Daisy Miller


Henry James

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Daisy Miller Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Henry James's Daisy Miller. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Henry James

Henry James was born to a lecturer and social theorist, Henry James Sr., and was the second oldest of five children. Throughout James’s childhood, his family moved back and forth between New York, Rhode Island, Paris, and Geneva. He and his brothers received a somewhat haphazard schooling as a result of this constant movement. The James family later settled in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where Henry enrolled at Harvard Law School, though he soon quit. He began to publish stories during the Civil War, and also began contributing to magazines and journals like The Nation at this time. In 1874 he settled in Italy to write a novel, and then moved to Europe definitively in 1875. He first lived in Paris, where he met authors like Gustave Flaubert and Emile Zola, and then to London. James’s stories and novels began to reach international success, especially following the publication of The Portrait of a Lady in 1880. James never married, and was certainly attracted to men, although his homosexuality remained hidden from nearly everyone in his life. In the first few years of the twentieth century, James’s “late period,” he published three novels that cemented his legacy: The Wings of the Dove, The Ambassadors, and The Golden Bowl. After returning to New York in 1905, he began to heavily revise a number of his works and to write literary introductions to them, which are considered exemplary essays in their own right. But despite his critical acclaim, approval from the general public continued to elude him, and he began to be deeply depressed. He recovered and returned to England, living to see the outbreak of World War I, and died in London.
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Historical Context of Daisy Miller

The last thirty years or so of the nineteenth century in the United States are known as the Gilded Age, a term coined by Mark Twain, who was referring to the thin sheen of wealth and extravagance covering a reality of corruption and desperation. During this time, industrialization increased rapidly in the country, along with the expansion of railroads, corporations, and American imperial ventures. At the same time, many writers and thinkers began to critique what they saw as a culture of excess, not to mention the many poor and ethnic minorities left out of such growth. This was also a period that saw the birth of various suffragette movements that fought for women’s rights. Daisy Miller evidently stems from one of the families that benefited from Gilded Age production—her father is a businessman in upstate New York—and yet were often considered to wear their wealth too openly, without proper discretion. This is also the period when an increasing number of young Americans, including women, participated in the “Grand Tour” in Europe—a chance to spend months abroad and become acquainted with the culture of the Old World.

Other Books Related to Daisy Miller

Henry James returned again and again in his fiction, from The Portrait of a Ladyto The Ambassadors and The Wings of the Dove and others, to stories of Americans abroad in Europe, as he explored the contrast between American innocence and freedom with European age and convention. He particularly focused on the trope of a young American lady facing an unknown society and culture in Europe. James’s cousin, Milly Temple, who died quite young, is said to have been the model for Daisy Miller, but James also seems to have wanted to elaborate on this character study in greater depth. He did so in his great novel, A Portrait of a Lady, whose protagonist Isabel Archer bears some resemblance to Daisy. Edith Wharton was another novelist during this era who forged intricate cultural and psychological portraits of women—particularly women who are foreign or who have spent time abroad—including The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocents. Wharton and James began corresponding at the beginning of the 20th century. Henry James was also indebted to French realist novelists like Gustave Flaubert and Honoré de Balzac. He drew on their stylistic innovations and developed a mode of psychological realism in which readers could witness action through the consciousness of one character in particular, like Winterbourne in Daisy Miller. In the beginning of the 20th century, authors like Virginia Woolf and James Joyce would develop this tool even more radically through their stream-of-consciousness and “free indirect discourse” approach.
Key Facts about Daisy Miller
  • Full Title: Daisy Miller
  • When Written: 1877-1878
  • Where Written: London
  • When Published: In serialized magazine form between June and July 1878; in book form later that year.
  • Literary Period: Literary realism
  • Genre: Novella
  • Setting: Vevay, Switzerland and Rome, Italy
  • Climax: Winterbourne discovers Daisy with her Italian admirer, Mr. Giovanelli, wandering the Coliseum late at night, risking illness in addition to her reputation.
  • Antagonist: In some ways, the women in Rome who band against Daisy, judging and condemning her because of her social improprieties, can be considered to be Daisy’s antagonists. But Daisy herself can also be seen as an antagonist to the very way of life sketched out by Henry James in the novella.
  • Point of View: The novella, written in the third person, distinguishes the narrator from Winterbourne, although it cleaves closely to Winterbourne’s perspective. The narrator also often adopts a character’s point of view and speaking style without directly quoting him or her, leading to a greater collapse between narrator and characters.

Extra Credit for Daisy Miller

Upstaged: Henry James attempted to gain wider public success by writing for the stage, but his play, Guy Domville, was a disaster. It was ridiculed by the public when it was staged in 1895.

All in the Family: Henry’s brother, William James, was perhaps the most well-known philosopher and psychologist in the United States in the later part of the nineteenth century, and indeed is often considered the first modern American psychologist.