Thursday, February 11, 2010

Daisy Miller

I have to admit the first time I read through Daisy Miller by Henry James, I was not really all that impressed. I think it was because it was mostly a romance novel, not really something I would pick out of a bookstore to read.

Upon a little closer inspection I found some parts of the book to be rather interesting, most notably its comparison between European and American values and morals as well as the perception of Americans traveling outside the United States.

Randolph is portrayed as your stereotypical American, very greedy and a little bit of a snob. He asks for some sugar from Winterbourne, who says he can have one lump, but Randolph ends up taking three. When Winterbourne says that his teeth will rot away and his mother would not be pleased, Randolph hardly seems to care, even going so far as to say that his own mother will just give him some sugar.

Daisy Miller also plays the part of the typical American traveler, disregarding the social customs of the country she is visiting and going off to do her own thing. She even nitpicks the culture on more than one occasion, stating that the europeans don't have any society or culture. Though I think she is merely perturbed that the culture in Europe is nothing like it is in the United States, and so they must have no 'proper culture' at all.

Daisy also acts with reckless disregard for the local customs. Customs such as not visiting the Colosseum in Rome at midnight because of the risk of catching Roman Fever, a deadly form of the malaria disease.

After realizing these often humorous comparisons, I enjoyed the novel much more and was able to read through it much easier. Many of the comparisons could be made about modern Americans traveling to Europe. After all, you can almost always pick an American out of a crowd of tourists these days it seems.

Brian Rush


  1. Brian, what you say about the characteristics of Americans, or at least the perception of those characteristics, is true. James is really getting at the ways in which we act even now when we're in another country.

  2. I thought his portrayal of Randolph was really interesting too. Especially since Randolph is the youngest character we meet. He has spindly legs, but he's determined and wiry. It really is pretty comical when you read Randolph as a personification of America.
    Ruth Nelson