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Daisy Miller on Daisy Miller

In Henry James’ Daisy Miller, the romantic interest of protagonist Winterbourne, named Miss Daisy Miller, is a young lady with a bold personality. She is described from the perspectives of numerous other characters in the novel to provide the reader a chance to determine their own feelings about her. However, listening to Daisy speak may be the most useful tool to decide how the reader feels about her. To Winterbourne, she is an intriguing, witty, and beautiful woman—but her looks seem to be the driving force of his fascination. According to Winterbourne’s snobby aunt, Mrs. Costello, the Miller family is “hopelessly vulgar” as they are “intimate” with their courier and Daisy is only a “common” pretty. Mrs. Costello is a part of the high social status, so she has an understanding of the kinds of people that are also in her community. When Daisy speaks, it is often formal dialogue, especially with Winterbourne. She believes speaking this way will give the impression that she is a classy woman, not a young lady with a liking to tease others. This also exudes the impression that she is from a higher class than how she actually lives. Daisy is self-absorbed and has “main character syndrome”: meaning that she is the center of her world and other people are to do deeds for her, not the other way around because that would not make sense to her as she is the “main character” of life. She says to Winterbourne, “I like a lady to be exclusive; I’m dying to be exclusive myself. Well, we are exclusive, mother and I. We don’t speak to every one—or they don’t speak to us. I suppose it’s about the same thing” (James 20). Perhaps Daisy teases men so often because a lady is exclusive. She likes interacting with men, but being a lady is important to her. Being a lady also extends to her family—her mother—for that factors into the image of who she associates with and where she comes from. It is certainly not the same thing for a person to not speak to many others versus other people approaching that person. If someone does not seem approachable, others will not want to introduce themselves. If a person wants to interact with another specific person, it is her responsibility to introduce herself and make that interaction happen. On the same note, when Winterbourne discusses taking a trip to Rome, Daisy reaction is, “’I don’t want you to come for your aunt,’ said Daisy; ‘I want you to come for me’” (30). She has known this man for not even a full day and they by no means have a close relationship to each other, yet she wants him to do things for her. It would be very nice if they could reconnect in Rome, but her poutiness to his proposition is very off-putting all because she is not the star of the show, if he does not visit Rome specially for Daisy. When Daisy speaks, it is certainly conveyed to the reader how she views herself and how she wishes for others to view her. 

Ultimately, Who Screwed This Up?

“As I have already had occasion to relate, he was angry at finding himself reduced to chopping logic about this young lady; he was vexed at his want of instinctive certitude as to how far her eccentricities were generic, national, and how far they were personal. From either view of them he had somehow missed her, and now it was too late. She was ‘carried away’ by Mr. Giovanelli.”  

 

If the use of ‘either’ refers to any of the three explanations above (generic, national, personal) (OED I.4) then the narrator offers three explanations for Daisy’s behavior: that it is so generalized as to be unrelated to her intent or motivation, that it is a national characteristic of Americans, or that it is a personal trait which she exhibits to a specific and unusual degree. If ‘either’ groups ‘generic’ and ‘national’ into one set, and ‘personal’ as the second option (as is perhaps suggested but not convincingly proven by the division of “how far…” across the list) then national traits become generic—but only, as the text proves by Daisy’s ostracization, explicitly noted earlier in this passage—within the physical space of that nation (it cannot be among all members of that nation or Americans like Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker would not be so scandalized (yes, you could argue that “we have been here too long” negates the suggestion of thepossessing American points of view… but then why does Mrs. Walker continue to study Europeans “like textbooks” at her parties? If her point of view has been shifted to be entirely Eurocentric and European-esque, then continued study would be unnecessary. One could more convincingly argue that Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker represent, to different degrees, an entirely different point of view—that of the transatlantic multinational. But that’s a different blog post). The final way to read the “either view of them” is to see ‘either’ as referring to one or the other of Daisy and Winterbourne. I find this third reading the most compelling—the most common use of ‘either’ is in distinguishing between two things (or people) (OED I.1) and the rest of the sentence supports the ‘them’ allusion to the two characters: “…he had somehow missed her, and now it was too late.” ‘He’ and ‘her’ would therefore make up the ‘them’ earlier in the sentence. 

 If we move forward with this third reading then the contrast provided is between two “view[s] of them [Daisy/Winterbourne]” and this means that the narrator acknowledges that, depending on which “view of them” one takes, there are different positions for the reader to position themself within. It would also mean that regardless of which of these two views the reader experienced the text from (the Winterbourne-centered view or the Daisy-centered view) in both of them, the narrator acknowledges that “he had missed her”. This is the first time the passage entertains a “he…her” construction—earlier in the passage the structure is either reflexive (Winterbourne saying to himself, asking himself, angry at finding himself, etc.) or set up between the narrator and Winterbourne (“it must be admitted that holding oneself” “came to seem to Winterbourne”). The only direct action between Winterbourne and Daisy—that of him missing her—lays at Winterbournes feet as his own failure: whether the Winterbourne or Daisy-centric view of them has been adopted by the reader, the action is the same, and who (he) missed who (her) is the same; “and now it was too late.”   

Winterbourne is the one who dropped the ball, the one who “missed” Daisy, regardless of whether you read the novel considering Winterbourne or Daisy to be at its center. So what? So ultimately the story is of “missed” opportunity and “missed” understanding on the part of Winterbourne, and it resulted in death (the next line explains that Mr. Giovanelli has now carried Daisy away). We were searching for a moral within this novel: if you squint, and splash around in the OED a bit, you can find one in the final sentence of this passage. 

Daisy Miller: A Study

From the very beginning of Daisy Miller by Henry James, Winterbourne takes it upon himself to learn about Daisy. He describes himself as having “… a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it…” (James 8). This statement in itself is extremely creepy. Winterbourne, a 27 year old man, wants to analyze the beauty of a young American girl. The use of the words “observing” and “analyzing” are very scientific, which hints to the original publication’s subtitle, “A Study.” During their first conversation, Winterbourne continues to dissect Daisy’s words and actions in an attempt to discern whether or not she is as “innocent” as her appearance suggests. He comes to the conclusion she is not a “coquette” (which he has experienced in the form of married women *eye roll*), and that she is simply “a pretty American flirt.”

From this first conversation and throughout the novel Winterbourne fixates on the fact that while Daisy is a flirt, she is not aware that her actions are frowned upon. He seems to use this fact to justify his attraction to her. Winterbourne’s “study” of Daisy’s behavior is very unreliable. He projects the idea of innocence on her, while evidence shows that she does in fact, know how her behavior is perceived; “It seems to me much more proper in young unmarried women than in old married ones” (James 50). This line shows Daisy knows much more about European social standards than Winterbourne believes she knows. She essentially says she believes her behavior should be considered normal, and she makes no change to her flirtations just because she is in Europe and not America.

Winterbourne’s “study” of Daisy could easily be called an obsession instead of a study. His view of her is warped; he sees her as he wants to see her rather than who she really is. His belief that she is “innocent” is not based on fact, it is based on his own desire for her. He also follows her to Italy after only knowing her for a few days at Vevey. Instead of Daisy Miller being about Daisy Miller herself, it is really about Winterbourne’s idea of Daisy Miller.

Winterbourne’s Choice

Throughout Daisy Miller, Winterbourne seems to hover between two cultures, European and American. By extension, he also hovers between propriety and impropriety, and the novel seems to be leading him to a point where he must make a choice between the two. Winterbourne is entirely infatuated with Daisy, and she represents his desire to break free from European societal expectations, although it seems that she pushes a little too much against convention for his comfort. 

The climax of Winterbourne’s indecision comes near the end of chapter three, when Mrs. Walker attempts to convince Daisy to ride in her carriage instead of walking around with Mr. Giovanelli. Daisy asks Winterbourne what he thinks she should do, and it seems as though she is knowingly testing him: 

“There was a little pink flush in her cheek; she was tremendously pretty. ‘Does Mr. Winterbourne think,’ she asked slowly, smiling, throwing back her head and glancing at him from head to foot, ‘that – to save my reputation – I ought to get into the carriage?’” 

Winterbourne is finally asked to choose between what is socially proper and the carefree impropriety represented by Daisy – the choice he’s been avoiding all throughout the novel. He spends a great deal of time considering how to respond, and perhaps the language used gives away his answer sooner than anticipated: “he himself, in fact, must speak in accordance with gallantry” (43). The word “must” prompts the question of “why?” Why must Winterbourne “speak in accordance with gallantry”? What does “gallantry” mean in this specific situation? “Must” implies an obligation, in this case to social rules, while “gallantry” seems to imply chivalrous, gentlemanly behavior. Winterbourne is called to act “in accordance with” the expectations of Mrs. Walker, and he finds that “the finest gallantry, here, was simply to tell [Dasiy] the truth…”. But truth is subjective, as the next phrase discreetly shows: “The truth, for Winterbourne… was that Daisy Miller should take Mrs. Walker’s advice” (43). The “truth” that Winterbourne lands upon is, in fact, the choice he makes between ‘proper’ and ‘reckless’ behavior. Perhaps by labeling it as “truth,” Winterbourne makes an effort to lift some responsibility from his own shoulders. Daisy should take Mrs. Walker’s advice; this is not Winterbourne’s own opinion, but “the truth.”

Winterbourne’s response to Daisy’s question, and his answer to the question of (im)propriety that has plagued him through the novel, is carefully considered and “very gently” delivered (43). Daisy, however, responds sharply: “Daisy gave a violent laugh. ‘I never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper, Mrs. Walker,’ she pursued, ‘then I am all improper and you must give me up.’” There is a contrast between Winterbourne’s gentle response and Daisy’s “violent laugh,” which perhaps illustrates the contrasting ways they present themselves to the world. They each flirt and carry on intimate relationships with multiple people – Daisy and her various gentlemen, Winterbourne and his implied lover in Geneva, as well as the “two or three women… who were great coquettes… with whom one’s relations were liable to take a serious turn” (12) – but they present themselves differently to society, and receive different reactions from their onlookers. Winterbourne has the air of a gentleman, and is never judged too harshly for associating with Daisy (nor, interestingly, with his married female friend Mrs. Walker, whose husband never actually makes an appearance in the text). Daisy, on the other hand, is judged incredibly harshly for her carefree, reckless behavior, to the point of being shunned at Mrs. Walker’s party. There are other layers to this, such as a cultural layer and a gendered double standard, but the point remains that Daisy and Winterbourne are similar characters who choose to go down different paths. They may have been walking along together thus far, but this point in the novel marks the place where the path splits. Daisy invites Winterbourne down one way, but he hesitatingly chooses the other, and in doing so loses Daisy forever. 

Winterbourne’s false self-image

As Winterbourne escorts Daisy to her date with Giovanelli, he declares: “that I intend to remain with you” (James 39), insisting that he will accompany her whether she likes it or not. Daisy responds with calling him out on “dictating” to her. Winterbourne tells her that she is making a mistake and that himself is the “right gentleman” whom she should listen to as opposed to acting as she pleases. This is the first scene in this novel where Winterbourne tries to interfere with Daisy’s way of living and subtly suggests to her that what she does is not different, but wrong, in Europe. As jealousy ferments in him, Winterbourne becomes increasingly more upfront about his readiness to “correct” Daisy’s behavior. He goes out of his way to find Mrs. Miller when Daisy isn’t at the hotel, to literally educate her on how to teach shame into Daisy. But thankfully, as readers we are spared the discomfort of having to read that scene since Winterbourne gives up on his notion.

Winterbourne is a character who is so pre-occupied with narrating what is happening around him, that he rarely reflects upon himself. He reminds me a lot of Nick Carraway from The Great Gatsby, who declares from the first chapter that he detests judgements but somehow shamelessly contradicts himself throughout the novel. Winterbourne sees himself to be an upholder of European tradition, while courting a lady, who is older than himself, in Geneva. He likes to act like the mature and reasonable gentleman around Daisy but in fact, he is deeply frustrated by Daisy’s indifferent attitude towards him. And Winterbourne has an irresistible urge to offer protection and guidance to Daisy Miller, because he thinks of Daisy as vulnerable and ignorant when it comes to European conventions or what people think of her. On the other hand, Daisy is in fact keenly aware of who she is, and of what people think of her. She admits that “I’m a fearful, frightful flirt! Did you ever hear of a nice girl that was not” (49). Her speech is powerful, and she is courageous in the face of her own true identity, which instills fear and almost admiration in Winterbourne and puts him to shame.

Daisy’s “Innocence”

In Daisy Miller, the titular character is harshly judged by society due to her deviance from societal norms. However, the novel is filtered through Winterbourne’s perspective, and he is the least confident in his conclusions about Daisy’s motivations and values. Winterbourne frequently talks to other characters about Daisy, and most of these conversations are centered around if Daisy is an innocent young women obliviously defying societal norms, or a rebellious flirt intentionally defying convention. The word “innocence” is consistently utilized and debated in these conversations, which connects to whether Daisy’s fate should be viewed as tragic or inevitable.

A significant conversation about Daisy’s innocence occurs between Winterbourne and Mrs. Costello, who is a staunch observer of European social norms. Winterbourne defends Daisy and Mrs. Miller, stating “They are very ignorant­- very innocent only. Depend upon it they are not bad,” to which Mrs. Costello replies “They are hopelessly vulgar…Whether or not being hopelessly vulgar is being “bad” is a question for the metaphysicians. They are bad enough to dislike, at any rate, and for this short life that is enough” (James 33). In this passage, the triviality of European social norms becomes evident. While Mrs. Costello appears confident in her assessment of Daisy, she ultimately acknowledges she is incapable of judging her character. She does not deny that Daisy could perhaps be innocent, but she implies this is irrelevant, saying she is “hopelessly vulgar.” However, she emphasizes her inability to make the ultimate assessment, as she acknowledges that she is not a metaphysics, or a philosopher that makes conclusions about the nature of existence. Since this ultimate judgment of character is missing, the “society” takes this role of instating moral values and expectations. Since Daisy and Mrs. Miller are “bad enough to dislike,” Daisy’s innocence becomes irrelevant. Mrs. Costello, in her “short life” is content to unquestionably follow these expectations. However, by describing her life as “short” and reverting ultimate moral assessments to philosophers, the novel emphasizes the ultimate triviality and malleability of these judgments.

Arguments about Daisy’s innocence continue throughout the novel. These conclude at Daisy’s funeral, when Mr. Giovanelli states “she was the most innocent,” to which Winterbourne questions “The most innocent?” and Mr. Giovanelli affirms “The most innocent!” (James 63). By the end of the novel, Winterbourne continues to be unsure of Daisy’s agency in her decisions. However, this conversation has more weight than before, because it questions whether Daisy is responsible for the decisions that lead to her death. Winterbourne questions Mr. Giovanelli’s confidence in Daisy’s innocence, yet never makes an assured conclusion either way.

The word “innocent” is repeated throughout the novel as Daisy’s agency is debated and questioned. By the end of the novel, Winterbourne, who once was a staunch defender of Daisy’s lack of “blame,” is left unsure of her naïveté. This reflects the novel’s critique of these judgements. The characters’ conclusions about Daisy seem confident, yet are repeatedly changed and qualified. The reader is left to decide whether Daisy is a helpless victim or intentional rebel. However, the way that her innocence is inconclusively debated highlights the ultimate triviality of these concepts.

The role of Motherhood in the 19th century novel

Why do so many novels of the 19th century diminish the role of motherhood?  For Dickins, why are the mothers frequently absent (Dombey and Son, Great Expectations, Oliver Twist)?  For Jane Austin, the mothers are largely just silly or decorative (Pride & Prejudice, Mansfield Park).  What does their absence or inadequacy imply?  It is also interesting to note who, if anyone, is filling that role in the respective novels.  In Daisy Miller, it partially falls to the courier, and the consequences are fatal.

 

Exploring more deeply the role of motherhood in Daisy Miller, James would seem to be implying that the figure is absent, negligible, ineffective, insignificant.  As Dames reports in his excerpt A Concise Companion to the Victorian Novel:  “A common enough moment in Victorian fiction – the introductory portrait of a character – here relies on the meaningfulness of facial characteristics, their capacity to unveil the workings of a personality” (Dames p. 101).  James introduces Daisy’s mother using adjectives which describe her non-entity:  “Her mother was a small, spare, light person, with a wandering eye, a very exiguous nose”.  Even her physical introduction is covered in nuances of her insignificance “The figure of a lady appeared, at a distance, very indistinct, … with a slow and wavering movement”…” (p. 22) the lady in question hovered vaguely about the spot”.  James uses adjectives or adverbs to describe her as a shadow, her lack of presence, her deficiencies as a parent.  Her hair is thin and “frizzled” rather than “curly” which other than being pejorative implies burned or ruined.  This is not an attractive image of a role model for Daisy.  Finally, he uses very strong language in the last chapter when he writes “Mrs. Miller was invisible.”

 

But what if James is actually implying the reverse: that the absence of a strong figure in the role of motherhood is damaging to her children’s growth and ultimately could have fatal consequences?  Mrs. Miller’s social invisibility in the last chapter is due to her bedside presence with her sick daughter.  James is then saying that her daughter is advantaged by her mother’s presence.  Tracing this back throughout the novel, the absence of adequate and effective guidance from her mother has repeated negative consequences for Daisy and ultimately results in her tragic death.  James would thereby seem to be indirectly expounding the importance of motherhood in forming and rearing children.

Winterbourne and Sexual Ambiguity

Without making a definitive claim as to what Winterbourne’s sexuality is in Daisy Miller, it is still important to acknowledge the many instances when sexuality is not clear. Considering the true identity of Winterbourne is rather ambivalent to begin with, sexuality should not be eliminated. The use of “I” throughout the narration means that we are still viewing Winterbourne though the perspective of another, and that this is one view of Winterbourne that does not necessarily help us in identifying him as a person. We do not get clear statements on Winterbourne’s past, such as his family and possible past romances, or his true desires and reasons for being infatuated with Daisy’s manners and demeanor. Much can be drawn out of what James conceals about the character of Winterbourne and the small spaces where this gives way to seeing small glimpses into Winterbourne’s uncensored mind.

One passage that could allow the reader to attain a further glimpse into his identity and truth is during Daisy and Winterbourne’s visit to Chillon, and his allusion to Byron’s poem, The Prisoner of Chillon. He tells her the story of Byron’s “unhappy Bonivard.” (James 29) In the previous sentences, Daisy had been asking about Winterbourne’s “family, his previous history, his tastes, his habits, his intentions,” but we never hear any of his answers to these questions. The next time we know of him speaking is to portray the story of Bonivard, who was imprisoned at Chillion. It is notable that we do not actually know much of Winterbourne’s history, but instead of hearing the answers to these questions Daisy asks, we get Byron’s story instead. This establishes a relationship between Winterbourne and Bonivard. Winterbourne could be seen as relating to the imprisonment of Bonivard in that he is mentally imprisoned by over-analyzation of sexual manners and temperament. Winterbourne can also connect to the character of Bonivard in that he is always alone with his thoughts, and arguably as a result of them. “You are always going around by yourself. Can’t you get anyone to walk with you?” Daisy once asks him. (James 57) He is isolated just like Bonivard, but it is a castle of his own making. While Winterbourne can be see as relating to Bonivard, more obviously, Winterbourne is also taking the place of Byron himself in telling this story to Daisy. James would have been aware that Lord Byron was a figure who was rather well known for his sexual life and escapades, with much public speculation about his involvement with incest, pedophilia, and homosexuality. He is putting himself into Byron’s position, and possibly into the role of a man characterized by otherness and queerness in that he was certainly not the societal “norm.”

Winterbourne focuses, almost obsessively on his describing Giovanelli’s handsome face and good looks much in the same way that he constantly describes the face of Dasiy. In the same manner that Winterbourne countlessly refers to Daisy as “pretty” throughout the novel, Winterbourne uses the word “pretty” multiple times for Giovanelli, saying that he had a “pretty face” (James 41) and that he “sang very prettily.” (James 48) The word has some feminine connotations, and in using the word for Giovanelli, Winterboune seems to be framing him in a feminine light. Giovanelli overshadows Daisy in these moments and displaces Winterbourne’s attention onto him in a manner that parallels previous observations about Daisy. While it could be said that this descriptive language, used similarly for both characters, implies that Winterbourne’s interest in the two characters is more of an indifferent and intellectual manner, it could also portray desire that exists outside of the normal straight line between one romantic interest and another. It could portray Winterboure’s desires as, consistent with his character, multiplicitous and often confused. 

Without fleshing out a full argument in one blog post, it can still be acknowledged that there is language used by James to create an atmosphere of general ambivalence around Winterbourne’s character, and sexual/romantic situations are certainly not excluded from this. The “otherness” of his character and lack of clear lines makes him queer and perplexing in comparison to the straight lines of patriarchal man and wife.

Forgetting One’s Place

In Henry James’s Daisy Miller (1875), Winterbourne is an American ex-pat whose lived abroad in Europe for most of his life. He becomes fascinated with the eponymous character, an American tourist who refuses to assimilate into European cultural standards. As a result, she is judged by European society for her (lack of manners) perceived impropriety and coquettishness. By forgetting his own American origins, Winterbourne ignores Daisy’s individuality and “studies” her with a Eurocentric lens that reduces her into a caricature: a girl devoid of moral fortitude and reasoning, the product of their shared homeland. Winterbourne’s failure to recognize his American culture—to understand Daisy as her own person—alienates her and catalyzes her downfall.

Winterbourne’s European socialite aunt, Mrs. Costello, warns him against pursuing a “relationship” with Daisy because of her inappropriate (in a social-cultural context) comportment. She reminds Winterbourne is out of his depth since Daisy is an American girl: “You have lived too long out of the country. You will be sure to make some great mistake” (James, Project Gutenberg). Having inhabited Western Europe for so long, Winterbourne is not only tuned to the cultural standards and social hierarchies of places like Geneva and Rome, but detached from American society. He reserves judgement for Daisy based on her behavior in relation to their current environment, without making much of an attempt to understand where she’s coming from when she displays her affability towards suitors and resistance to the oppressiveness of European rules. Winterbourne’s mistake is that he misinterprets Daisy as being indifferent towards him—because she is friendly with other European men, or because she doesn’t listen to his “advice”—which comes off to her as him not sharing her romantic attraction.

In Remembering, Repetition and Working-Through (1924), Freud argues that “repetition is a transference of the forgotten past;” (Freud 151) the more one tries to forget their past experiences—the circumstances and actions relating to their origin—the more they are prone towards repeating those same actions (or drawn to semblances of such). Obsessed over this ‘pretty little American girl,’ Winterbourne constantly inspects the qualities of Daisy that are a product of her motherland from a Eurocentric lens. He reasons that “American women—the pretty ones, and this gave a largeness to the axiom—were at one the most exacting in the world and the least endowed with a sense of indebtedness” (James, Project Gutenberg). This generalization contains gendered and nationalistic (pro-Europe, anti-American) biases. Winterbourne’s explains away Daisy’s ‘lack of proper morals or education’ as a result of her appearance, gender and nationality; to control her by showing her a ‘better way’ through European codes of conduct. In repressing his own ties to America, Winterbourne identifies his European environment as moral and correct. He associates Daisy’s impropriety with her Americanness. Unable to sympathize with her—to understand her behavior as okay, albeit in a different cultural context—he judges Daisy doing her own thing as much as his European peers do.

Rather than accepting that Daisy can be friends with male suitors, Winterbourne interprets Daisy and Giovanelli’s relationship as romantic. He critiques Daisy for being flirty and displays faux-indifference towards her. In turn, this communicates to Daisy that he doesn’t care about her, or does only if she follows his script. She rebels against his ‘rules’ and ends up dying from malaria after a reckless outing meant to spite him. Had Winterbourne made more of an attempt to reconnect with his American identity, he and Daisy might’ve reached a mutual understanding. Healthier communication could’ve resulted in a less tragic ending.

Winterbourne’s “Little” Competition

Henry James is very deliberate in the descriptions of his characters in Daisy Miller.  Mr. Giovanelli is described repeatedly as being very handsome, but also very short. When Winterbourne first meets him, James writes, “Winterbourne perceived at some distance a little man standing with folded arms, nursing his cane” (39).  While Giovanelli’s size could be contributed to Winterbourne’s distance from him, the phrase “little man” immediately associates Giovanelli as being shorter than Winterbourne.  Also the use of “nursing his cane” implies that Giovanelli needs some kind of walking assistance that Winterbourne does not.  As Winterbourne and Giovanelli are in competition for Daisy Miller’s attention and affection, this characterization seems to paint Winterbourne in a more favorable light.  Later on, Winterbourne also says, when referencing Giovanelli, “‘The little Italian… He is apparently a perfectly respectable little man. I believe he is in a small way a cavaliere avvocato” (53).  Winterbourne cannot seem to ignore Giovanelli’s size, stating it twice in the same section of dialogue.  Even when describing Giovanelli’s profession, which is very admirable, Winterbourne uses the unfortunate phrase “he is in a small way”, which further reinstates Giovanelli’s inferior size (53).

Height seems to be a great source of stability and validation for Winterbourne.  Throughout the novella, Winterbourne seems to be uncertain about everything, most especially, societal expectations and Daisy Miller’s personality and interest in other men.  David Lodge’s introduction to Daisy Miller describes Giovanelli as “a handsome young man of dubious social status” (xvii).  Winterbourne struggles throughout the novella with proper social habits and expectations. Giovanelli’s ambiguous position in the social hierarchy is another layer of conflict and confusion for Winterbourne, as Giovanelli seems removed from the rules Winterbourne must follow, most especially with women.  David Lodge also states, “Daisy is forcing the pace of [her and Winterbourne’s] relationship” (xxiii). Traditionally, men have more control in the beginning of a relationship because women have to adhere to stricter social standards, but Daisy inverts this as she controls many men throughout the story. Winterbourne becomes lost in this competition for Daisy and cannot gain any footing because she seems to desire attention from many different men.  When Giovanelli’s height becomes clear, Winterbourne holds onto this subject as a source of validation and superiority.  As Daisy becomes enthralled with Giovanelli’s beauty, Winterbourne reaffirms his masculinity and importance by repeatedly noting his superior size.

This conflict between Winterbourne and Giovanelli seems to suggest that Winterbourne is insecure and highly unsure of his place in society as he is evidently very threatened by another man’s attractiveness.  Winterbourne holds onto the attention and affirmation he gets from Daisy Miller, and when her attraction strays to another man, Winterbourne is forced to cling to something as trivial as height to reinsert himself in the narrative and in Daisy Miller’s life.