Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller Study Guide

During Henry James's youth, James came into contact with many of the literary greats of the time due to his family's prominence. When he was a young boy, Ralph Waldo Emerson visited often and he once was introduced to William Thackeray. As he grew older, he became acquainted with Henry Adams, Henry Cabot Lodge, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John La Farge, and Thomas Sergeant Perry. After the Civil War, he furthered a friendship with William Dean Howells, an editor of the Atlantic Monthly. They would frequently meet to discuss new realism. In Europe, he became acquainted with many of Europe's best writers ranging from Ivan Turgenev to Emile Zola to George Eliot and Matthew Arnold. Due to the experience gained by this wide literary scope, the groundwork was laid for James's thematic curiosity of cross continental comparisons and subsequent literary achievement.

James was first published in 1864 at twenty-one when his first story, "A Tragedy of Error," was printed in Continental Monthly. Other stories and reviews were published over the years and then several of his books were published. These included A Passionate Pilgrim, and Other Tales and Transatlantic Sketches in 1875 and Roderick Hudson in 1876. James moved to London in late 1876. He quickly fit into the London social scene, joining the Reform Club and befriending Lord Houghton, the biographer of Keats. Houghton invited him to one of his famous breakfasts for prestigious political and literary professionals. Shortly, James was regularly attending dinners for London celebrities, such as William Gladstone and Alfred Lord Tennyson. James gained much esteem. In February of 1878, a collections of his essays, French Poets and Novelists, was published by Macmillan. In September of the same year, Macmillan published The Europeans, a short but rather indistinct novel of James which had previously been serialized in the Atlantic Monthly. However, regardless of James's apparent success, he was celebrated little beyond the exclusive literary circles of London plus an even smaller circle of friends, such as Howells, in the United States.

"Daisy Miller" was the first work James published which brought about a greater recognition of his witty writing style and narrator obstructed character development. The novella was the closest to instant success which James enjoyed during his lifetime although at one point he joked to Macmillan that his essays would be "the beginning of my appearance before the British Public as the novelist of the future, destined to extract?. a colossal fortune." His style in the early years, especially, was almost Dickensian. It was casual and ironic, almost comical. His characters before Daisy Miller tended to be obvious symbolic representations which were slightly too predictable and superficial. However, Daisy transcended this problem of James, holding symbolic significance but also having a life and substance.

In Rome during the autumn of 1877, James ran into a friend, Alice Bartlett, who informed him of some gossip concerning an uncultivated young American girl who had visited Rome the previous winter. The young lady had " 'picked up' by the wayside, with the best conscience in the world, a good-looking Roman, of vague identity, astonished at his luck, yet?all innocently, all serenely exhibited and introduced: this at least till the occurrence of some small social check." These simple words of gossip led James to his creation of the innocent, yet dangerously flirtatious young Daisy Miller. James writing technique has gained comparison to Nathaniel Hawthorne's, as observed in the journals left by Hawthorne. Yet as Hawthorne would create a plot and place characters into it, James would generally find a theme or idea he liked, create characters to explore that theme, and then discover the story as it developed. In this manner, he took to writing Daisy Miller during the winter of 1877-1878 in London, where a note he left after jotting down the gossip from Ms. Bartlett told him to "Dramatize, dramatize!"

After finishing the short novel, James sent the story to Lippincott's magazine in Philadelphia. He likely assumed that since he had success with his friend's journal Atlantic Monthly that being published in another American literary magazine would not be difficult. However, American editors saw the story as "an affront to American womanhood", a "satiric attack on the heroine as a representative ill-mannered American girl." He was quickly rejected. Instead of sending the novella on to his friend Howells, James gave the piece to a friend in London, Leslie Stephen, an editor of Cornhill Magazine, who readily published the work in the June-July 1878 edition. This publication brought James recognition in London but lost him the money he would have earned by publishing in America. Once the story was acquired in the States, it was immediately published in a number of locations for free because of the absence of copyright laws. A copy of the story was printed by Littell's Living Age in Boston and Home Journal in New York. A book form was published by Harper's late in 1878 and, according to Leon Edel, sold 20,000 copies in a matter of weeks. The book form came out in England by Macmillan in 1879.

Ironically, James felt that his lesser story was getting the credit that Roderick Hudson should have received but the test of time has shown Daisy Miller to be one of James's classics whereas Hudson is less acclaimed. The novella became incredibly popular; Howells commented once that he heard society dividing itself into "Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites." By the early 1900s, the novella had been reprinted many times due to minor revisions James made for a New York edition. An unsuccessful play version was even published, first privately in England in 1882 and then in in Atlantic Monthly in 1883. In 1909, "James conscientiously attempted to supply for the definitive edition the psychological depth and nuances which he felt were lacking in the 1878 version?." Yet editors since, such as Geoffrey Moore, have felt that the 1909 edition clouds over the fine work of the original and tend today to print the version of 1878.