Instead, she’s a physically frail woman and her weak health strongly affects her attitude towards children and other people : her illnesses make her emotionally exhausted, shy and somewhat self-centered and thus she isn’t strict with her children and lets them have their own way. It’s obvious that these characters are genuinely interesting, three-dimensional and make up some of the components that resulted in this marvelous story, but for me it was Daisy Miller who stole the show in this novella.
One of the roots of my fascination with Daisy stems from my utter adoration of Scarlett O’Hara from “Gone With the Wind” (I know, how wrong of me!) and certain similarities between the two. Since I’ll probably never get around to writing a “Gone With the Wind” review, I might as well compare the two of them here.
One of the reasons why both Scarlett and Daisy appeal to me so much is because they are both rebels, they reject social conventions of their time period and make a decision to do what they want to even if it scandalizes their society. They’re both feisty, stubborn and outrageous in their own way : Scarlett by running her own business in such an unthinkable time period and Daisy for carefree attitude towards men and class distinctions. I feel that S. & D. both have a strong modern feel, they belong more in the late 20th/21st century, judging by their lifestyles and opinions. But the fact that they lived in the 19th century makes their characters shine brightly and stand out.
Other things that Scarlett and Daisy have in common are that they’re both confident, at ease in the company of men and aware of their attractiveness. While Scarlett tries to manipulate and use men for her purposes, Daisy seems to truly enjoys male company and attention because they are less judgemental than women and more fun to be with. They’re also both undereducated, have little interest in culture/art, but their naivete/simple-mindedness is part of their charm.
Admittedly, Daisy is much less hypocritical than Scarlett was, especially at the beginning of the novel. Unlike the latter, Daisy doesn’t feel the need to lie and act like someone else to get what she wants. In my opinion, the way she always speaks her mind is endearing and brave, it adds an exotic flavor to her physical beauty and enhances her magnetic attractiveness in Winterbourne’s eyes. Here she is, an orchid among field flowers, blossoming to the fullest in the cold winter of her society’s rigorous restrictions.
Both Scarlett and Daisy are very psychologically complex characters, but in a different way. One crucial difference between “Gone with the Wind” and “Daisy Miller” is that we’re explicitly informed by the author about Scarlett’s motivation, the change of her character is followed very closely and by the end we really feel like we know her well unlike in the novella where the author does a great job to confuse the reader as to Daisy’s real feelings. What I particularly like is how every scene brings out something new in Daisy’s character, sometimes a trait or a mannerism that seems contradictory with her previous behavior. She’s outspoken and relaxed in the beginning and seems to perceive Winterbourne only as a friend, yet in the castle we clearly see that she has strong feelings towards W. which she tries to mask with mocking sarcasm. One starts to wonder : how honest is she? Other questions arise : Is or isn’t Giovanni a distraction for Daisy, a way to forget about Winterbourne, or even a ruse to make W. jealous? Is she really unaware of her ostracism in the society? Can her escapade to the ruins of Coliseum be a not-quite-conscious expression of her death drive due to the aforementioned ostracism and loss of hope to win Winterbourne’s love?
In the end, I think H. James really succeeded in creating a character of a woman-enigma with wonderful psychological complexity, an ambiguous yet charming social butterfly with a good heart.

Just one thing I feel I should add : having read a couple of reviews of this book on GR, I have to say, I think it’s a mistake to try and judge Daisy by modern standards and compare her to Paris Hilton and her likes. She acts the way she does because it feels natural to her and not because she’s some attention-monger who dreams of being in the spotlight because of her “scandalous” behaviour.

And to end this review, I’ll add : I had a great time reading this book and I’m glad that this particular œuvre was my introduction to Henry James’ works.
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