Daisy Miller by Henry James

This is my third Henry James this year. I started with Washington Square, which I loved, then read The Turn of the Screw around Halloween, and liked it quite a bit. Here is the thing about Henry James. I feel like the more I think about his work after I've finished reading it, the more I want to talk about it. There are always two sides to consider, two readings to argue, which I feel is one of the reasons Henry James has remained such a beloved writer.

Daisy Miller follows a young, beautiful girl as she travels through Europe with her mother and younger brother. I use the word "girl" for a reason. Daisy is what the French would call a typical American - she is audacious and has no regard for cultural conventions. She lives her day-to-day life in terms of Daisy and no one else. However, James central character isn't one-dimensional, and he never makes it certain whether or not we were meant to reject Daisy for her said audacity, or praise her for her originality. Daisy's family comes from new money and she is familiar with the society in the states. When she arrives in Europe she tells a young man and fellow-country man whom she meets in Geneva,
There isn't any society [in Geneva]; or, if there is, I don't know where it keeps itself. Do you? I suppose there is some society somewhere, but I haven't seen anything of it. I'm very fond of society, and I have always had a great deal of it.
Of course Daisy comes to find there is society, just not the type she is used to. Throughout each social gathering we watch as Daisy is scrutinized for her lack of regard and looked down upon for her unconventional behavior. Right after I finished this novella I thought Daisy - what a stupid girl. Then I thought further, and asked myself if Henry James was suggesting that we shouldn't punish young, care-free, impetuous girls; girls who act out of turn and don't follow the ridged social conventions. (After all, throughout the novel Daisy is self-aware and understands her actions are out of the norm. She is even a self-proclaimed flirt.) Or are girls better off acting polite and following suit? Was Daisy as innocent as she led on to be, or did she simply have bad manners? These unanswered questions are one of the reasons I enjoyed this read so much and exactly why I love Henry James.

Publisher: Penguin Classics, 1878


  1. That's a great write up! I had been thinking of reading some Henry James next year. Now I have decided that I will :)

  2. I tried reading The Turn of the Screw last year but couldn't get into it. I can be kind of a "moody" reader so I rarely give up after a first try and I've been meaning to give James another chance. And I love the type of book that keeps you thinking after you've finished it.

  3. Vaishnavi, Great!

    everybookandcranny, The Turn of the Screw was hard for me to get into at first. I think Daisy Miller or Washington Square could be good to check out. I think next I want to read The Portrait of a Lady.

  4. i love what you write about henry james. i've only read "turn of the screw" (and have mostly forgotten it by now) but when I was studying for the gre i got pretty into reading about some of the interesting narrative/character development stuff he does, that you write about. i came up with this extremely vague (and ill-advised) plan to one day read all of his works in order, so i could see how his style develops and changes. obviously that will never happen, but i am going to put "daisy miller" on my TBR list.

  5. I've never read Henry James. I think it's because I had some friends who attempted to read Turn of the Screw and vehemently did not recommend it. Perhaps I should not listen to them and pick something up of his!

  6. fatbooks, I think that's a good plan. I am hoping to tackle some of his larger works soon.

    historyofshe, Turn of the Screw isn't a good one to start with. Try Washington Square.

  7. I liked the Turn of the Screw and I thought it was quite creepy in places but I really struggled with the writing which had put me off his larger works.

    I also liked the couple of short stories I've read.

    Good luck with his larger works but rather you than me ;)

  8. Great review-you might like the Aspern Papers-short work-I liked his novel The Bostonians-it is a good first James novel-I am currently reading Portrait of a Lady and hope to have it completed soon-

  9. I love Henry James for the same reason you cite -- though this is the only work I've read by him thus far. I'm excited to see that you liked the two others you've read by him. I find his writing fascinating, and like you, I kept thinking of Daisy Miller after I read it.