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Upon Winterbourne’s return to Vevey, Switzerland, he had been resting on a park bench, conversing with a curious little boy when a “beautiful young lady,” Daisy Miller, approached. After a brief prattle, the two arranged a day’s trip to the Castle of Chillon and over the next few months planned on meeting again in Italy. Throughout the story, Winterbourne tries to descry Miss Miller’s personality and at the same time question her reputation as a flirtatious American girl in the late nineteenth century. Henry James’ famous novelette, Daisy Miller, is a timeless story depicting what results from the defiance of social customs, ignoring advice pertaining to one’s reputation, and finally confronting reality.
From her first tête-à-tête with Winterbourne and until her last, Miss Miller defies all social customs pertinent in European society. During Winterbourne’s first introduction to Miss Miller, to his surprise, she accepts his extremely bold decision to travel to the Castle without knowing if he was a respectable man. Later that same evening they met once more in the garden. She asked Winterbourne to take her out for a boat ride, but after gaining permission from her mother, she decided she would rather not go if no one would put up a fuss about her doing something so irrational. Winterbourne was left alone to ponder her whims and odd form of coquetry. After their parting, both agreed to meet again in Geneva, Italy. When Winterbourne first arrived in Geneva, he received news of Miss Miller’s latest escapades from his very reputable aunt. During her stay in Geneva, her gentleman society was composed of “half a dozen of the regular Roman fortune hunters.” As an American girl, she stayed true to her own values although she was in a foreign land. Daisy Miller was unaware of the social structure that depends on gender and class oppression and she developed a reputation for herself that would hinder her relationships with upper society.
By preserving her American identity, the talk of Miss Miller’s flirtatiousness and unladylike behavior spread throughout Geneva and soon her reputation had grown bigger than even she could handle. One evening while Miss Miller was with the company of Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker, a dear friend, she informed her companions that she would be leaving now to meet Giovanni, an Italian fortune hunter and “intimate friend,” for a walk. Winterbourne, knowing his objection would do no good, offered to at least walk her to her friend so she would not be alone so late at night. Upon recognizing that Giovanni was of bad character, he questioned her companion and immediately stated that he would remain with her for the evening. She retorted seriously, “I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me or interfere with anything I do.” Winterbourne again warned her of Giovanni and said that he was not the right type of man for her. She paid no heed to his advice and quickly joined Giovanni. At this point, Mrs. Walker could take no more. She met the group in her carriage and begged Miss Miller to come home with her for sake of her reputation. After saying that she was old enough to be out at night, Mrs. Walker bluntly stated that Miss Miller was also old enough to be talked about. Startled, Miss Miller responded by saying that, “if this is improper, than I am all improper and you must give me up.” With that, Mrs. Walker and Winterbourne left their ignorant friend to her companion Giovanni. At this point, Miss Miller’s disregard toward her reputation and her own well being cost her the respect of her own friends.
The repulse Miss Miller received from her friends was a rude awakening that caused her to confront the reality of her situation. She soon attended her last party at Mrs. Walker’s home and was left by herself. For the first time, Winterbourne perceived that she was embarrassed and ashamed. Another instance occurred one late summer night when Winterbourne wandered into a Roman Coliseum and to his surprise found Miss Miller and Giovanni. He pleaded with Miss Miller, not out of kindness, but merely for the sake of her health, to return home for fear of catching Roman Fever. Miss Miller
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Daisy Miller, English-language films, Winterbourne, Lillian Miller
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