Winterbourne arrives in Rome in the end of January, a few weeks after his aunt. She has already written to tell him that the Millers are there, and the young lady has taken up with “third-rate” Italians. People are beginning to talk about her.
Months later, news of the Millers comes, as is often the case in this novella, indirectly, through various levels of observation and report. Here that gossip is condemning Daisy again.
Winterbourne asks for more specifics, and Mrs. Costello says that Daisy wanders around alone with the Italians, whom she takes as guests to people’s houses—in particular a gentleman with a remarkable moustache. Mrs. Costello says the family is dreadful, while Winterbourne, after musing a bit, says they are just ignorant and innocent, not bad. They are vulgar, Mrs. Costello corrects him.
Winterbourne wishes to have all the facts about Daisy’s behavior at his disposal so that he might be able to judge for himself. His understanding of Daisy’s innocence adds another wrinkle here: by linking it to ignorance, he suggests that it is neither laudable nor a true sin.
Winterbourne is a little annoyed to hear about all the foreign men flitting around Daisy, interrupting his image of her alone at a Roman window, awaiting his arrival. So he first goes to call on a friend, an American lady who used to spend winters in Geneva. After ten minutes, however, the lady’s servant announces the arrival of Mrs. Miller, with Randolph and Daisy with her. Upon entering, Randolph declares that he knows Winterbourne. Winterbourne greets the boy and begins to talk to him. Only then does Daisy, recognizing Winterbourne’s voice, turn and marvel that he is there. She didn’t believe he would come, she says, and he should have come to see her. He protests that he arrived yesterday, and when Daisy refuses to believe that, Winterbourne smiles in protest at her mother, who evades his glance and sits down with her son. Randolph says that their home is bigger than this one, and she stirs, rebuking him.
Although nothing definitively romantic has taken place between Winterbourne and Daisy, he has allowed himself to imagine that there is some interest, and that he may continue pursuing her—a notion that immediately seems suspect in Rome. It is clearly a small expatriate American community in the city, such that the characters can continually run into each other, and such that everyone seems to know everyone else’s affairs. Randolph, given his youthful lack of propriety, is the vehicle by which we come to understand the Millers’ wealthy economic status, even if the corresponding social elite in Rome refuse to embrace Daisy.
Winterbourne asks if Mrs. Miller has been well. Randolph exclaims that she has dyspepsia, and he and his father do as well. Mrs. Miller seems relieved rather than embarrassed by this. She begins to complain of the climate in Europe, and of the lack of a good doctor like her Dr. Davis in Schenectady. As Daisy continues to chat with the hostess, Mrs. Miller tells Winterbourne that she has been disappointed by Rome, which she expected to be otherwise than how it is. Winterbourne says it will grow on them, and Randolph pipes in, saying he hates it more every day. Mrs. Miller tells Winterbourne that Zurich, for instance, she found delightful.
Unlike Daisy (though in some ways like Randolph), Mrs. Miller is not entirely enthralled and enchanted by Europe, instead preferring to revert to familiar topics and familiar characters populating her social circle back home in New York. Mrs. Miller does make an effort to construct the kind of cosmopolitan opinions expected of people making the Grand Tour in Europe, distinguishing Rome from Zurich, but the effort seems half-hearted.
Mrs. Miller says that Daisy has loved Rome and is in fact carried away because of the “splendid” society. Daisy knows many gentlemen, she says, which always makes things more pleasant for a young lady.
There is no sense of condemnation in Mrs. Miller’s observation, simply a sense that Daisy is independent and will do as she likes.
Daisy turns and declares that she’s been telling Mrs. Walker, the hostess, how “mean” Winterbourne has been. Winterbourne is a little annoyed that Daisy hasn’t appreciated that he went directly to Rome, stopping nowhere along the way, precisely because he was impatient to see her. He recalls a friend who once told him that pretty American women are both very exacting and entirely unlikely to feel indebted to someone. Daisy cries that Winterbourne didn’t stay at Vevay when she asked, and Winterbourne exclaims that he’s come all the way to Rome just to hear her reproaches. Daisy turns to Mrs. Walker, marveling at Winterbourne, but Mrs. Walker seems to be on Winterbourne’s side.
Winterbourne has one certain narrative unfolding in his mind about his budding relationship with Daisy, but Daisy either doesn’t see or refuses to play along with that illusion. Instead she prefers to rebuke Winterbourne in a way that seems simultaneously playful and indignant. Though American himself, and surrounded by other Americans abroad in Vevay and in Rome, Winterbourne considers Daisy a more “authentic” specimen of his native country.
Daisy then asks Mrs. Walker’s permission to bring a friend to her upcoming party. Mrs. Walker, turning to Mrs. Miller, says she’d be delighted to meet their friend, but Mrs. Miller shyly says she doesn’t know this friend. Daisy says it is an “intimate” friend, Mr. Giovanelli. Mrs. Walker pauses, glances at Mrs. Miller, and then says she’d be glad to see him. Daisy serenely continues talking, praising him as handsome and clever and saying he’d like to meet Americans.
A gentleman friend would normally be welcome as a friend of the family, but here Mrs. Miller shrugs off the role of matriarch and allows her daughter to express her own wishes and ask her own favors. Mrs. Walker’s pause and glance can be understood as an unspoken judgment on the behavior of both Daisy and her mother.
Daisy tells her mother to leave without her, as she’s going to walk. Randolph says she’s meeting Mr. Giovanelli. It’s the end of the afternoon, when many people are out, and Mrs. Walker doesn’t think it’s safe. Mrs. Miller agrees, saying Daisy will get the fever. Daisy smiles and kisses Mrs. Walker good-bye, saying she’s not going alone, but with a friend. Mrs. Walker asks if it’s Mr. Giovanelli. Daisy glances at Winterbourne, but without hesitating, smiles and says yes. Mrs. Walker pleads with her not to go to meet an Italian at this hour. Daisy says that she doesn’t want to be improper, so she’ll ask Winterbourne to accompany her. He agrees, and they go downstairs.
This is the first time we hear of the Roman fever, or malaria. This was a fear for many travelers to Rome, who believed it could be transmitted through the air and thus that certain areas were particularly fraught with danger. Daisy receives these warnings calmly and cheerfully, as usual, but also without even appearing to consider them and deviate from her own plan. Daisy’s understanding of what is “proper” obviously differs very much from Mrs. Walker’s.
Daisy and Winterbourne go outside and move slowly through the packed streets. Winterbourne enjoys seeing many passersby ogle at Daisy, but he wonders how she could have thought to make this walk alone.
As often is the case, Winterbourne is torn between his attraction to Daisy and his confusion regarding her motivations and actions.
Daisy rebukes Winterbourne for not coming to see her earlier, but then turns to other topics. She says she’ll stay in Rome all winter if the fever doesn’t kill them. She was afraid Rome would be stuffy and boring, but now she’s met many charming people and enjoys the “select” society with many foreigners.
Unlike other travelers, Daisy seems unconcerned about the mysterious Roman fever. Instead she prefers to concentrate on her own definition of social success, participating in the fascinating Roman “society.”
They pass the Pincian Gardens gate, and Winterbourne says he won’t help Daisy find Mr. Giovanelli. She laughs, then sees the Italian leaning against a tree. He is handsome, and wears a cocked hat and a nosegay (small bunch of flowers) in the buttonhole of his shirt. Winterbourne says he won’t leave her alone with him, but Daisy only looks at Winterbourne, seeming unembarrassed as she rebukes his arrogant tone. Daisy says she’s never let any gentleman interfere with her affairs or tell her what to do. Winterbourne thinks she should listen to the right gentleman. As the Italian approaches, Winterbourne tells Daisy that this is not the right gentleman.
The banter between Winterbourne and Daisy is playful and, at least on Winterbourne’s side, seems to stem from truly felt emotions. Winterbourne certainly seems to find it inappropriate for Daisy to be wandering around with an unknown Italian man by herself, but he also obviously would much prefer if Daisy were to spend time with him instead. Daisy’s streak of independence comes out clearly here, as she dismisses interference by any man. Unfortunately, this female independence is wholly condemned by the society she’s now living in.
Daisy introduces the two men and they walk, each on one side of her. Mr. Giovanelli is polite, clever, and sophisticated, but speaks with little sense. Winterbourne thinks that the man is just an imitation of a gentleman, and he feels indignant that Daisy can’t tell a real one apart from a fake one. Still, he admits that Giovanelli is agreeable and adept at pretending.
Winterbourne’s sense of what a “real” gentleman would be isn’t entirely clear, but it has to to do with being enmeshed in a network of social relations in which everyone understands each other’s social positions. This status has little to do with any personal charm—the thing Daisy seems to admire most. Once again Winterbourne is shown as a character who primarily observes and judges, rather than acts. Giovanelli may not be a “proper gentleman,” but he at least makes his interest in Daisy clear.
Again Winterbourne wonders if a “nice girl” would really meet up with a foreigner to walk about alone. Daisy is not quite delicate, but neither can he bring himself to feel that she is just a flirt, an occasion for a brief passion. Still, Daisy doesn’t seem to want to get rid of Winterbourne: she once again seems both bold and innocent, he thinks.
Here, Winterbourne contrasts innocence to boldness, as he wonders if Daisy is really toying with him or just frankly enjoys his company. “Delicate” and “flirtatious” and “nice” are all further descriptors that he tries out, but that fail to fully work. We start to get the sense that Winterbourne’s judgments fail so often because Daisy is a real, complicated human, and thus can’t be narrowed down to a single category.
After fifteen minutes, Mrs. Walker pulls up in a carriage, her face flushed, and beckons to Winterbourne. She cries that 50 people have noticed Daisy, and she must stop. Winterbourne asks her not to make a fuss about it, since Daisy is simply innocent, but Mrs. Walker calls her crazy, with an “imbecile” mother. She’s come to drive Daisy around in the carriage for a while, so that people might see she isn’t completely wild.
Mrs. Walker seems to have patronizingly taken on Daisy’s social education for herself. As a fellow American woman in Rome, Mrs. Walker has had to learn just how she can and cannot act in society, and it is maddening for her to see Daisy flout these rules. Her descriptors for Daisy are much harsher than Winterbourne’s own characterizations.
Winterbourne goes to fetch Daisy, who seems delighted to present Mr. Giovanelli to Mrs. Walker. Mrs. Walker asks her to get in the carriage, and Daisy replies brightly that she would be charmed to, but is quite happy where she is. This isn’t the custom here, Mrs. Walker says, and Daisy exclaims that it should be. When Mrs. Walker suggests she walk with her mother, Daisy says a little more sharply that she is old enough, and Mrs. Walker says she’s old enough to be talked about. Daisy continues to smile and queries what Mrs. Walker means; the older woman only tells her to get in. Winterbourne starts to feel awkward, as Daisy says she doesn’t want to know what Mrs. Walker means by this.
It is difficult to tell to what extent Daisy is oblivious about the trouble that she is causing, and to what extent she simply is willing to ignore it. Even if Mrs. Walker acquaints Daisy with local “customs,” Daisy cannot see why the existence of such customs should force her to act in a certain way—she has her own customs, stemming from her place of origin, but also her sense of the way things should be stemming from her own idiosyncratic and independent character. This seems like an admirable position for Daisy to take, but in a society of such rigid rules, it is seen as “vulgar” and even “wicked.”
Daisy begins to flush, and looks quite pretty to Winterbourne. She asks him if her reputation requires that she get in the carriage. Winterbourne flushes himself and, after pausing, decides it is most gentlemanly to tell the truth, so he says she should get in. Daisy laughs loudly and cries that she will just have to be improper, and then she promptly turns away to walk with Mr. Giovanelli.
Finally Daisy seems to become aware of the stakes of refusing Mrs. Walker’s entreaties, but now it has become a question of asserting her own free spirit. So she digs her heels in and embraces impropriety, ensuring that the principle of her own independence will be secured (but her reputation with Mrs. Walker will be ruined).
Mrs. Walker, her eyes tearing up, tells Winterbourne to get in: when he says he must follow Daisy, she says if he does she’ll never speak to him again. Winterbourne catches up with Daisy just to tell her he’s leaving. She hardly looks at him as he says goodbye. Mr. Giovanelli tips his hat extravagantly.
Mrs. Walker’s frustration and anger contrasts sharply to the nonchalance of Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli. Winterbourne is strung between them, sharing some of Mrs. Walker’s opinions but still drawn to Daisy—once again a character who only observes and judges, but cannot act.
Winterbourne tells Mrs. Walker, back in the carriage, that her earnestness has backfired: Daisy means no harm. Mrs. Walker thinks she’s gone too far, flirting with Italians, dancing with the same men all evening, and receiving visitors late at night. Winterbourne, laughing, says Daisy’s brother stays up even later, but Mrs. Walker isn’t amused. She says the servants all exchange smiles when a gentleman comes to ask for Daisy. Winterbourne grows angry at this, saying Daisy’s only fault is her lack of cultivation.
Initially, Winterbourne hopes to downplay Mrs. Walker’s condemnation of Daisy and make it into something humorous, but Mrs. Walker refuses to lighten up. Soon enough, however, Winterbourne himself grows offended, this time by the realization that Daisy’s reputation is suffering—even among their social “inferiors,” the servants. This seems to especially upset Winterbourne.
When Mrs. Walker marvels at how Daisy should have made a fuss about Winterbourne leaving Vevay, when they’d only known each other for a few days, Winterbourne pauses and then says that she and he himself have lived too long in Geneva.
Winterbourne too was frustrated by Daisy’s ambiguous reaction to his departure from Vevay, but now he chooses to defend her, perceiving that he and Mrs. Walker may hold their own prejudices.
Mrs. Walker asks Winterbourne to stop associating with Miss Miller, but he says he likes her very much and won’t. Mrs. Walker warns that he’ll contribute to her scandal, but then she says she’s said her piece, so she drops him off by the Villa Borghese at the edge of the Pincian Garden. In the distance Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli are seated on a bench. Winterbourne watches them wander toward the wall, where Giovanelli perches himself. Winterbourne pauses, then walks away towards Mrs. Costello’s.
Mrs. Walker, for her part, is becoming increasingly stubborn herself regarding Daisy’s behavior, and now even attempting to have Winterbourne shun Daisy as well. As Winterbourne watches Daisy and Giovanelli, it becomes clear that his role in her life is now definitively one of an observer rather than a participant, which is why he knows enough to turn away.
The next two days, Winterbourne tries to call at Daisy’s hotel, but she’s not home either time. On the third day is Mrs. Walker’s party, where she has gathered several specimens of European society, whom she likes to trot out at such events.
Mrs. Walker, an American expatriate herself, also enjoys setting European and American “specimens” against each other—assuming that she has fully “assimilated” herself.
When Winterbourne arrives, he sees Mrs. Miller, though not Daisy. Mrs. Miller tells Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker that she feels frightened to have come alone. Daisy is dressed, she says, but started playing at the piano with the Italian, and they were too enraptured to leave. Mrs. Walker is deeply offended, and tells Winterbourne to the side that Daisy is having her revenge for the other day. Mrs. Walker says she won’t speak to Daisy when she comes.
Mrs. Miller, as usual, does not seem embarrassed or concerned with concealing her specific family affairs, or with Daisy’s stubbornness and penchant for independence. For her part, Mrs. Walker finds Daisy’s behavior utterly reprehensible, and searches for a way to punish her for what she sees as her rudeness. This behavior seems especially petty and spiteful, but Mrs. Walker sees it as her “duty” in upholding proper social rules.
Daisy doesn’t arrive until eleven o’clock, looking lovely, smiling and chattering next to Mr. Giovanelli. She goes straight to Mrs. Walker and introduces her to the Italian, saying his beautiful singing made them late. Mrs. Walker is short with Mr. Giovanelli, who continues to act like a handsome Italian, singing and curling his mustache, throughout the evening.
Eleven o’clock, a motif throughout the book, is related to Daisy’s independent sense of schedule and propriety. She hardly feels that arriving late is an offense to Mrs. Walker. Giovanelli is described as a very European, though somewhat ridiculous, figure.
Daisy and Winterbourne begin to talk. She says she was shocked that Mrs. Walker wanted her to abandon Mr. Giovanelli and join her in the carriage the other day, scoffing at the idea that this would have been “proper,” rather than merely unkind, as he had invited her long before to walk in the gardens. Winterbourne says Giovanelli would never have asked an Italian lady to walk around the streets with him. Daisy is grateful she’s not from here, and doesn’t see why she should change her habits for them.
It is not that Daisy lacks all sense of social custom and propriety: she retains her own sense of what is and is not proper. For her, abandoning Mr. Giovanelli would be its own form of social indecency. Winterbourne feels that Giovanelli’s attitude stems from stereotypes associated with “forward” American ladies, though Daisy doesn’t seem to mind this.
Winterbourne warns her that her habits are those of a flirt, and, staring and smiling at him, she cries that she’s certainly a flirt, as all nice girls are. Winterbourne agrees that she is nice, but says he’d like her only to flirt with himself. Daisy thanks him but says he is much too stiff to flirt with. She laughs at his discomfort.
Is Daisy teasing Winterbourne, provoking him just as a flirt would do, or is she just deflecting his critique by making light of it? Either or both may be true. In any case, Winterbourne lacks Daisy’s social ease and comfort.
Winterbourne continues, trying to convince Daisy that she should follow the custom of a certain place, rather than flirt in the American custom, which people may misinterpret. Daisy brightly says they’re not flirting anyway: she and Mr. Giovanelli are intimate friends. Winterbourne casually remarks that it’s different if they’re in love, and he’s surprised to see that this comment, after such frank chat, makes Daisy rise and blush. She says that Mr. Giovanelli never says such disagreeable things to her.
Winterbourne is still earnest in his desire for Daisy to understand the implications of her actions, and what they mean for others around them. But again, Daisy deflects his careful categorization of European versus American customs and characters. Still, her sudden embarrassment suggests that she’s not just toying with Winterbourne after all.
Daisy turns to the Italian, who asks if she’d like tea—which she says Winterbourne has never thought to offer her. Daisy remains with Mr. Giovanelli in the other room for the rest of the party. When Daisy prepares to bid Mrs. Walker goodbye, the hostess turns her back on Daisy. Winterbourne watches from the door as Daisy turns pale and glances at Mrs. Miller, who remains oblivious. Winterbourne realizes that Daisy is shocked and confused, and he is touched. After the Millers leave, Winterbourne tells Mrs. Walker that she was cruel, but she only declares she’ll never invite Daisy again.
Daisy finds her own way to punish Winterbourne for his off-the-cuff comment. As she leaves, though, Daisy herself is punished by Mrs. Walker’s coldness to her. Winterbourne, as is often the case, watches this scene unfold rather than participating in it actively himself. He seems to begin to conceive of Daisy as, again, innocent in the sense of remaining open to opportunities, but lacking a sense of their implications—not bold so much as ignorant.
Winterbourne continues to visit the Millers’ hotel, where they are often absent, though when they are there Giovanelli always is too. Much of the time it is only he and Daisy in the drawing room. Winterbourne is surprised that Daisy never seems annoyed when Winterbourne intrudes on their meetings. He thinks that if she really does love Giovanelli, she should be more upset when their privacy is interrupted. But he certainly appreciates her innocent indifference and good humor, and her seeming inability to be jealous. Winterbourne has often felt something approaching fear of women he had been interested in before, and he doesn’t feel that way at all with Daisy.
Winterbourne understands that, as a lover, he has largely lost out to Giovanelli, but he still cannot bring himself to stop his regular visits to Daisy. He also retains a sense of hope that Daisy is not in love with Giovanelli after all. In either case, however, Winterbourne seems to have ceased feeling a jealous protectiveness of Daisy, and instead simply remains fascinated by her as a person, attempting to puzzle out why she acts the way she does.
Still, Winterbourne has to admit that Daisy seems to find Giovanelli fascinating: she is always asking him questions and ordering him around. One day Winterbourne is at St. Peter’s with Mrs. Costello and sees the couple together. Mrs. Costello remarks that Winterbourne has been quiet recently, and must be wrapped up in thinking about Miss Miller’s affair with the Italian. Winterbourne corrects her, saying it’s not an “intrigue” since it’s so out in the open.
Daisy, too, is perhaps less interested in Giovanelli as a lover than as a European specimen, one from whom she’s continuing to learn about this novel, exciting society and setting. She cares so little to hide her relationship that, for Winterbourne, it can’t count as an “intrigue.” Mrs. Costello is less interested in those subtleties. And yet at the same time it’s still unclear if Giovanelli is Daisy’s lover or not, or if he is just another fascinated devotee like Winterbourne (but a more active one).
Mrs. Costello, watching the couple, says she easily understands the appeal: Daisy must think him a fine gentleman, finer even than the courier, who probably introduced them. Winterbourne says he doesn’t think they’ll marry, and his aunt replies that Daisy certainly lives day-to-day, thinking of nothing. Mrs. Costello calls this perfectly vulgar.
Mrs. Costello speaks with calm but biting sarcasm, condemning Daisy for her willingness to burst open the strict social ladder constructed by both Europeans and Americans abroad. “Vulgar” is a term she repeatedly associates with the new-money Millers.
Winterbourne says he’s asked around about Giovanelli, who is apparently respectable, though he doesn’t move in the finest circles. Daisy, he says, probably thinks him a gentleman, just as he finds her pretty, interesting, and splendid. Giovanelli must know that there is an elusive Mr. Miller who pays for all Daisy’s opulence, and Giovanelli doesn’t have any title and can’t hope to marry her. But neither does Daisy, he continues, have any idea of what it would mean to “catch” a real count or marchese.
In his constant attempt to understand Daisy, Winterbourne has gained indirect access to her “intimate friend.” He accepts that Daisy doesn’t have a nuanced sense of social distinctions, but for him that isn’t to be condemned—Daisy’s innocence here frees her from a characterization as a vulgar American trying to “catch” a rich Italian.
At St. Peter’s, other friends of Mrs. Costello gather around them and discuss how Daisy has really gone “too far.” Winterbourne is upset at this talk, finding it painful to hear her innocence described as vulgar disorder, but he has to concede that she’s gone too far.
The other members of the small expatriate community are confident that they have gained complete knowledge of Daisy, while Winterbourne thinks they’ve merely misinterpreted her character.
One day Winterbourne meets a friend in the Corso (a large boulevard) who has just emerged from the Doria Palace, where he saw a Velazquez portrait of Innocent X. The friend says he also saw “another kind of portrait”—the pretty American girl whom the friend knows Winterbourne to be acquainted with. She was with a little Italian, he says: he thought the lady was of better society than that.
The casual words of Winterbourne’s friend underline what is, in fact, a crucial element of the book—the attempt, made by Winterbourne and others, to paint Daisy’s portrait in language. But capturing Daisy in words or categories, is, of course, is not a straightforward task.
Winterbourne says that she is. He quickly gets into a cab to find Mrs. Miller, who is at home and says that Daisy is off with Mr. Giovanelli, as usual. Daisy claims she isn’t engaged, says Mrs. Miller, but she feels that the couple might as well be. She does hope Giovanelli tells her if it’s the case, so she can write to Mr. Miller. Winterbourne is so amazed and confused at Mrs. Miller’s lack of parental concern that he gives up his idea to warn her about Daisy’s behavior.
Once again Winterbourne finds himself in the position of having to defend Daisy’s reputation, or at least warn her of what is at stake in her behavior, which is now being noticed by a whole host of other figures throughout Rome. For Mrs. Miller, Daisy’s independence is a given, not something she can hope to change.
After this Winterbourne never finds Daisy at home, nor at the houses of his friends, who have stopped inviting her, and who have attempted to reassure their European friends that Daisy is not representative of young American ladies at all.
Although the American expatriates are not true Europeans, they are eager to let it be known that they, unlike Daisy, have successfully assimilated.
It annoys Winterbourne to think that Daisy might not even notice or care about this coldness—she is probably too “light,” uncultivated, and thoughtless to be upset. However, he also wonders whether she might not just be defiant about other people’s reactions to her behavior. He is annoyed with himself, too, for his uncertainty regarding her actions, and the extent to which her peculiarities stem from her nationality or her personality. Winterbourne realizes that, either way, Daisy has passed him by.
Once again, Winterbourne moves back and forth regarding his understanding of Daisy’s character. Of particular frustration to him is his inability to categorize her either as a typical American, or as a peculiar, strongly independent flirt. It is also telling that Winterbourne accepts the fact the life has “passed him by” while he’s been observing and judging Daisy—and yet he still can’t stop.
A few days later Winterbourne finds Daisy at the Palace of the Caesar on a fine spring day, strolling amid the mossy marble ruins. Giovanelli is at her side. Daisy calls that Winterbourne must be lonely, always walking alone. He says he’s not as lucky as Daisy’s companion. Giovanelli has always been distinguished and polite with Winterbourne, hardly acting like a jealous lover, and Winterbourne thinks he might easily have an understanding with Giovanelli, sharing their mutual amazement at Daisy’s extraordinary nature.
The setting of this encounter between Winterbourne, Daisy, and Giovanelli properly takes place around the kind of romantic Roman ruins that so fascinate Daisy. Indeed, it seems that for Daisy, Giovanelli (like Winterbourne before him) is another element of the setting that Daisy adores experiencing—though others can only conceive of it as inappropriate flirting. The interactions between the three further mystify Winterbourne as to the nature of Daisy and Giovanelli’s relationship.
Daisy says Winterbourne thinks she’s with Giovanelli too much. Everyone thinks so, Winterbourne replies. Daisy declares that everyone is “pretending” to be shocked, while really they don’t care what she does. They do, and they will grow disagreeable about it, Winterbourne says. Daisy asks him just how, and Winterbourne says she’ll see by calling on their acquaintances and seeing how they treat her coldly. Daisy starts to flush, and refers to Mrs. Walker’s behavior the other night.
Initially, Daisy doesn’t seem to believe that her behavior, which to her is so obviously benign, could possibly be so upsetting to others. But Daisy’s “innocence,” as described by Winterbourne, does not extend to total obliviousness: she does seem to grasp what it means for everyone around her to turn a cold shoulder to her, and this is disorienting and hurtful to her.
Daisy looks at Giovanelli, then back at Winterbourne, and says Winterbourne shouldn’t let people be so unkind. He protests that he has said something. Then he says Mrs. Miller believes Daisy is engaged. Daisy agrees that her mother does think this. Winterbourne begins to laugh, but stops when Daisy says she is engaged. She declares that Winterbourne doesn’t believe it. He says he does believe it, and then Daisy says that, in that case, she’s not engaged.
Daisy may have begun to grasp how eithers perceive of her actions, but she cannot align that with her own understanding of her behavior. Her contradictory statements seem to stem from this frustration and misunderstanding, as Daisy seeks to escape Winterbourne’s own judgment and belief that he’s “figured her out.” Yet as with the boat ride scene, here she seems to be acting petulant just to get attention—once again making it unclear whether her social improprieties are an admirable act of defiance, an oblivious ignorance of others, or a spoiled bid for attention.
Winterbourne leaves the couple. A week later he eats dinner at a villa on the Caelian Hill, and decides to walk past the monuments of the Forum in the moonlight, with the moon slightly concealed by the clouds. It is eleven o’clock when Winterbourne reaches the Coliseum. He loves picturesque scenes and decides to peek inside. He walks to one of the arches, where he sees an open carriage. Then he passes inside, where half of the circle of the Coliseum is lit in dusk and the other is totally dark.
In one of the few instances when we see Winterbourne alone, it is as a typical idle gentleman, willing to be affected by sensory experience without going out in dogged pursuit of it himself. Picturesque “scenes” rather than exciting experiences are his forte. Eleven o’clock, though, as we’ve come to expect, is of significance for Daisy rather than for him.
Winterbourne begins to recite some lines of poetry, but then remembers that doctors caution against spending time around these ancient monuments at night, since it can lead to the fever. Winterbourne hastens towards the middle, planning to leave quickly afterward. Then he sees two people poised on the low steps, talking: he recognizes Daisy’s voice.
The nineteenth-century understanding of malaria transmission made dark, cool ruins particular sites of danger. Winterbourne is unwilling to run this risk—but as will not be surprising by this point, Daisy does not feel the same.
Winterbourne is horrified by this discovery, but also a little relieved. Daisy’s behavior is finally easy to read for him—she is simply not a respectable lady. Winterbourne is angry that he’s spent so much time confused about how to think of her. He quickly retreats, but Daisy sees him and calls out his name. She rises and Giovanelli lifts his hat. Winterbourne’s thoughts turn to how dangerous it is for Daisy to be spending the evening lounging around in a place known to cause malaria.
Encountering Daisy at the Coliseum with Giovanelli late at night seems to solve the mystery of her character for Winterbourne, and his relief at this encounter is arguably the climax of the book. For a while now he hasn’t really wanted to court Daisy or to defend her character against condemnation, but mostly just to observe this fascinating person until he can know her and judge her. No longer does he feel the need to weigh competing evidence, as this totally shocking behavior is evidence enough to prove her character disreputable to him. Still, the fever that Daisy has joked about recently is, for Winterbourne, now a real danger for both of them.
Daisy says she’s been here all evening, and nothing can be so pretty. Winterbourne tells her that people catch Roman fever from such beauty. He rebukes Giovanelli for leading her here, and Giovanelli says he’s not afraid for himself, and the lady has never been prudent. Daisy declares that she couldn’t have left Rome without seeing the Coliseum by moonlight.
Daisy, as usual, sees nothing uncouth in her own actions. Although Winterbourne believes he no longer needs to worry about Daisy, he still retains a remnant of concern. Now, for him, the only thing left to worry (about as a gentleman) is Daisy’s health.
Winterbourne counsels them to leave immediately, and Giovanelli goes to get the carriage. Daisy doesn’t seem at all embarrassed, though after a minute of chatting she asks why Winterbourne is silent. He only begins to laugh. When she asks if he really thought her to be engaged the other day, he says that it doesn’t matter: he now thinks it makes little difference if she’s engaged or not. Daisy’s eyes fix themselves on Winterbourne, but as she’s about to speak, Giovanelli calls that the carriage is ready. In a strange tone, Daisy declares that she doesn’t care whether or not she gets Roman fever, and the carriage rolls away.
Winterbourne’s laughter should be read as more bitter than lighthearted, as he now definitively moves from caring deeply about Daisy’s reputation to understanding (he thinks) that he’s been wrong in trying to defend it all along, and wrong even in trying so hard to uncover her character. Daisy, usually so talkative, seems able to express more in her significant last look at Winterbourne than words could accomplish—she is deeply affected by his condemnation of her.
Winterbourne mentions to no one the circumstances of his meeting with Daisy, but in a few days all the Americans seem to know about it—they would have found out at the hotel upon Daisy’s return, Winterbourne realizes. Still, he no longer feels very sorry that Daisy should be gossiped about.
Winterbourne does not stoop as low as other travelers, who are quick to gossip and spread rumors about Daisy, but his encounter with her has made him lose any great sense of protectiveness over her.
A few days later, the same gossips reveal that Daisy is seriously ill. Winterbourne goes to the hotel at once, where a few other acquaintances are in Mrs. Miller’s salon, and Randolph is declaring that Daisy is sick with the fever from wandering around at night.
Just as he had feared, Winterbourne cannot stay away for long once he hears that Daisy is sick. Again, Randolph speaks greater truth than discretion would allow.
Mrs. Miller appears, seeming distressed but composed, though she does continue to talk a great deal about Dr. Davis. Mrs. Miller tells Winterbourne that Daisy has asked her to tell him that Daisy was never engaged to Mr. Giovanelli—who has disappeared since Daisy has been sick. Mrs. Miller doesn’t think he’s such a gentleman after all. Anyway, she concludes, Daisy asked her three times to give that message to Winterbourne, and to ask him if he remembers when they went to a castle in Switzerland.
Mrs. Miller escapes parody only by her earnest sense of concern for her daughter, and by the crucial message that she transmits from Daisy to Winterbourne (even if Mrs. Miller doesn’t seem to see how important the message is). We realize here that Daisy was not, after all, just playing or toying with Winterbourne: whatever her character, she does consider him a friend, and possibly even a romantic interest.
A week later Daisy dies, and she is buried in the small Protestant cemetery in Rome. There are more mourners than one might have predicted, given the scandal. Giovanelli is there, looking pale. Finally he says that Daisy was the most beautiful and amiable lady he’d ever seen. He adds that she was the most innocent, too. Winterbourne looks at him and repeats that last phrase as a question. Giovanelli repeats what he said. Winterbourne, angry, asks why Giovanelli took her to the Coliseum. Giovanelli says he was not afraid for himself, and she wanted to go. If she had lived, he says, she never would have married him. Winterbourne looks down at the flowers, and when he turns back, Mr. Giovanelli has gone.
The harsh social treatment dealt Daisy when she was alive is not equaled at her death, suggesting a certain level of quiet humbling, if not regret at the way people condemned her. Right at the end, Winterbourne is back to being unable to decide whether or not Daisy was “innocent,” and what that would even mean. Giovanelli has proved himself to be not the most gallant gentleman (although his use of the word “innocent” again throws the sexual nature of their relationship into question), but Winterbourne does have to agree with his last thoughts on Daisy’s independence and free spirit.
Winterbourne leaves Rome soon. The next summer he meets his aunt again at Vevay. One day he reflects to Mrs. Costello that he had done an injustice to Daisy: she gave him a message before her death that he only understands now. She would have appreciated his esteem of her, he says. Winterbourne says Mrs. Costello was right to have said, last summer, that he was susceptible to making a mistake. He’s lived abroad too long, he says. Yet Winterbourne goes back to live in Geneva, where some say he is studying, and others that he is involved with a foreign lady.
It takes Winterbourne a good deal of time and space to understand that Daisy was more complex than he gave her credit for after their encounter at the Coliseum. She died searching for novelty and experience, something that Winterbourne cannot understand, as we see that he remains a static observer, ending at the same place where he started. It’s as if Daisy Miller—a real, complicated person who lived and died (in the world of the novella)—was just an episode or character study in Winterbourne’s life, and now he continues on as usual, seemingly unchanged.