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Daisy Miller by Henry James.

Daisy-Miller-Henry-James

Title: Daisy Miller.
Author: Henry James.
Genre: Literature, fiction, novella.
Country: U.K.
Language: English.
Publication Date: 1878.
Summary: The young Daisy Miller, an American on holiday with her mother on the shores of Switzerland's Lac Leman, is one of James's most vivid and tragic characters. Daisy's friendship with an American gentleman, Mr.Winterbourne, and her subsequent infatuation with a passionate but impoverished Italian bring to life the great Jamesian themes of Americans abroad, innocence versus experience, and the grip of fate.

My rating: 7/10
My review: The entirety of my rating goes toward James's writing. He is a fantastic writer with a superb and eloquent command of language, and reading his descriptions and narrative is a great pleasure in and of itself. Daisy herself, however, will have to join Holly and Emma in my book of characters readers have found charming and endearing (and, in Holly's and Daisy's case, controversial and rule-bending) that I find simply repellent. It is evident to me (from both studying this novel in university, and reading reviews and commentaries on it) that most people take Daisy as a character that challenges both social norms and preconceptions, who stands out because she doesn't care about what people think about her, and does as she pleases even if society frowns upon it. Unfortunately, to me, at least, she pretty much came off as a dumb bint who bends over backwards to make a huge spectacle of herself in order to gain the only type of attention she can. Ironically, it's not only the worst kind of attention, but while she pretends she doesn't care what people think, it's evident that she not only cares a lot, but is greatly bothered by the image that people have of her. Daisy is universally acknowledged to be a symbol of innocence, but, as mentioned, I don't believe innocence is in any way metaphorical to her. If I were to accept her actions stem from innocence, I would also be forced to assume she was written as the stupidest, most oblivious, most ignorant character imaginable, and I don't get the feeling that was quite what James intended. Fake, wide-eyed and contrived innocence is unfortunately, a century later, still a widely-used female technique to make themselves come off innocent and endearing, and it sickens me as any type of obviously contrived behaviour sickens me, especially for the attention of the opposite sex (I believe a lot of Daisy's behaviour after meeting Winterbourne was for his benefit - and he actually is disarmed by her frankness and seeming ignorance and lack of care of her social taboos). While I don't advocate for the kind of classist society with extremely unforgiving social etiquette rules that ostracizes her completely when her behaviour gets ridiculous, when it's the end of the 19th century and you have been brought up in this society, it is impossible to have no idea what would be considered "going too far," especially for a very young, unmarried woman. The choice is between her being obliviously dumb, or premeditated conscious action, in which case it begs the question what was she trying to accomplish and what could she possibly thus accomplish within the boundaries of her world, which brings us right back to dumb (which is a descriptive hard to shake either way when you remember that what she does is not only social suicide - what she does is also often dangerous and, in fact, does lead to her death, although wandering around with complete strangers in the middle of the night in a foreign city could have certainly ended other ways, too). In short, there is no great feminist courage or point behind Daisy - I would have been her number one fan if she had challenged the same norms without sacrificing both her intelligence and integrity. As it stands, it is indicative of my great respect for James as an author that I hated the character and plot so much (although I will admit that her death provided a huge catharsis for me - it felt as if James felt the same contempt for her I did), but was completely willing to disregard that to bathe in the beauty of his language.


♥ He was ceasing to be in doubt, for he had begun to perceive that she was really not in the least embarrassed. She might be cold, she might be austere, she might even be prim; for that was apparently—he had already so generalised—what the most "distant" American girls did: they came and planted themselves straight in front of you to show how rigidly unapproachable they were.

♥ To the young man himself their small excursion showed so far delightfully irregular and incongruously intimate that, even allowing for her habitual sense of freedom, he had some expectation of seeing her appear to find in it the same savour. But it must be confessed that he was in this particular rather disappointed. Miss Miller was highly animated, she was in the brightest spirits; but she was clearly not at all in a nervous flutter—as she should have been to match his tension; she avoided neither his eyes nor those of any one else; she neither coloured from an awkward consciousness when she looked at him nor when she saw that people were looking at herself. People continued to look at her a great deal, and Winterbourne could at least take pleasure in his pretty companion's distinguished air. He has been privately afraid she would talk loud, laugh overmuch, and even perhaps desire to move extravagantly about the boat. But he quite forgot his fears; he sat smiling with his eyes on her face while, without stirring from her place, she delivered herself of a great number of original reflexions. It was the most charming innocent prattle he had ever heard, for, by his own experience hitherto, when young persons were s ingenuous they were less articulate and when they were so confident were more sophisticated.

♥ He could hardly have said why, but she struck him as a young person not formed for a troublesome jealousy. Smile at such a betrayal though the reader may, it was a fact with regard to the women who had hitherto interested him that, given certain contingencies, Winterbourne could see himself afraid—literally afraid—of these ladies. It pleased him to believe that even were twenty other things different and Daisy should love him and he should know it and like it, he would still never be afraid of Daisy. It must be added that this conviction was not altogether flattering to her: it represented that she was nothing every way if not light.

♥ After this Daisy was never at home and he ceased to meet her at the houses of their common acquaintance, because, as he perceived, these shrewd people had quite made up their minds as to the length she must have gone. They ceased to invite her, intimating that they wished to make, and make strongly, for the benefit of observant Europeans, the point that though Miss Daisy Miller was a pretty American girl all right, her behaviour wasn't pretty at all—was in fact regarded by her compatriots as quite monstrous. Winterbourne wondered how she felt about all the cold shoulders that were turned upon her, and sometimes found himself suspecting with impatience that she simply didn't feel and didn't know. He set her down as hopelessly childish and shallow, as such mere giddiness and ignorance incarnate as was powerless either to heed or to suffer. Then at other moments he couldn't doubt that she carried about in her elegant and irresponsible little organism a defiant, passionate, perfectly observant consciousness of the impression she produced. He asked himself whether the defiance would come from the consciousness of innocence or from her being essentially a young person of the reckless class. Then it had to be admitted, he felt, that holding fast to a belief in her "innocence" was more and more but a matter of gallantry too fine-spun for use. As I have already had occasion to relate, he was reduced without pleasure to this chopping of logic and vexed at his poor fallibility, his want of instinctive certitude as to how far the extravagance was generic and national and how far it was crudely personal.

♥ It seemed to him he had never known Rome so lovely as just then. He looked off at the enchanting harmony of line and colour that remotely encircles the city—he inhaled the softly humid odours and felt the freshness of the year and the antiquity of the place reaffirm themselves in deep interfusion.
Tags: 1870s, 19th century - fiction, 3rd-person narrative, american - fiction, fiction, italian in fiction, literature, novellas, social criticism (fiction), switzerland in fiction, travel and exploration (fiction)
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