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CHAPTER SUMMARIES WITH NOTES
PART I: "DAISY MILLER"
The book opens with a panoramic view of the resort around the lake at Vevey, obviously a vacation spot for the wealthy with whom the story will be concerned. The author then quickly closes in on Winterbourne through whose eyes the story will be told. He is the "central intelligence" of the nouvelle. It is the story of Daisy Miller, but it is Winterbourne who tells the story. As a result, the author needs to establish his credibility at the beginning of the story.
Winterbourne is an American who has extensively lived and studied in Europe. In fact, he is probably more European in being than American. But because of his dual background, he can understand the American traits of Daisy Miller while knowing that Daisy foolishly ignores the proper European social standards. Winterbourne is also a gentleman with a sharp eye for character, noticing the patrons, the waiters, and Randolph. His conversation with Randolph is revealing; Winterbourne is wry, amusing, sensible, and proper. When Daisy arrives, another side or Winterbourne is revealed. He is fascinated by this young lady even though he cannot categorize or understand her.
It is appropriate that Randolph is introduced before his sister and foreshadows her behavior. He has a great deal of freedom, just like Daisy, and is allowed to roam the hotel by himself. The young lad is also very confident and forward, just like his sister will be described; he dares to come up to Winterbourne, a total stranger, and ask for a lump of sugar. Finally he is portrayed as a very frank child, openly claiming that Americans are better than Europeans and complaining of his boredom away from home. Daisy, like Randolph, has the freedom to be alone, the confidence to approach and enter into conversation with a stranger, and the frankness to speak her mind. Henry James, through these two American characters, captures two significant traits that he often ascribes to Americans: the confidence of being oneself and the innocence of not knowing better.
Daisy's ideas set her off as an innocent, immediately. She obviously has no clue that she is breaking European social standards by wandering around alone and speaking with an unknown gentleman. She has no understanding of how other people view the world. She wonders if Winterbourne knows where New York is located. She assumes he might know people she has met casually. She doesn't understand that Mrs. Featherstone, an Englishwoman met on a train, was probably insulting the Millers when she commented on their travel customs. Daisy's ignorance is intentionally not explained by the author, but effectively developed for the reader as she speaks and reveals her ideas. After the scene is closed, the narrator, Winterbourne then reflects on what has happened and ponders Daisy's behavior.
In addition to her innocence, many other traits are revealed about Daisy in this first presentation of her. She obviously comes from a wealthy family; her father can afford to send her mother, her brother, and Daisy on an extended European holiday, staying at the best hotels. She dresses with style (her muslin dress had lots of ruffles), although not always in good taste (it is only breakfast time). She is pretty and charming in spite of her commonness or lack of "finish". Her language and her thoughts are not sophisticated. She is frank and honest, openly admitting her attraction to men and seemingly begging for Winterbourne to take her to the castle. She is not the least bit bashful and confidently flirts with the opposite sex with no idea that her behavior is judged as improper in Europe. Daisy is obviously not bright enough to understand the subtleties that surround her.
It is ironic that the hired help, the courier Eugenio, understands social conventions better than Daisy. It is obvious that he does not approve of her sitting and conversing with Winterbourne; he is totally shocked to learn that the two of them have planned an outing to the castle. In contrast to Eugenio, Daisy's own mother (another personification of American freedom) will have a totally different reaction. Later, she will hesitate to interrupt Daisy and Winterbourne in the garden; she will also encourage their touring the castle alone. Winterbourne is in the middle; he knows he is acting improperly by talking to Daisy and agreeing to the castle outing, but he is so charmed by the lovely girl that he is willing to put social conventions aside. He even dares to suggest he will introduce Daisy to his very proper aunt, Mrs. Costello, in order to have someone speak out for his character, which he realizes is being questioned by Eugenio. None of this matters to Daisy. In her mind, she only wants to meet Mrs. Costello in order to further herself on the social ladder. Daisy's interest in "being in society" is completely at odds with her ignorance of society's expectations of a young lady's proper conduct. The plot of the story is developed around this tension.
James' unerring eye for the "uncomfortable" in human conversation and behavior is perfected in Daisy Miller. From the start of the story, characters convey whole worlds of discomfort, missed signals, and personality quirks through their conversations and actions. Winterbourne is the picture of European propriety as he eats breakfast in the hotel garden; he is soon, however, forced into discomfort by Daisy's improper flirting and abandons his proper upbringing to respond to her advances. Randolph is introduced before Daisy to foreshadow the discomfort his sister will cause with her frank and forward approach. When Daisy arrives on the scene in her lovely white muslin, she appears, on the surface, to be a pure and proper Victorian lady. But the discomfort she causes Winterbourne clearly reveals that she, in her American freedom and innocence, is completely different in her behavior.
James makes it very clear from the beginning that Daisy cannot read social code, and at times comes dangerously close to destroying it when she has no idea what the challenge will signify. For instance, she tells Winterbourne that her chambermaid told her all about his aunt. For Winterbourne, or anyone of his class, such a conversation with a chambermaid would not only be out of the question, but a total disgrace. James does not have to show us Winterbourne judging Daisy's error; it is simply obvious that there is a huge gap between the formal character of people like Mrs. Costello, the personification of proper tradition, and the unconventional and "common" Millers, the personification of American newness, who take freedom and democracy too literally.
The "new" American visiting ancestral Europe is a recurring element of James' fiction. America represents innocence and ignorance, along with freshness and verve. America is the young, wild, uncultivated cousin of staid and formalized Europe. James often poses wealthy Americans in Europe as charming, and Daisy certainly is; but she is also ridiculous. The American matron, Mrs. Costello, however, is also ridiculous with all her oppressive rules and regulations. Because of her formality, she is more European in bearing than American. Eugenio, on the other hand, represents European tradition, not from wealth but social awareness; he, like most Europeans, find the Millers, like most Americans, to be crass and worthy of contempt. But the Americans also have a defensive contempt for the European natives. Daisy says Winterbourne is stiff and "seemed more like a German." Eugenio is treated as a servant and almost dismissed in importance.
James is a master of developing contrasts. Mrs. Costello, with all her rules and disapprovals, is a total opposite to Daisy Miller. The aunt represents the noble aristocracy, driven by proper behavior. Her reaction is always formal and based on tradition. In contrast, Daisy is the new American, unthinking and driven by spontaneity; she would never allow social tradition to spoil her fun. Mrs. Costello also serves as a contrast to Mrs. Miller. Unlike Winterbourne's aunt, Daisy's mother is diminutive, has no opinions, and takes no part in directing her children towards proper behavior. When she meets Winterbourne, she is unsure of herself. Her manner is as unwillful as Mrs. Costello's is willful. The result of her lack of will is seen in her wild and uncultivated children. She is the epitome of abdicated parental power. When Mrs. Miller says, "now we can go!" when she learns Randolph has been captured by Eugenio and put to bed, she comes off as childlike and pathetic.
By the time Part I closes, all major plot elements have been established: Winterbourne is hopelessly drawn to the bizarre and dangerous Daisy; neither mother-figure, Mrs. Costello or Mrs. Miller, is going to seriously interfere with the chosen behavior of their charges; and Daisy, because of her innocence and daring, is inevitably going to get herself into more trouble. During the castle trip, Winterbourne and Daisy make a flashy and rather vulgar display of flaunting the rules. When the two part company, it is only a temporary separation; by the time Winterbourne sees her again, Daisy will have broken even more of the rules, drawing closer to her inevitable downfall.