Study Guide

Daisy Miller Hypocrisy

By Henry James

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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. (1.2)

This is one place where our coy friend the narrator comes out to play. What's the deal with these enemies? Do they exist or don't they? Our money's on the "virtuous" Mr. Winterbourne having something to hide.

"But don't they all do these things--the young girls in America?" Winterbourne inquired.

Mrs. Costello stared a moment. "I should like to see my granddaughters do them!" she declared grimly. This seemed to throw some light upon the matter, for Winterbourne remembered to have heard that his pretty cousins in New York were "tremendous flirts." (1.139-40)

Mrs. Costello can't stand Daisy's flirtatious ways, even though her own granddaughters have reputations to match. Also, we think she's probably sarcastic when she says she'd like to see her granddaughters in flirt mode. Either that, or she's even more perverse than we thought.

If, therefore, Miss Daisy Miller exceeded the liberal margin allowed to these young ladies, it was probable that anything might be expected of her. Winterbourne was impatient to see her again, and he was vexed with himself that, by instinct, he should not appreciate her justly. (1.140)

This time, Winterbourne is like a young Christina Aguilera: his body's saying yes, but his heart is saying no.

"If, after what happens—at Vevey and everywhere—you desire to keep up the acquaintance, you are very welcome. Of course a man may know everyone. Men are welcome to the privilege!" (2.3)

The gender double standard: the oldest hypocritical stance in the proverbial book.

"In such a case," his companion answered, "I don't wish to be clever; I wish to be earnest!"

"Well, your earnestness has only offended her and put her off."

"It has happened very well," said Mrs. Walker. "If she is so perfectly determined to compromise herself, the sooner one knows it the better; one can act accordingly." (2.117-9)

Mrs. Walker just wants to be earnest. Right. And reality TV stars just want a quiet, normal life.

The young girl looked at him more gravely, but with eyes that were prettier than ever. "I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or to interfere with anything I do."

"I think you have made a mistake," said Winterbourne. "You should sometimes listen to a gentleman—the right one." (2.86-87)

Always listen to someone who tells you to only listen to them, right? Winterbourne's idea that he's "the right one" is totally based on his own tradition and cultural biases.

Mrs. Walker was flushed; she wore an excited air. "It is really too dreadful," she said. "That girl must not do this sort of thing. She must not walk here with you two men. Fifty people have noticed her."

Winterbourne raised his eyebrows. "I think it's a pity to make too much fuss about it."

"It's a pity to let the girl ruin herself!" (2.90-2)

Why so flushed, Walker? We think you're jealous. Oh no? Well, name a time in the book when fifty people notice you.

Daisy gave a violent laugh. "I never heard anything so stiff! If this is improper, Mrs. Walker," she pursued, "then I am all improper, and you must give me up. Goodbye; I hope you'll have a lovely ride!" and, with Mr. Giovanelli, who made a triumphantly obsequious salute, she turned away. (2.113)

Daisy the Hypocrite Slayer: there are no vampires, but it's still fun to watch.

"You're a very nice girl; but I wish you would flirt with me, and me only," said Winterbourne. (2.156)

We call this The Winterbourne Principle: According to Winterbourne, it's only wrong when it applies to anyone other than Winterbourne.

"But I don't believe it. They are only pretending to be shocked. They don't really care a straw what I do." (2.216)

Daisy's onto the snobby crowd. The question is, if she's right, why do they pretend to be shocked?

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