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.

Olivers Trial

Oliver has been taken into custody for a crime he did not commit. While he continually professed his innocence, no one believed him until the book stall owner spoke on his behalf. Dickens not only uses this event to further the plot of the novel, but also to show the reputability of the different classes. Oliver is a young, poor orphan who has no home. It is clear no one will believe him because society looks down on the poor. Begging is considered a crime that could send you to jail. Oliver is about to be sentenced to three months of hard labor he clearly cannot perform in his weakened state despite Brownlow claiming he does not want to press charges.

The book stall owner recounts what actually happened and Oliver is set free. While the book stall owner is not wealthy, he is still in a class about Oliver. Even though it is old, he is dressed “well” in a suit. While skeptical at first, Fang believes him when the book stall owner mentions Brownlow was reading a book at the time of the robbery, the same one he has in his hand now. He had not payed for the book. Brownlow claims he “forgot all about it” but it was clear he had stolen the book.

While Oliver was chased down and beaten for being suspected of theft, Brownlow, who has just admitted to not paying for the book, is let go with a warning. This once again shows the class disparity. No one bats an eye at Brownlow when he admits to having “forgotten” to pay for the book because he is wealthy. Fang tells him, “Let this be a lesson to you,” while Olivers “lesson” was a beating. This general mistrust and mistreatment of the poor is shown throughout Dickens’ novel. This particular scene showed how it affects the justice system.