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.

The Singularity of Lucie Manette

In Charles Dickins’ A Tale of Two Cities, the character of Lucie Manette is a singularity. One of the few women characters, her role in the novel itself is vital for the advancement of the plot, however in the story she is nothing but a tool. This pattern is held through the novel. Lucie’s singularity and useful yet hollow character can be seen in many places, but particularly in the passage starting on page 94 and continuing on 95, when Lucie and Doctor Manette have just returned from a walk and she is being fussed over by Miss Pross and her father. Here, the passage is initially misleading because it seems as though she is the main object of the event, which is true, however it serves more to illustrate the characters of the people around her and how her presence has affected them and the novel rather than Lucie herself.

From Miss Pross’ affectionate fussing, to Doctor Manette’s fond remarks and Mr. Lorry’s contented observation of the whole affair, it is clear each of these reactions are prompted by their devotion to Lucie. Such devotion that is more an indication of their characters and her effects on them than a further insight into her character. We see more of Miss Pross’ nature in the fact that she would have “retire to her own chamber and cried” had Lucie meaningfully protested against the attention, than we do of Lucie’s nature in her compliance to Miss Pross. Similarly, when Doctor Manette comments on how Miss Pross spoils Lucie, despite himself doing the same, it gives more insight on his constitution, and consequently how it has improved from when the reader first met him, than it gives to Lucie’s character.  Though she may be the main figure in this passage, the insights provided are not about her.

Another way Lucie is used as a tool in this passage, as well as in the rest of the novel, is to provide a singularity in the form of a sharp contrast to the rest of the story. The atmosphere of this scene is pleasant, gentle and happy which contrasts sharply to the death, danger and despair in the rest of the novel. As seen in this passage, Lucie is a light in the dark world depicted in the story. She saves her father, “recalling him back to life”, and is the object of affection and desire for most of the characters so far. She is also one half of the marriage plot that propels the story forward. However, despite all this, she is portrayed as nothing but a pretty face and lovely disposition. While she is absolutely vital for the advancement of the novel, she herself gets no dimension.