Daisy Miller (Modern Library Classics Series)by Henry James, Elizabeth Hardwick (Introduction)
Originally published in The Cornhill Magazine in 1878 and in book form in 1879, Daisy Miller brought Henry James his first widespread commercial and critical success. 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/i>/i>
Originally published in The Cornhill Magazine in 1878 and in book form in 1879, Daisy Miller brought Henry James his first widespread commercial and critical success. 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. As Elizabeth Hardwick writes in her Introduction, Daisy Miller “lives on, a figure out of literature who has entered history as a name, a vision.”
Read an Excerpt
At the little town of Vevey, in Switzerland, there is a particularly comfortable hotel; there are indeed many hotels, since the entertainment of tourists is the business of the place, which, as many travellers will remember, is seated upon the edge of a remarkably blue lake —a lake that it behoves every tourist to visit. The shore of the lake presents an unbroken array of establishments of this order, of every category, from the “grand hotel” of the newest fashion, with a chalk-white front, a hundred balconies, and a dozen flags flying from its roof, to the small Swiss pension of an elder day, with its name inscribed in German-looking lettering upon a pink or yellow wall and an awkward summer-house in the angle of the garden. One of the hotels at Vevey, however, is famous, even classical, being distinguished from many of its upstart neighbours by an air both of luxury and of maturity. In this region, through the month of June, American travellers are extremely numerous; it may be said indeed that Vevey assumes at that time some of the characteristics of an American watering-place. There are sights and sounds that evoke a vision, an echo, of Newport and Saratoga. There is a flitting hither and thither of “stylish” young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance-music in the morning hours, a sound of high-pitched voices at all times. You receive an impression of these things at the excellent inn of the “Trois Couronnes,” and are transported in fancy to the Ocean House or to Congress Hall. But at the “Trois Couronnes,” it must be added, there are other features much at variance with these suggestions: neat German waiters who look like secretaries of legation; Russian princesses sitting in the garden; little Polish boys walking about, held by the hand, with their governors; a view of the snowy crest of the Dent du Midi and the picturesque towers of the Castle of Chillon.
I hardly know whether it was the analogies or the differences that were uppermost in the mind of a young American, who, two or three years ago, sat in the garden of the “Trois Couronnes,” looking about him rather idly at some of the graceful objects I have mentioned. It was a beautiful summer morning, and in whatever fashion the young American looked at things they must have seemed to him charming. He had come from Geneva the day before, by the little steamer, to see his aunt, who was staying at the hotel—Geneva having been for a long time his place of residence. But his aunt had a headache—his aunt had almost always a headache—and she was now shut up in her room smelling camphor, so that he was at liberty to wander about. He was some seven-and-twenty years of age; when his friends spoke of him they usually said that he was at Geneva “studying.” When his enemies spoke of him they said—but after all he had no enemies: he was extremely amiable and generally liked. What I should say is simply that when certain persons spoke of him they conveyed that the reason of his spending so much time at Geneva was that he was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there—a foreign lady, a person older than himself. Very few Americans—truly I think none—had ever seen this lady, about whom there were some singular stories. But Winterbourne had an old attachment for the little capital of Calvinism; he had been put to school there as a boy and had afterwards even gone, on trial—trial of the grey old “Academy” on the steep and stony hillside—to college there; circumstances which had led to his forming a great many youthful friendships. Many of these he had kept, and they were a source of great satisfaction to him.
After knocking at his aunt’s door and learning that she was indisposed he had taken a walk about the town and then he had come in to his breakfast. He had now finished that repast, but was enjoying a small cup of coffee which had been served him on a little table in the garden by one of the waiters who looked like attachés. At last he finished his coffee and lit a cigarette. Presently a small boy came walking along the path—an urchin of nine or ten. The child, who was diminutive for his years, had an aged expression of countenance, a pale complexion and sharp little features. He was dressed in knickerbockers and had red stockings that displayed his poor little spindle-shanks; he also wore a brilliant red cravat. He carried in his hand a long alpenstock, the sharp point of which he thrust into everything he approached—the flower-beds, the garden-benches, the trains of the ladies’ dresses. In front of Winterbourne he paused, looking at him with a pair of bright and penetrating little eyes.
“Will you give me a lump of sugar?” he asked in a small sharp hard voice—a voice immature and yet somehow not young.
Winterbourne glanced at the light table near him, on which his coffee-service rested, and saw that several morsels of sugar remained. “Yes, you may take one,” he answered; “but I don’t think too much sugar good for little boys.”
This little boy stepped forward and carefully selected three of the coveted fragments, two of which he buried in the pocket of his knickerbockers, depositing the other as promptly in another place. He poked his alpenstock, lance-fashion, into Winterbourne’s bench and tried to crack the lump of sugar with his teeth.
“Oh blazes; it’s har-r-d!” he exclaimed, divesting vowel and consonants, pertinently enough, of any taint of softness.
Winterbourne had immediately gathered that he might have the honour of claiming him as a countryman. “Take care you don’t hurt your teeth,” he said paternally.
“I haven’t got any teeth to hurt. They’ve all come out. I’ve only got seven teeth. Mother counted them last night, and one came out right afterwards. She said she’d slap me if any more came out. I can’t help it. It’s this old Europe. It’s the climate that makes them come out. In America they didn’t come out. It’s these hotels.”
Winterbourne was much amused. “If you eat three lumps of sugar your mother will certainly slap you,” he ventured.
“She’s got to give me some candy then,” rejoined his young interlocutor. “I can’t get any candy here—any American candy. American candy’s the best candy.”
“And are American little boys the best little boys?” Winterbourne asked.
“I don’t know. I’m an American boy,” said the child.
“I see you’re one of the best!” the young man laughed.
“Are you an American man?” pursued this vivacious infant. And then on his friend’s affirmative reply, “American men are the best,” he declared with assurance.
His companion thanked him for the compliment, and the child, who had now got astride of his alpenstock, stood looking about him while he attacked another lump of sugar. Winterbourne wondered if he himself had been like this in his infancy, for he had been brought to Europe at about the same age.
“Here comes my sister!” cried his young compatriot. “She’s an American girl, you bet!”
Winterbourne looked along the path and saw a beautiful young lady advancing. “American girls are the best girls,” he thereupon cheerfully remarked to his visitor.
“My sister ain’t the best!” the child promptly returned. “She’s always blowing at me.”
“I imagine that’s your fault, not hers,” said Winterbourne. The young lady meanwhile had drawn near. She was dressed in white muslin, with a hundred frills and flounces and knots of pale-coloured ribbon. Bareheaded, she balanced in her hand a large parasol with a deep border of embroidery; and she was strikingly, admirably pretty. “How pretty they are!” thought our friend, who straightened himself in his seat as if he were ready to rise.
The young lady paused in front of his bench, near the parapet of the garden, which overlooked the lake. The small boy had now converted his alpenstock into a vaulting-pole, by the aid of which he was springing about in the gravel and kicking it up not a little. “Why Randolph,” she freely began, “what are you doing?”
“I’m going up the Alps!” cried Randolph. “This is the way!” And he gave another extravagant jump, scattering the pebbles about Winterbourne’s ears.
“That’s the way they come down,” said Winterbourne.
“He’s an American man!” proclaimed Randolph in his harsh little voice.
The young lady gave no heed to this circumstance, but looked straight at her brother. “Well, I guess you’d better be quiet,” she simply observed.
It seemed to Winterbourne that he had been in a manner presented. He got up and stepped slowly toward the charming creature, throwing away his cigarette. “This little boy and I have made acquaintance,” he said with great civility. In Geneva, as he had been perfectly aware, a young man wasn’t at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady save under certain rarely-occurring conditions; but here at Vevey what conditions could be better than these?—a pretty American girl coming to stand in front of you in a garden with all the confidence in life. This pretty American girl, whatever that might prove, on hearing Winterbourne’s observation simply glanced at him; she then turned her head and looked over the parapet, at the lake and the opposite mountains. He wondered whether he had gone too far, but decided that he must gallantly advance rather than retreat. While he was thinking of something else to say the young lady turned again to the little boy, whom she addressed quite as if they were alone together. “I should like to know where you got that pole.”
“I bought it!” Randolph shouted.
“You don’t mean to say you’re going to take it to Italy!”
“Yes, I’m going to take it t’ Italy!” the child rang out.
She glanced over the front of her dress and smoothed out a knot or two of ribbon. Then she gave her sweet eyes to the prospect again. “Well, I guess you’d better leave it somewhere,” she dropped after a moment.
“Are you going to Italy?” Winterbourne now decided very respectfully to enquire.
She glanced at him with lovely remoteness. “Yes, sir,” she then replied. And she said nothing more.
“And are you—a—thinking of the Simplon?” he pursued with a slight drop of assurance.
“I don’t know,” she said. “I suppose it’s some mountain. Randolph, what mountain are we thinking of?”
Meet the Author
Elizabeth Hardwick is the author of many books and essays, including Herman Melville (Penguin Lives), Sleepless Nights, and American Fictions, available as a Modern Library paperback. She lives in New York City.
- Date of Birth:
- April 15, 1843
- Date of Death:
- February 28, 1916
- Place of Birth:
- New York, New York
- Place of Death:
- London, England
- Attended school in France and Switzerland; Harvard Law School, 1862-63
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
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Daisy Miller is the contemporary of two different worlds. Daisy acts as the symbol of the United States. She is young, fresh and vividly beautiful. Her innocence comes forth her within the specter of her flamboyant flirty conversation. As compared to the Old world virtues, who mock her because of the "extravagance" of her actions. She is seen as uncultured and utterly poised in an unorthodox manner which is to some respect true. Daisy, though, is quick to express the solidarity of her independence and she refuses to conform to the thoughts that others perceive of her. Along comes Winterbourne, probably the tale's protagonist as the image of Daisy is of his opinion and the story is told through his perspective. Winterbourne seems organized and dignified as shown by his everlasting attempt to classify Miss Daisy Miller. He ultimately fails. At first he is captivated and exceptionally attracted to Daisy only to reject her ideals and then soon having to regret it. Daisy, is indeed unique, her unique blend of a personality throws Winterbourne of course which later causes him to deeply worry of her health. Mr. Giovanelli snatches Daisy's attention. A man of a questionable reputation we know nothing of him other than he is an Italian. As Winterbourne ponders on what kind of a person Daisy is, despite their misunderstandings, she ultimately falls ill. Upon her death we learn that she did understand Winterbourne's intentions after it seems like she hasn't. He then speaks to his aunt Mrs. Costello who had flatly rejected her nephew's request to meet with the Millers very early within the story. Although, Winterbourne is unsure of what to do he eventually decides to return to Geneva. The book is entailed with a scene in which different aspects of culture are to meet. A scenario of a very beautiful American girl and an American boy who has adopted European standards.
I have to read this book for my high school literature class and it was a great surprise of its brilliance.
i really loved the plot, probably that i've been through the same thing that Winterbourne ben through. fascinating novel honestly. i could relate to this story without no doubt. After reading this i felt so weird, that one my life years is written in book with just different characters. thank you james for writing my favorite novel all time.
A lovely novella which hints at the great writer James would become. Like all great literature, its theme rings very true today. A fun read.
This short story is an excellent representation of the struggle between cultures and what one must do to survive in this predicament. Daisy is an example of a lady with much character to which one should strive to live up to. Whether one is looking for a short story to enjoy, or to critique the means of cultural existence, they will find Daisy Miller, by Henry James, an excellent choice.
Henry James is a literary genius and this novella expresses love, innocence, society, and inner turmoil within eighty pages that are saturated with real feeling.
daisy is honest,fresh and open and her heart is pure.the reason Daisy,has nothing in common with her fellow American is because they subscribe to European way of looking at life.