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Henry James's "Daisy Miller"

This early tale by Henry James tells the story of a young American gentleman called Winterbourne who is accustomed to the ways of Europe and who meets a pretty American girl who behaves far too openly for the taste of an aristocratic European society. The story focusses on Winterbourne's attempts to know what kind of girl Daisy Miller is.

In essence, what Winterbourne is trying to do is establish Daisy Miller's individuality. To do so, Winterbourne has at his disposal everything he observes about the girl. Thus, for example, he - and the reader - observes that Daisy

A contemporary reader will smile at the scandal Daisy Miller's actions provoked in upper social circles of the story, and was meant to provoke in the readers of the story at the time. Our sense of scandal is very different from the turn-of-the-century-European-upper-class sense of scandal.

Winterbourne asks himself what kind of girl Daisy Miller is: to understand her, he uses the opposition America-Europe, in which America represents nature and Europe civilization (hence society). Up to a certain point, this opposition seems to work in terms of analysis. And yet, ultimately, the fact that

makes of Daisy Miller an individual. Of course, her individuality depends on being of the will-o-the-wisp kind, which is the only one that can really be had.

daniel.candel@uah.es ©2008 Daniel Candel Bormann