Table of Contents | Message Board | Printable Version | Barron's Booknotes
DAISY MILLER STUDY GUIDE
CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
PART I: "DAISY MILLER"
The first half of the story takes place in the small resort town of Vevey, Switzerland, at the shore of a lake surrounded by hotels. The hotels are of different varieties, with flags, bright paint, summer houses, and gardens. But the hotel "of luxury and of maturity" is the Trois Couronnes (three crowns), where German waiters, who look like secretaries, serve guests from all over Europe and America. It is the hotel of choice, the place to be seen.
Frederick Winterbourne is an American living in Geneva. The reason for his presence in the city is vague; he is either continuing his studies in Geneva or is devoted to a foreign lady there. He is presently on a short holiday in Vevey with his aunt. At the beginning of the story, he is having his breakfast in the garden of the Trois Couronnes. A small American boy of nine or ten comes up to him and asks for a lump of sugar. Winterbourne grants his request, but warns him that sugar is bad for his teeth. The lad entertains Winterbourne with his talk of candy and his evaluation that everything American is better than European.
The lad's pretty sister, Daisy, confidently approaches, and Winterbourne exclaims that American girls are wonderful. Daisy is dressed in white muslin with lots of ribbons, is carrying a parasol, and is bareheaded. She scolds her brother, who pays her no mind. Winterbourne, knowing he is being forward to speak to a young, unmarried lady, tries to enter into conversation with Daisy; but she is perplexingly vague and rather ignores him to try and handle her brother. Winterbourne presses on, talking about the view, and eventually gets Daisy's direct regard. Her eyes are "singularly honest and fresh," and very pretty. He notices that her features are very lovely, yet "want finish." She might be a coquette, yet she does not have the manipulative mannerisms of that type: "no mockery, no irony." She begins asking him questions, notes that he looks awfully German for an American gentleman, and assumes he does not know the location of New York, her home state. She then sits down although she claims she likes to stand. Daisy is soon relaxed, almost tranquil. Winterbourne is attracted to her.
Winterbourne grabs the brother and asks his name, forcing an introduction. All three are formally introduced, and the reader learns that Daisy and her brother Randolph are traveling alone with their mother. Their father, who does not care for Europe, stayed behind to care for his business, located in Schenectady. The family is obviously wealthy. Randolph is bored with Europe and wants to go back to America. In contrast, Daisy appears happy with everything; she is not disappointed with Europe only anxious about the lack of "society." She explains that she had an active social life in New York with many gentlemen friends. Winterbourne is slightly shocked and highly amused with Daisy. He decides that she is a flirt and that he is going to learn the conditions and limitations of socializing with her.
Winterbourne and Daisy discuss going across the lake to the castle, Chateau de Chillon. She wants to go, but not alone; unfortunately her mother cannot accompany her because of her bouts of illness, and Randolph is not interested in old castles. Winterbourne realizes that Daisy is hinting to him; he responds that he would like to go with her to the castle. His boldness in making such a statement is lost on Daisy, who merely comments that if he means it, Randolph can stay with her mother and Eugenio, the courier. Winterbourne knows it would be improper to go with Daisy alone to the castle, but he likes the idea and thinks he is lucky to have the chance.
The handsome courier, Eugenio, approaches the table, looks Winterbourne over, and coolly announces lunch to Daisy. When Daisy tells Eugenio of the plan to visit the castle, he replies in an insolent tone. All three are uncomfortable, but Winterbourne insists that he means to go and that he will introduce his aunt, presumably to speak for his character and against Eugenio's doubt of it. Daisy then answers vaguely, turns away, and regally walks to the hotel beside Eugenio.
Winterbourne goes inside to see his aunt, who has an aristocratic face and puffy white hair. She claims to be a woman of fortune and distinction; she also says she is socially powerful in New York. Since her own three sons are grown and not traveling with her, she likes the attentiveness Winterbourne shows her. When Winterbourne discusses Daisy, he learns that his aunt considers the Millers and their courier to be vulgar. Winterbourne argues that Daisy is pretty and innocent, not knowing the ways of society. Mrs. Costello responds that she is common, although she does dress well and seems to have "taste." When Winterbourne admits that he has met Daisy, his aunt is appalled. She is shocked further to learn that her nephew is taking Daisy to the castle alone after knowing her for a mere half hour. She warns Winterbourne that he has been too long out of the United States to engage safely in the society of uncultivated, dreadful young girls. Mrs. Costello ends the conversation by claiming that her own granddaughters would never behave as Daisy does.