Saturday, June 16, 2018

Daisy Miller

After the discussions of Henry James in Reading Lolita in Tehran, I decided to try out some more Henry James. Daisy Miller looked like a short work. It has a super simple plot. An American girl meets an American guy in Europe. They develop something of a friend/romantic relationship. The girl also meets with other local guys. She tells the American she was engaged. She later dies from a fever after a late-night rendezvous with a European guy. However, before she died, she wanted to make sure the American knew she was not really engaged. Surprisingly, the story is good and well written. Daisy comes across as a striving flirt among a "moderate new money" crowd. She is not part of the "upper" ex-pat crowd in Europe and she knows it. Yet, she also knows she is quite pretty and will use her charm on men to get what she wants. There are "rules" of societal engagement in the late nineteenth century America that she likes to flout. She takes advantage of her position in Europe to be different and try to live her life as she sees fit. You get the sense she is striving to move up the social ladder, but is not quite ready to commit. Eventually her behavior catches up with her, leading to her untimely death. The male interest, Winterbourne seems nearly passive in this experience. While initially taking an active role in the introduction to Daisy, he later seems to be a passive participant.
Despite being written almost 140 years ago, Daisy Miller reflects some of the "American Elitism" that is seen today. Despite spending extended time in Europe, the Miller's still view Schenectady, New York as the source of everything great. Even far away from home, the American norms are expected to apply.

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