19th Century Epic Romances discussion

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Comparison > Daisy Miller vs Portrait of a Lady

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message 1: by Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition (last edited Jul 30, 2014 08:39PM) (new)

Terry ~ Huntress of Erudition | 504 comments Please feel free to add or disagree with this comparison of Daisy Miller vs Portait of a Lady.
I am not a librarian or an expert on literature - This is mostly my opinion and some info I have picked up online:

Henry James is best known for writing about Americans in 19th Century European society.
He was in a good position to write about Americans in Europe because he was one himself.
James considered 3 classes of people:
1. Nouveau Riche American tourists
2. Traditional upper class Europeans
3. Wealthy conservative American expatriots

Both novels are about the struggle between individualism (Americans visiting Europe)and social convention (European Society).

Sparknotes states: "Both novels explore the moral implications of artlessness that cannot defend itself against the worldliness and cynicism of a decadent society based on hypocrisy".

Both Isabel and Daisy are independant, but both lose their independance towards the end of each book.

Daisy disregards advice and her reputation is ruined, so she loses her ability to socialize with the upper class American expats in Rome.
Isabel marries a man she thinks is very refined and sophisticated, but who turns out to be very controlling and she loses her independance to him.

Both novels are written as a contrast between Americans in Europe: the tourists / the expatriots

Where Daisy Miller starts out as a light comedy about obnoxious Americans in Europe, Portrait of a Lady gets into the psychological aspects of one character against another.

Personal Characteristics:
DAISY - wealthy, lives and travels with her family, spirited, independant, good natured, shallow, ignorant, provincial, manipulative with men, wants to be the center of attention.

ISABEL - not independantly wealthy, is an orphan, traveling with her aunt, spirited and independant,but intelligent and interested in learning proper behavior in European society. Honest and somewhat naive.

DAISY - Doesn't care what anyone thinks about her, just wants to live her life and have fun. Seizes any opportunity for fun, whether it is deemed appropriate or not.

ISABEL - Cares very much about what people think of her and constantly strives to live up to an ideal, in spite of what pain it might cause her.

Sparknotes suggest that both novels have a theme of "A Life Unlived" - the protagonist, through some aspect of his or her own character, lets some opportunity for hapiness go by and realizes it too late.
In Daisy Miller, it would be Winterbourne, who observed everyone, Daisy in particular, yet never really did much himself.
In Portrait, Ralph Touchette is an observer, never letting himself take the risk of letting Isabel know he is in love with her.
Osmond satisfys himself with collecting things of beauty, both artwork and people, but never seems to do anything or go anywhere.
Isabel herself has a life unlived - she envisions herself traveling and expanding her horizons, yet I feel she let happiness slip by when she did not marry Lord Warburton and when she did marry, she was too concerned with being a proper wife and lady to change her life, even when she realized what terrible mistake she made marrying that awful Gilbert Osmond.


message 2: by Judith (new)

Judith Conk | 32 comments Terry, I think your analysis is a good one. I think the lives us lived were very much in the choices that the main women made. I must say for some reason I liked Isabel much more than Daisy. I don't react well to shallowness (clearly personal baggage.). I must say I was so disappointed when Isabel went back to Osmond. All in all, I enjoyed James' use of language to paint pictures in both books.


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