Take a story's temperature by studying its tone. Is it hopeful? Cynical? Snarky? Playful?
Dry and Snarky
Spotted: Daisy Miller talking to Lonely Boy at the Trois Couronnes Garden. Is it love—or just a case of Vevay-induced boredom? Word on the street is they're slipping away to Chillon together this weekend. Good luck, Lonely Boy. We all know how quickly this Daisy switches from loves-him to loves-him-not. xoxo Henry James
That's right. Just like our good friend Gossip Girl, the narrator of Daisy Miller likes nothing more than to make clever puns and taunt everyone in the story. The American novelist William Faulkner reportedly said that Henry James was "one of the nicest old ladies I ever met." That Faulkner! We happen to only agree with the old lady part. But James isn't sad mean, he's fun mean. He also likes to take us, the readers, aside at a party to gossip with him, which of course we love. Consider this:
At the risk of exciting a somewhat derisive smile on the reader's part, I may affirm that with regard to the women who had hitherto interested him, it very often seemed to Winterbourne among the possibilities that, given certain contingencies, he should be afraid—literally afraid—of these ladies; he had a pleasant sense that he should never be afraid of Daisy Miller. (2.47)
Why, you may ask, are we smiling derisively? Well, because old HJ is here trying to tell us that Winterbourne goes running the other way when someone his own age tries to actually get it on with him, and he likes Daisy because she's about as sexual as Dora the Explorer. Ha! (We didn't say he wasn't dark, we just said we thought he was kind of funny.)