The second novella in my Henry James collection, a mere sixty pages, was very intriguing. I could tell why Daisy Miller was one of James’ most famous stories. The characters are palpable. You can believe that they exist or at least, existed at the end of the 19th century. They have real emotions, quirks and thoughts. These personality traits feel appropriate, not just to the story, but to the characters as real people.
James uses the title character, Daisy Miller, to discuss the behaviour and customs of Europe. Winterbourne, a man with clear affection for Daisy, questions these taboos. Why is her behaviour so wrong? Why shouldn’t she enjoy the company of her male friend? Why shouldn’t she speak and act as she chooses?
In the end, Daisy Miller dies. Is this punishment for her bad behaviour? Did she deserve death? I certainly don’t think so. Perhaps her death was a punishment to Winterbourne (and to everyone else?) for doubting her. Daisy’s final, cryptic message leaves Winterbourne confused. Why would she want him to know that she was never engaged to the Italian? Daisy cared for Winterbourne. She might have wanted to carry that affection further. However, her reasons for the message might have been more simple or selfish. Daisy may have just been trying to save her reputation. It’s difficult to tell, but the story gets you thinking about an individual’s motives.