Daisy Miller by Henry James is a novella. I have read other stories written by Henry James like The Turn of the Screw, and I like the writing style. Daisy Miller is about an American expatriate in Europe, Daisy Miller who is being courted by another American expatriate Frederick Winterbourne.
Daisy and Winterbourne first meet in Vevey, Switerzerland. They happen to meet because Daisy’s 9-year-old brother Randolph befriends Winterbourne and later introduces him to Daisy. Winterbourne is never sure what to think of Daisy; he always tries to put her into a category but she is unconventional. Daisy is free-spirited and she is outspoken. She seems genuinely interested in Winterbourne and when he is about to leave for Geneva, she makes him promise that they will meet in Rome where the Millers are going on next.
There is a stark difference between the notions and behavior of the Old World and the New World. Daisy is friendly, free, and opinionated; she is not demure in any way. This is considered improper in the high society of Europe, which Daisy wishes to be a part of. By the end, they practically shun her because she doesn’t follow their notions of conventional and acceptable behavior. While Daisy is used to more freedom in America and the Millers don’t believe Daisy is stepping out of any lines. This theme is prominent in the story.
The gender-specific roles also feature in the novel although pretty implicitly. Daisy is expected to be chaperoned and not be alone with any man. Daisy giving her opinions or roaming around is considered impropriety in society. While for Winterbourne, on the other hand, has the freedom to travel and pursue his interests without any questions. There is clear discrimination displayed in society about how women are accepted to behave and how men are. It’s never clear what Winterbourne actually does. It is hinted, that he may be on a break from studies or rumored to have affections for an older lady. This rumor is not enough to cast him out, meanwhile, Daisy is punished by the same peers.
The characters are interesting, especially Daisy and Winterbourne. Daisy in Rome meets a man Giovanni with whom she spends a lot of time, and it is one of the reasons for gossip to begin. She seems happy for Winterbourne to join them making you think that it is not exactly romantic. She is more of an enigma throughout the story. Winterbourne, on the other hand, is constantly trying to figure out Daisy, but he can’t understand her. He is conflicted over what to make of her, once even just dismissing her as a young flirt. In the end, he finally manages to put her in a category that aligns pretty much with what others around him say about her.
Daisy Miller is an interesting story. I didn’t exactly expect it to end the way it does, but it fits the story in a way. It talks about a lot of social norms of the time with subtlety and even empathy. The writing, the setting, and the pace all keep you hooked to the narrative. It is an easy read, in terms of the length, and I found it enjoyable.
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