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Sunday, 30 August 2015

The 2 main characters and the ending of Henry James's "Daisy Miller"

What should we make of Daisy Miller? Depends on what we make of Winterbourne. Though the story has a 3rd-person narrator, Henry James employs the free indirect speech and everything is seen from Winterbourne's perspective and coloured by his judgement.
After Winterbourne says to his aunt ".... I was booked to make a mistake. I've lived too long in foreign parts.", this is the last line of "Daisy Miller":
"Nevertheless he soon went back to live at Geneva, whence there continue to come the most contradictory accounts of his motives of sojourn: a report that he's 'studying' hard- an intimation that he's much interested in a very clever foreign lady."
Let's go back to the beginning, when he is introduced:
"He was some seven-and-twenty years of age; 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. Very few Americans—indeed, I think none—had ever seen this lady, about whom there were some singular stories."
There are 2 versions each time- which one should we take to be a fact? Both times, we note, the word "studying" is placed inside quotation marks. Needless to say the implication is that the 2nd version is more likely to be true, and if that's the case, Winterbourne is the hypocrite, at least what he does he does in the dark, whereas Daisy is open and condemned for being so, though there's nothing wrong in her relations with Giovanelli.
Another significant bit is that there is no change in Winterbourne. Having understood her at last and realised his own misunderstanding, he experiences no change whatsoever. Whilst Daisy is deeply affected by his opinion of her, in spite of her declaration of independence and indifference to everyone, and lets it destroy her, he experiences no more than a moment of realisation, and remains exactly the same. Throughout the story he keeps thinking that she's shallow, light, frivolous, but it's him that doesn't have deep feeling, it's him that is light and frivolous.

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