The vast difference between the behaviors of Daisy and Winterbourne, two young, single Americans abroad, has one obvious explanation apart from their divergent personalities: as a man, Winterbourne is free to act as he wishes and to embrace an independent lifestyle without condemnation, while Daisy is not. The novella implicitly if not explicitly develops this unjust difference based only on gender norms. Daisy is part of a generation of young American women to whom more options than ever were open—women’s rights movements were beginning in earnest, and the Grand Tour to Europe, which had earlier been open only to men, could now be enjoyed by women as well. However, this did not mean that women were entirely independent. That Mrs. Costello, Mrs. Walker, and others grow so shocked at Daisy’s desire to walk alone—“alone” usually meaning with one man, unaccompanied by a chaperone—underlines these limitations.
In many ways, the novella shows just how frustrating these limitations and lack of independence can be for intelligent, curious young women. Still, James is seemingly very ambivalent about the position of young American women at this historical moment. The book hardly embraces Daisy’s behavior as a model for young women, as her death at the end of the novella brings her experiments in independence to a tragic close, and is also shown as stemming from her own mistakes and rash choices. As the place of the woman in American and European culture was rapidly shifting, Henry James portrayed some of society’s own ambivalent views on what paths the New Woman could take, and what dangers she still faced, especially in the older, more established European culture.
Female Independence ThemeTracker
Female Independence Quotes in Daisy Miller
She paused again for an instant; she was looking at Winterbourne with all her prettiness in her lively eyes, and in her light, slightly monotonous smile. “I have always had,” she said, “a great deal of gentlemen’s society.”
He remembered that a cynical compatriot had once told him that American women—the pretty ones, and this gave largeness to the axiom—were at once the most exacting in the world and the least endowed with a sense of indebtedness.
The young girl looked at him more gravely, but with eyes that were prettier than ever. “I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate anything to me, or to interfere with anything I do.”