Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller Summary and Analysis of Chapters 1

Tourism was the main industry of the little town of Vevey, Switzerland where Winterbourne, a young American gentleman, vacationed at the Trois Couronnes hotel a couple of years ago. The lake on which the town rested, Lake Geneva, was bordered by a myriad of fashionable hotels, all inferior to the Trois Couronnes. Toward the end of June, so many American tourists descended upon the town that it drew comparison to Newport. Winterbourne had lived in Geneva since he was a young boy and had schooled and attended college at Geneva. Many friendships had formed and it was rumored that he was devoted to an older woman which kept him in Geneva. At twenty-seven, his friends referred to him as still "studying." He had come to Vevey in order to visit his aunt but she was indisposed one evening with a headache, which was not unexpected.

Winterbourne took a walk before having breakfast and then retired to the garden for coffee and a cigarette. A small boy came upon him with bright, staring eyes and a long alpenstock, a stick used for mountaineering, which he flung about him. The boy asked Winterbourne for his extra sugar which Winterbourne gave him disapprovingly. The boy put two lumps in his pocket and tried to eat the other but exclaimed loudly because it was hard. His word choice and accent confirmed to Winterbourne that the boy was American. The boy complained that he was losing his teeth in Europe and that he missed candy. He proclaimed that American candy was the best and he and Winterbourne jokingly declared that American boys and men were the best.

As the boy's strikingly pretty older sister approached, Winterbourne decided that American girls were the best as well. The girl reprimanded her brother, Randolph, for kicking up gravel with his alpenstock. Randolph told his sister that Winterbourne was American and Winterbourne figured this was a good enough introduction to present himself to the girl. She responded rather indifferently. He watched as the girl bickered with the boy, telling him he could not bring his stick to Italy. Winterbourne inquired about their trip to Italy. Then, as Winterbourne pointed to interesting sights in view, the girl paid more attention to Winterbourne. He realized that she was not embarrassed but direct and unaffected. He thought her face was beautiful and examined its features. It was delicate though slightly unfinished and he figured that she may be somewhat of a coquette. After talking for a bit, she became quite sociable and told Winterbourne about her family and their travels.

She, her mother, and Randolph were traveling to Rome for the winter. They came from Schenectady, New York where her father was a wealthy businessman. Winterbourne questioned Randolph about his family and found that the girl's name was Annie P. Miller though they called her Daisy. Daisy explained to Winterbourne that Randolph wanted to go back home but they would get him a teacher in Rome. She spoke about a British woman, Mrs. Featherstone, she had met who criticized her for not instructing Randolph herself. She talked like she was Winterbourne's old friend and in constant good humor. Her manner though was uncultivated and she bragged about the many gentleman she knew in New York. Winterbourne could not decide whether she was simply innocent or designing. She must have been a flirt. Daisy asked Winterbourne if he had been to the Château de Chillon, calling it simply an old castle. She noted that her brother did not want to go and her mother would have to stay with him because the courier would not stay. Winterbourne commented that he would like to take her with her mother but was most pleased when she replied that her mother would likely prefer to stay. When Eugenio the courier arrived to inform the children of lunch, he looked at Winterbourne pretentiously. Daisy informed Eugenio that she would, in fact, get to go to the old castle. She asked Winterbourne if he was certain he would go and as a response he told her he would introduce her to someone who could vouch for him. As she left with Eugenio, Winterbourne mused over the princess-like girl.

Chapter One Analysis:

The main theme which Henry James explores in his novella, Daisy Miller, concerns the contrast between American and European societies in the second half of the nineteenth century. Symbolically these societies represent, respectively, an innocent and natural way of life as compared to a ritualized, experienced, and artificial manner which was more present in Europe. James had lived comfortably in both the United States and abroad. He was the first author truly capable of exploring the differences between the two societies. His writing explored those of a standard of living which allow them to experience the luxuries and pleasures of education, travel, and high society. Yet within this narrow view, James was characterized as having a very realistic writing style. In this sense, he was always consistent and true to his characters' personae. Once James has defined the character's behavior and attitudes are defined, he remains loyal to these. One is usually able to predict how the character would react in any situation based on one's knowledge of that character. Unlike authors such as Nathaniel Hawthorne who would design a theme and then create characters and situations to illustrate the theme, James thought first of characters and situations. He then developed the plot as he went along. He often would not know the outcome of his writing until he arrived at its end. Accordingly, critics sometimes highlight the unreal quality of his writing, especially his characters, who seem more fictitious than one would find in ordinary life. Some more realist authors have criticized James for his limited scope of social class issues.

He has also caused distaste because of his somewhat laborious tendency to draw storylines out slowly or to withhold pertinent information on a character or situation until later in the story. The reader might complain of being deceived. Yet one will find that his writing style reflected his leisurely lifestyle. Furthermore, the events are meant by him to come upon the reader in a circular manner. James described his structure as circulating around the central idea that "supremely matters." In this way he will describe one aspect of his supreme idea from many different angles and perspectives until it has been fully examined in terms of moral, psychological, and cultural sensibilities. This depth of examination illuminates a side of the supreme idea and then another side is examined from multiple angles until the entire central focus has been developed. In this manner, the entire work of James points, though circularly, to his supreme focus. In Daisy Miller, James's theme points to the exploration of Daisy Miller as American innocence. Each chapter and situation gives the reader another opportunity to explore her personality and to decide, as Winterbourne must, whether she is innocent and natural or designing and artificial.

We, the reader, can observe Daisy however only from the subjective point of view of the main narrative voice, albeit in third person, of Winterbourne. This type of narration is common in James's work and is frequently referred to as a "central intelligence" by James because of the dependency the reader has on this character and the knowledge the character strangely has the power to impart. Their knowledge is not that of an omniscient narrator; we see events and people mainly through the eyes and thoughts of the "central intelligence" without sneaking into the minds of other characters or learning histories which are not provided in some sort of dialogue or conversation. Yet descriptions and observations are extremely keen and detailed and thus can be seen as a higher intelligence than would be expected normally. The notion of seeing Daisy Miller through Winterbourne's eyes adds the psychological element. We judge the main character of the novel -- and we are meant to judge -- based on the perceptions of her actions by a third party. Winterbourne's approval and disapproval, in addition to the input we receive from his aunt, Mrs. Walker, bystanders, Eugenio, Randolph and so on, color the figure of Daisy and achieve a deception over the reader, who in the end may very well feel duped. This is the genius of the Jamesian novel and its commentary on the social world.

The names of our main characters give us the first insight into their personae as archetypal symbols. Winterbourne is introduced first by the anonymous yet strangely familiar first person narrator. We are told that two or three years ago, at this detail he is not certain, a "young American" sat in the garden of the Trois Couronnes "looking about him, rather idly, at some of the graceful objects I have mentioned." The vagueness accompanying this description hints at the exploration of types which James undertakes. The development of types hits upon James's theme of European versus American, form and ceremony versus nature and spontaneity. His characters, which we will meet one at a time, fulfill archetypal kindes (from the Middle English word "mankinde") through which James can symbolize the contrasting patterns of European and American social worldliness. Winterbourne, as critics have noted, is symbolically quite true to his name. He is a man born out of the cold, winter landscape, both physically and socially, of Geneva into a new arena where he encounters a contrast of types at the vacation spot of Vevey. Vevey is a perfect locale for the encounter of the two cultures as it stands in the middle of Europe but yet is visited by a large number of Americans. James also pays special attention to mention that Vevey drew comparison to American hot social spots of the time, Saratoga Springs and Newport, Rhode Island. This allows the opening setting to hold a significant symbolic place for both cultures in order for the reader to experience the cultural clash.

Daisy Miller is the other main character thrown into this environment and yet she seems to not be effected by its peculiarity. In fact, her spontaneity allows her to make her own decisions and meld to the different landscapes she encounters. Her name symbolically represents the flower it mirrors, the daisy. The daisy is a typically commonplace flower known for its simple beauty and lack of pretense. The notes to the text comment that the fact that daisies open in sunlight attest to their life-loving quality. Furthermore, her last name Miller represents the trade of a miller and symbolizes how her father made his fortune in trade and is nouveau riche. This type of wealth would likely be looked down upon by the older wealthy from America and Europe. The disdain for his money will be witnessed in Winterbourne's aunt's reaction to the Miller family.

Randolph C. Miller is the first American which approaches Winterbourne in the novella and his cruder characteristics immediately contrast with the refinement of Winterbourne. The narrator has just informed the reader of Winterbourne's ability to remain "studying" in Geneva, his amiability, and his politeness toward his aunt. We find him sitting in a garden having a cigarette and coffee, clearly influenced by the European sophisticate which he has been a part of since about the age of Randolph himself. Randolph comes along by himself, thrusting his climbing stick into flower beds and lady's trains, and, with no reservations, approaches a strange man. This is not a polite, reserved boy of the continent and Winterbourne tells us a moment later that he had immediately known the boy's origins. The text reads, "Winterbourne had immediately perceived that he might have the honour of claiming him as a fellow-countryman." The boy instantly begins a conversation with the man which illuminates the theme of type which had first been suggested by defining Winterbourne mainly as a young American. The two joke, though Randolph is likely quite serious, that American boys and men are better than any other country's boys and men. We thus see how the division is to fall between culture and types. The end of the chapter provides another contrast between types as Eugenio comes to collect the Miller children. James describes, "Eugenio's tone apparently threw, even to Miss Miller's apprehension, a slightly ironical light upon the young girl's situation." The offensive and impertinent manner in which Eugenio, a servant, regards Daisy illuminates his disapproval of her "want of finish" and her tendency to throw the rituals of custom to the wind.

This design is cultivated clearly once Daisy herself approaches. Her beauty does not individualize Daisy enough for Winterbourne not to refer to her as "they." Upon viewing Daisy, Winterbourne comments, "'How pretty they are!'" He does not say 'how pretty she is' because he is not thinking of her on an individual basis. Daisy is immediately swept into a category, the type of American girl, upon which she will be judged. As Winterbourne tries to approach Daisy to speak with her, as is acceptable in Vevey but would not have been in Geneva (symbolizing the importance of their locale and Winterbourne's birth out of rigid formality), he twice in two sentences refers to her a "pretty American girl." Daisy at first does not want to respond to Winterbourne and is described as giving answers "simply", characteristic of her symbolic name and type. Moreover, Daisy describes the Château de Chillon nonchalantly as only an "old castle" and is rather ignorant of its history, symbolic of her lack of knowledge and refinement. Once she is comfortably conversing with Winterbourne, he wonders if she is a coquette or flirt. She is constantly being thrown from one category to another based on Winterbourne's perceptions of her and his feelings toward her. He decides a "pretty American flirt" would be acceptable for him to know. Mainly he wants an excuse to spend time with her.

Winterbourne is immediately attracted to the pretty American girl as is illustrated in the movement of his body upon seeing Daisy. James writes, "...she was strikingly, admirably pretty. 'How pretty they are!' thought Winterbourne, straightening himself in his seat, as if he were prepared to rise." This description of his physical posture is a metaphor for his sexual arousal at the sight of Daisy. His desire for her to be innocent and undesigning reflects not only on her true personality but on his lust for her. He takes all of her physical features in readily, consuming them as if her were consuming her. The syntax is organized to flow quickly, breaking the long sentences describing her face and hands only by half pauses (commas, semi-colons, and hyphens) and choosing words such as "relish" and "addicted." Winterbourne's description of Daisy's face is synecdochal of her entire persona in his view. He notes, "[The young lady's face] was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne accused it -- very forgivingly -- of a want of finish."Winterbourne's need to judge the young girl and make her into one type or another is observed in this sentence as well as Daisy's restraint in judgment as Winterbourne finds her slightly unexpressive. Furthermore, the lack of polish Winterbourne finds in Daisy's face metonymically stands for the face of young America, uncultivated and natural.