Mrs. Miller: the Real Culprit

Henry James’ novel Daisy Miller is hard for a reader to grasp at first. Not, in the usual way with 19th century novels, because it is over packed with plot and characters, drama and metaphors, but because on the onset this novel seems incredibly simple, even dull. It is true, that not much happens. Mr. Winterbourne visits his aunt, meets Daisy Miller and her family, falls for her, goes to visit her in Rome where she has found a new object of attention and this ultimately brings about her demise. The story is short, tragic, but ultimately leaves no real mark on the reader because no one really likes Daisy anyway. Having just finished the book I myself am still trying to dig for meaning in it all, because I refuse to believe that the novel is what it appears on the outside.

Thus finishing the novel, and after reading of Daisy’s death, I remembered the scene towards the beginning of the end of the story when Daisy and Winterbourne have just left Mrs. Walker’s house and Daisy is causing a scandal, as usual, in her intent to meet and accompany Mr. Giovanelli by herself. Suddenly, Mrs. Walker storms through in her carriage in an attempt to save Daisy from herself, and in speaking with Mr. Winterbourne describes the girl as “very reckless” but more importantly to the later events of the novel, says of this recklessness “and goodness knows how far- left to itself- it may go.”  This is not simply a, now, obvious foreshadowing of Daisy’s death, but a concrete fact. The way Daisy behaves is dangerous and inappropriate, but the reason she acts like this is because of her mother. Mrs. Walker touches on this fact also when she says “’Did you ever’, she proceeded to inquire, ‘see anything so blatantly imbecile as the mother?’” and then goes on to describe how she herself couldn’t sit around and let Daisy make such mistakes without attempting to stop her. Here in this scene, this acquaintance of Daisy, acts more in a motherly way than Daisy’s real mother does through the entire novel. It is true that occasionally Mrs. Miller will almost attempt to persuade Daisy to not do something, however in the end Daisy always does just what she likes. This is because Mrs. Miller is weak willed and lazy, and her character has effected Daisy’s own more than either of them could know.

4 thoughts on “Mrs. Miller: the Real Culprit”

  1. I really appreciate you digging for meaning in the book; I was the same way. And I think you definitely came up with something interesting that you can really build off of! It’s finally an explanation for why Daisy does the things she does, which is something that’s never really explicitly offered up in the book. It also offers up an interesting expansion upon Cierra’s point about Daisy being a wild girl that can only really be saved by Winterbourne; this takes that, and sort of begins to expand on why Daisy needs saving in the first place.

  2. I really like how you’ve picked up on how Mr. Winterbourne appears more like a father figure to Daisy than a suitor, while Mrs. Miller seems to have transgressed Daisy in some way. One way we see Daisy resist her mother is during the boat scene when Daisy wants to go against her mother’s wishes, and after Mrs. Miller tells Daisy she can go, Daisy changes her mind (26). Daisy considers her mother grossly inexperienced, having never walked “ten steps in her life” (43). Yet, Daisy is bound by Mrs. Miller and she tells her mother her dying message to Winterbourne. Mrs. Miller is a dysfunctional mother, but I would not consider her a contemptible person or antagonist; she simply has an underdeveloped character.

  3. Thanks for the insight, Alexis. I find one of your comments really interesting:

    “The story is short, tragic, but ultimately leaves no real mark on the reader because no one really likes Daisy anyway.”

    In truth, I agree with you completely. However, at the same time, I am intrigued of why we feel this way. Why do we dislike Daisy? I am going to try to connect this with Jane Eyre.

    Throughout Daisy Miller’s story – much like Jane Eyre’s – we are traveling through various locations with her, learning of her surroundings, as well as her encounters with other characters. However, during these occurrences, we never really receive much development from Daisy. Like you said, it’s pretty much the same thing over and over again: men trying to suit her. We never really receive much more.

    On the other hand, while following Jane’s story, we receive much more – namely, we receive information about how she develops as a character. Perhaps that is why we like Jane so much and not Daisy? We see how much Jane has developed -and changed – as a person, therefore sympathizing with her story.

  4. I think this is an interesting take on Mrs. Miller. Just like there are many different readings of Daisy, there are many different readings of Mrs. Miller as well. In thinking about how James portrays Mrs. Miller, I think it’s also useful to look at the other mother figures in the novel as well. For example, we could look at Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. Both of these two women characters are married women, but both of them are more strict concerning social rules and norms than Mrs. Miller is. However, would a stricter parent have helped Daisy in the long run? Mrs. Walker clearly fails in her attempts to reign in Daisy, and Mrs. Costello refuses to meet her. I agree that it seems that Mrs. Miller’s position as Daisy’s mother seems off – it is almost as if the two are more like a pair of sisters than a mother and daughter combination. In the end, Daisy seems to be a figure without parents, almost an orphan, but simultaneously an extremely autonomous person of her own creation,

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