Review: Daisy Miller

Posted 30 January, 2013 by Lianne in Books / 4 Comments

Daisy Miller
By: Henry James

Traveling in Europe with her family, Daisy Miller, an exquisitely beautiful young American woman, presents her fellow-countryman Winterbourne with a dilemma he cannot resolve. Is she deliberately flouting social conventions in the way she talks and acts, or is she simply ignorant of them? When she strikes up an intimate friendship with an urbane young Italian, her flat refusal to observe the codes of respectable behavior leaves her perilously exposed.

I think I added this to my to-read list a year ago because it was partly set in Italy and I was looking for classics set there. It’s a rather short read and I was debating what to read next so I decided to read this in the meantime. Contains some spoilers ahead!

The reader is brought into the story through Winterbourne’s eyes, a cultivated American who was staying in Europe. He meets the Millers–first the young son Randolph, then his sister Daisy–one day while he was vacationing in Switzerland. He is immediately drawn to the Millers and to Daisy, who is beautiful and different from all the other girls in his social circles. Over time however he starts becoming well acquainted with Daisy’s character and he starts wondering whether she’s a girl with pursuing or protecting from the dangers of what society thinks of her behaviour.

Apparently the core symbolism of this novella is about innocence and one woman’s rejection of what her society deems is proper for a young lady. Under the time period that this novel is set in and released in, I can see why this novel is such an upstart. But reading this novel, that wasn’t the theme that stuck out in my mind the most; rather, it was the parenting. Mrs. Miller is a very passive, absent parent; she’s with them but not really–she scolds Randolph (but clearly not enough to discipline him from his mischief) and she seemed completely unaware of all of the bad talk that’s going on behind Daisy’s back. More to the point, her children lack manners (hence I found myself agreeing with Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker that they were “uncultivated” in a sense that they could at least be polite to the people who are hosting them). The Millers are the family in the train that you wouldn’t want to share compartments with or sit behind or in front in an airplane. My guess is that she’s been so lenient with Daisy (Daisy’s been running around Rome with near-strangers–did she not fear for her daughter’s safety at any point? They were in a foreign country and Eugenio the courier wasn’t there most of the time) that it’s pretty much rubbed off by extension to Randolph (who was staying up until midnight even though he’s been told time and again that he needed to go to bed earlier).

Additionally, Daisy Miller was irritating. I should have added her to my TTT list of frustrating/irritating characters because I just would not find any redeeming or endearing characteristic about her save for perhaps her self-confidence. I didn’t understand why she kept running off with strangers while they were in Rome (and I reckon often times her mother didn’t know where she was; no one knew about her and Giovanelli’s trip to the Colosseum); as a foreigner far from home, it just seemed downright dangerous what she was doing. I half-expected Giovanelli to be some kind of con artist or creeper just waiting for his moment. Daisy’s behaviour and actions did not feel empowering at all.

Yet despite feeling very frustrated about the title character and the foreboding feeling that something disastrous was imminent, I couldn’t put it down until I finished it. I guess it’s a testament to Henry James’ writing (hence my final rating; it would’ve been a 2 if Daisy irritated me any further); I look forward to reading his other works.

Rating: ★★★☆☆

Tags: , , ,

4 Responses to “Review: Daisy Miller”

  1. Love your comment about the parenting — there are really so many terrible parents in classic novels! Take Jane Austen…I think all the parents are either awful (or at least seriously flawed, like Mrs. Dashwood and Mr. Bennet) or dead!

    • That’s true, what is up with that? lol. Ooh, Catherine Morland’s parents seem to be the only ones who are not seriously flawed and are alive from Austen’s books 😀

  2. There are a few things that I hate more than turn of the century novels of Americans traveling around Europe. I really tried to like Henry James, but just couldn’t.

    • Out of curiosity, which Henry James book did you read? I have yet to read Portrait of a Lady–decided to start small with him, lol

Leave a Reply