Thursday, July 20, 2006

Daisy Miller

by Henry James

A novella representative of Henry James' most common subject matter, Americans abroad in Europe. Daisy Miller and her family are in Vevey, Switerland and meet Winterbourne, another American who has lived most of his life abroad. Winterbourne is fascinated by Daisy's beauty and vivacity, her flirtatiousness and seeming naivete but his rich and proper aunt, Mrs. Costello, finds the Miller family vulgar and common and refuses to allow herself to be introduced to Daisy.

Winterbourne continues his acquaintance with Daisy and after leaving Switzerland, meets her once again but in Rome where Daisy has attracted the notice of many young Italian men, most of whom are not proper society. The time Daisy spends with one particular Italian man, Mr. Giovanelli, increases to the point that gossip is ruining her reputation but she refuses to heed the warning Winterbourne offers.

Daisy seems to represent American as a new nation, seen as common and unrefined, bold and flirtatious by European eyes and as an Anglified American living in Europe James was certainly aware of this sentiment among his peers and upper crust society. Coupled with this is the question of whether Daisy is innocent in her flirtations and whether there is legitimate cause for Winterbourne's concern. I found this the most interesting part of the novella and it ultimately becomes the question upon which all else seems to hinge for both the characters and me as the reader.

Did I like it? Well, I've loved everything I've ever read of Henry James so that's a bit unfair, but I did like watching Daisy through Winterbourne's eyes and trying to decide what she was all about. The only complaint I have is that there is so little to the novella--or rather it is so short--that the question of what Daisy is all about never gets satisfactorily answered. I felt I wanted to see more of her, more of Winterbourne, more of each of the characters and that the novella could have been twice as long and spent more time examining the questions it asks. Some would argue that it is complete as it is, however, and it's a light and easy read compared to many of his other works. Very enjoyable.