When I was younger, I often found myself frustrated by my inability to capture literary references both in books and on film. I think that was part of what drove me to read everything I could get my hands on. I needed to expand my repertoire so I would never again be left scratching my head in the wake of these references. One of my most memorable moments of ignorance (I think I was eleven at the time) came when I was watching the film adaptation of Neil Simon’s Biloxi Blues. There is an exchange between Eugene Jerome and Daisy Hannigan as they first meet, when Eugene tells her that Daisy is the name of his favourite character from literature. Flattered, she asks him if he is referring to Daisy Miller or Daisy Buchanan. I was devastated (well, not completely, but I was very irritated) that I knew who neither of these Daisys were. I swore to myself then, that one day I would get to the bottom of both references. Earlier this year I read The Great Gatsby, you can find my review here. I have just now gotten around to reading Daisy Miller and I am finding a great deal of satisfaction in finally having conquered both references.
Daisy Miller by Henry James. Dover Publications, copyright 1995.
Publisher: Dover Publications Inc.
Source: Personal Collection – Purchased New
Reason for Reading: Trying to conquer a literary reference.
“When his friends spoke of him, they usually said that he was at Geneva ‘studying’; when his enemies spoke of him, they said – but, after all, he had no enemies; he was an extremely amiable fellow, and universally liked. What I should say is, simply, that when certain persons spoke of him they affirmed that the reason of his spending so much time at Geneva was that he was extremely devoted to a lady who lived there – a foreign lady – a person older than himself.” Daisy Miller, page 2.
Mr. Winterbourne is an American, but has lived in Europe for many years, speding much of his time in Geneva. Little is known about his motives for spending so much time there, but, among his friends and acquaintances, rumours abound. It is during his escapades in Switzerland that Winterbourne becomes acquainted with a young American woman, a Miss Daisy Miller. Winterbourne is drawn immediately to Daisy, whose flirtatious nature and free spirit, he supposes, are indicative of the American culture from which he has been so long removed. After growing fond of Daisy, Winterbourne agrees to meet the girl in Rome the following winter. His experience with Daisy in Rome turns out to be very different from his experience in Switzerland. Winterbourne lays witness as the free spirit he so much enjoyed in Daisy begins to get her into deep trouble in Italy.
Despite my almost legendary aversion to short stories, I thoroughly enjoyed my first foray into the work of Henry James. One of the most frequent faults I find with short stories is that they end right at the time it seems they should be building into something much greater. Daisy Miller was not like that. The story had a very definite beginning, middle and end. When the story was over, I felt satisfied that it had run its course and I wasn’t left with an overwhelming desire to follow the characters beyond the story’s sixty pages. One might turn that around to say that perhaps James didn’t do his job properly and create an adequate emotional connection to the characters. That, quite simply, is not true; I came to know both Daisy and Winterbourne very well. I wouldn’t have thought it possible that two characters could be so well fleshed out in less than sixty pages, but James did so with finesse.
I honestly can think of no reason that anyone would not enjoy this story; it is a beautiful, brilliant, no-strings-attached read.
Rating: Hard to Bleat