Study Guide

Daisy Miller Respect and Reputation

By Henry James

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Respect and Reputation

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. (1.2)

How interesting can you be if everyone likes you? Winterbourne is like the easy-listening station of human beings.

Mrs. Costello had not seen [Winterbourne] for many years, and she was greatly pleased with him, manifesting her approbation by initiating him into many of the secrets of that social sway which, as she gave him to understand, she exerted in the American capital. She admitted that she was very exclusive; but, if he were acquainted with New York, he would see that one had to be. And her picture of the minutely hierarchical constitution of the society of that city, which she presented to him in many different lights, was, to Winterbourne's imagination, almost oppressively striking. (1.99)

Costello to Winterbourne: "I'm the bomb." Are you buying this, or what?

"We simply met in the garden, and we talked a bit."

"Tout bonnement! And pray what did you say?"

"I said I should take the liberty of introducing her to my admirable aunt."

"I am much obliged to you."

"It was to guarantee my respectability," said Winterbourne.

"And pray who is to guarantee hers?"

"Ah, you are cruel!" said the young man. "She's a very nice young girl." (1.115-21)

It just goes to show how customs change. Nowadays, if we met a guy in a garden and the first thing he said was "wanna meet my aunt?" we'd think that was weird, but here it's supposed to make him seem less sketchy.

"You are old enough to be more reasonable. You are old enough, dear Miss Miller, to be talked about."

Daisy looked at Mrs. Walker, smiling intensely. "Talked about? What do you mean?" (2.107-8)

Daisy knows exactly what she means—she just wants Walker to say it. Which, of course, Walker won't do because "it" makes her uncomfortable. Looks like Daisy's got her backed into a corner.

"Does Mr. Winterbourne think," she asked slowly, smiling, throwing back her head, and glancing at him from head to foot, "that, to save my reputation, I ought to get into the carriage?" Winterbourne colored; for an instant he hesitated greatly. It seemed so strange to hear her speak that way of her "reputation." (2.112-3)

It's Winterbourne who's been policing her reputation all along, so Daisy mentioning it to him makes him feel like the creepy sex police.

"But did you ever hear anything so cool as Mrs. Walker's wanting me to get into her carriage and drop poor Mr. Giovanelli, and under the pretext that it was proper? People have different ideas! It would have been most unkind; he had been talking about that walk for ten days." (2.151)

Either Daisy has a heart of gold, or she's a brilliant manipulator who can spin her every tiny want into a humanitarian mission—How can I not buy this floor-length mink when I reflect on the poor animals who died for it?!

After this Daisy was never at home, and Winterbourne ceased to meet her at the houses of their common acquaintances, because, as he perceived, these shrewd people had quite made up their minds that she was going too far. They ceased to invite her; and they intimated that they desired to express to observant Europeans the great truth that, though Miss Daisy Miller was a young American lady, her behavior was not representative--was regarded by her compatriots as abnormal. (2.207)

It's not so much that they don't want the Italians to think badly of Daisy, it's that they don't want the Italians to think badly of them. Classy.

Winterbourne, to do him justice, as it were, mentioned to no one that he had encountered Miss Miller, at midnight, in the Colosseum with a gentleman; but nevertheless, a couple of days later, the fact of her having been there under these circumstances was known to every member of the little American circle, and commented accordingly. (2.258)

This gossip game just gets more and more curious. If Winterbourne didn't tell anyone, then who did?

But the young man was conscious, at the same moment, that it had ceased to be a matter of serious regret to him that the little American flirt should be "talked about" by low-minded menials. These people, a day or two later, had serious information to give: the little American flirt was alarmingly ill. Winterbourne, when the rumor came to him, immediately went to the hotel for more news. (2.258)

At first, Winterbourne is all anti-gossip, but then he has to rely on gossip to find the info he needs. It's like when the antidote is the poison itself! (Wait, isn't that also how vaccines work?)

"She sent me a message before her death which I didn't understand at the time; but I have understood it since. She would have appreciated one's esteem." (2.273)

Leave it to Daisy to depart with a cryptic remark. Winterbourne interprets this to mean that she may have loved him. But the choice of the word "esteem" could also mean that she simply desired his respect and admiration.

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