Thursday, July 29, 2004

“I am not afraid!” of Daisy Miller

I read Daisy Miller by Henry James yesterday and enjoyed it very much, although I am not quite sure what to think of the two main characters. Winterbourne was so proper, so much like an Austen beau in some respects, that he is fairly likeable from the get-go. But his inward contempt for Daisy taints him, and he can't let go of his classist attitude enough to just like her for her. He keeps coming up with reasons not to fall for her, but they all stem from jealousy. Winterbourne comes across as kind of an ass in the end, for turning away from Daisy for her inappropriate behavior that would somehow be appropriate if enacted with him.

Daisy is - well, Daisy. She really is an innocent, naive girl, prone to inappropriate behavior, but she also knows a good time when she sees it and doesn't let the appearance of impropriety hold her back. I understand why she was shunned by society, but obviously the best outcome would have been for her and/or Winterbourne to just fess up to their interest in each other.

Good read, but left me feeling frustrated that they never expressed their desire for one another. It would have ended with Daisy hurt in the end anyway, as Winterbourne would never have been able to maintain a relationship with her on his terms.

I read that this story was published in 1879, and I find that remarkable, given Daisy's freedom as a female character. I never got the impression that James saw Daisy as a "bad" girl, and I would undoubtedly assume she would have been interpreted as such by many readers at that time. James's treatment of Daisy as almost sympathetic has a bit of an early feminist slant that surprises me.

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