Study Guide

Daisy Miller Foreignness and "The Other"

By Henry James

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Foreignness and "The Other"

There are sights and sounds which evoke a vision, an echo, of Newport and Saratoga. There is a flitting hither and thither of "stylish" young girls, a rustling of muslin flounces, a rattle of dance music in the morning hours, a sound of high-pitched voices at all times. You receive an impression of these things at the excellent inn of the "Trois Couronnes" and are transported in fancy to the Ocean House or to Congress Hall. But at the "Trois Couronnes," it must be added, there are other features that are much at variance with these suggestions: neat German waiters, who look like secretaries of legation; Russian princesses sitting in the garden; little Polish boys walking about held by the hand, with their governors; a view of the sunny crest of the Dent du Midi and the picturesque towers of the Castle of Chillon. (1.1)

So, Vevey is like bizarro Newport: you feel at home but—here's the kicker—you're not. So don't get too comfortable.

"I can't get any candy here--any American candy. American candy's the best candy."

"And are American little boys the best little boys?" asked Winterbourne.

"I don't know. I'm an American boy," said the child.

"I see you are one of the best!" laughed Winterbourne.

"Are you an American man?" pursued this vivacious infant.

And then, on Winterbourne's affirmative reply—"American men are the best," he declared. (1.10-15)

When we think Switzerland, we think chocolate and clocks. When we think America, we think men and candy. Right? Not really. James is trying to show how Americans always claim that America is arbitrarily superior. We may have invented M&Ms and Morgan Freeman, but we're not all that and a bag of chips. (Maybe just half a bag.)

She asked him if he was a "real American"; she shouldn't have taken him for one; he seemed more like a German—this was said after a little hesitation—especially when he spoke. Winterbourne, laughing, answered that he had met Germans who spoke like Americans, but that he had not, so far as he remembered, met an American who spoke like a German. (1.44)

In the 19th century, Germans were thought to be a little uptight. Why? Well, they had been extremely busy coming up with some of the most complicated and depressing philosophical insights that the world has ever known. See Kant, Hegel, Goethe, Schopenhauer, Marx, and Weber if you have about thirty years to kill.

He felt that he had lived at Geneva so long that he had lost a good deal; he had become dishabituated to the American tone. (1.66)

"Dishabituated" is not a normal word, in case you didn't notice. James is using it to imply that Winterbourne is an alien-like emotional robot. Boop-beep-boop.

As the day was splendid, however, and the concourse of vehicles, walkers, and loungers numerous, the young Americans found their progress much delayed. This fact was highly agreeable to Winterbourne, in spite of his consciousness of his singular situation. The slow-moving, idly gazing Roman crowd bestowed much attention upon the extremely pretty young foreign lady who was passing through it upon his arm; and he wondered what on earth had been in Daisy's mind when she proposed to expose herself, unattended, to its appreciation. His own mission, to her sense, apparently, was to consign her to the hands of Mr. Giovanelli; but Winterbourne, at once annoyed and gratified, resolved that he would do no such thing. (2.69)

Daisy is admired by the Roman crowd and Winterbourne's proud to have her as his national trophy. Go USA! No way he's giving up the spoils to the Italian team.

Mrs. Walker was one of those American ladies who, while residing abroad, make a point, in their own phrase, of studying European society, and she had on this occasion collected several specimens of her diversely born fellow mortals to serve, as it were, as textbooks. (2.137)

James depicts Walker as a social scientist "collecting specimens" for her grandiose experiments at making herself the most popular girl studying abroad. Gross.

He smiled and bowed and showed his white teeth; he curled his mustaches and rolled his eyes and performed all the proper functions of a handsome Italian at an evening party. (2.146)

Giovanelli knows all about how to impress these shallow Americans: play up the Italian thing as much as you can. It's not like they like you for you.

"Well," said Winterbourne, "when you deal with natives you must go by the custom of the place. Flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn't exist here. So when you show yourself in public with Mr. Giovanelli, and without your mother—" (2.164)

But we thought the language of love was universal!

[Giovanelli] is evidently immensely charmed with Miss Miller. If she thinks him the finest gentleman in the world, he, on his side, has never found himself in personal contact with such splendor, such opulence, such expensiveness as this young lady's. And then she must seem to him wonderfully pretty and interesting. I rather doubt that he dreams of marrying her. That must appear to him too impossible a piece of luck. He has nothing but his handsome face to offer, and there is a substantial Mr. Miller in that mysterious land of dollars. Giovanelli knows that he hasn't a title to offer. If he were only a count or a marchese! He must wonder at his luck, at the way they have taken him up. (2.193)

We spend so much time thinking about how foreign Giovanelli is, we sometimes forget that foreignness goes both ways. Daisy is also foreign to him. That, and of course her money, make her a super hot ticket.

Of the observation excited by Daisy's "intrigue," Winterbourne gathered that day at St. Peter's sufficient evidence. A dozen of the American colonists in Rome came to talk with Mrs. Costello, who sat on a little portable stool at the base of one of the great pilasters. The vesper service was going forward in splendid chants and organ tones in the adjacent choir, and meanwhile, between Mrs. Costello and her friends, there was a great deal said about poor little Miss Miller's going really "too far." (2.197)

For Mrs. Costello and crew, the way to appreciate Italians is to go to their old rituals—like the vesper service—not to hang out with handsome Italians in public plazas as Daisy does.

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