Study Guide

Daisy Miller

Daisy Miller Summary

Attention: spoilers all over the place below. Read the story first. Seriously.

The Very Short Story

Boy meets girl, girl plays hard-to-get, girl dies, boy goes back to older lover in Geneva.

The Slightly Less Short Story

Frederick Winterbourne is bored by his life. He mostly hangs out with older ladies: visiting his elderly aunt in her European homes and engaging in some kind of affair with an older woman in Geneva.

In Vevay, Switzerland, he meets the vivacious young Daisy Miller, a girl from Schenectady, NY traveling through Europe with her clueless mother and badly behaved little brother, and his world is turned upside down. He likes Daisy, but her erratic, flirtatious behavior confuses and irritates him.

The following winter, he meets up with Daisy in Rome only to find she's been flirting like crazy with all of the Italian dudes. (Come on, who wouldn't?) She starts hanging out a little too intimately and a little too publicly with an Italian social climber named Mr. Giovanelli. People start to talk, and Winterbourne is torn: is Daisy tacky and ridiculous or hot and fun? And is she engaged to Giovanelli or not? He can't get a straight answer.

Winterbourne tries to get Daisy to tone it down and she makes fun of him for being boring. He almost loses it when he sees her out alone at night with Giovanelli at the Colosseum, a location where people typically contract Roman fever (malaria).

A few weeks later, she's sick as a dog. Yep, she's got malaria. When she dies, her mother passes on a message to Winterbourne: Daisy wanted him to know she was never engaged to Giovanelli.

After thinking this through, he decides he should have made a move when he had a chance instead of nagging her like a nerdy older brother. At the end, he concludes he's "lived too long in foreign parts" (2.276). Poor thing.

  • Part 1

    Les Trois Couronnes (The Three Crowns)

    • Open scene on Vevay: a "little town" in Switzerland that serves as a fancy getaway spot for rich and fabulous Americans. It's more tourist trap than hidden gem but is still trendy and expensive. Think St. Bart's without the rap stars.
    • Les Trois Couronnes is the name of the upscale inn where Frederick Winterbourne, our dapper protagonist, is staying with his stuffy old aunt. He's enjoying a leisurely breakfast in the opening scene when a young boy interrupts him.
    • After a cute conversation with the kid (Randolph Miller) that serves to let us know Winterbourne's not that uptight, the "little urchin" announces the arrival of his sister, who steps into the garden in a super flouncy dress, like a life-sized doll.
    • Winterbourne clearly has a thing for Miss Miller right away; the narrator describes her in detail through Winterbourne's eyes. Though he lists her physical attributes in a general way, "her nose, her ears, her teeth," it's more like he's undressing her soul with his eyes, trying to figure out what her deal is. No conclusions reached.
    • Daisy turns out to be a big talker. Winterbourne finds out that the Millers are from Upstate New York, that they've been traveling a lot, that she did some shopping in Paris, etc., etc. He determines that the Millers are rich and have taste when it comes to clothes and hotels but aren't that classy in a rules-of-the-society-game kind of way.
    • He's still into her on account of those lovely ears and her youthful flirtatiousness, so they agree to plan a daytrip to a nearby castle called the Chateau de Chillon. Daisy also expresses an interest in meeting Winterbourne's aunt, Mrs. Costello, who has a lot of old-school social cred. Winterbourne goes back inside to check on his aunt. (She had a headache before.) She's fine now, but is all riled up about the improprieties of the Miller clan when Winterbourne mentions them. "They are very common!" she says, and refuses to be introduced to Daisy (1.101).
    • Her main gripe with the Millers is that they're too friendly with their servant, Eugenio. Honestly! (You're going to have to get into the social haughtiness stuff here if you want to hang.)
    • That night, Winterbourne sees Daisy in the garden again. She figures out that Mrs. Costello has told Winterbourne she's not interested in meeting her, which is a pretty big burn, but Daisy takes it in stride.
    • Mrs. Miller comes into the garden while they're talking and the three of them go over the logistics of the big castle trip, even though it's only across the bay. Will they go alone? Should Randolph go? Should the servant, Eugenio go?
    • It's finally decided that Daisy and Winterbourne will go alone, which we totally knew/hoped would happen.
    • Two days later, they go to the castle in a steamboat. Daisy, of course, is looking super cute, and they have a blast. There's a lot of flirty banter on the boat and Winterbourne clearly likes how everyone is checking Daisy out, even though it also makes him kind of nervy.
    • Winterbourne tells her he's going to Geneva tomorrow and Daisy gets a little huffy. It's hard to tell if she's really upset or if she's just playing. After all, they only met two days ago.
    • Daisy guesses he's got a special lady friend in Geneva and, though he denies it, he's impressed by her powers of deduction. Daisy's no slouch.
    • Finally their pretend fight ends when Winterbourne agrees to meet her in Rome in the winter.
    • The chapter closes on Winterbourne telling Mrs. Costello that he and Daisy went to the castle alone. She is so scandalized she has to have some smelling salts. Oops!
  • Part 2

    Rome

    • It's winter, and Winterbourne shows up to stay with his aunt, who's now in Rome.
    • Old Mrs. Costello is back at Daisy-bashing as soon as Winterbourne arrives, talking about how Daisy's been going around with a lot of mustachioed Italians. Clearly, for Mrs. Costello, this adds to their sketchiness factor.
    • Winterbourne decides not to rush out and visit Daisy right away. After all, according to his aunt's account, she seems to be doing just fine without him. He goes to visit his friend, Mrs. Walker, a middle-aged woman with almost as much social cred as his aunt.
    • In a stunning coincidence, the Miller trio comes to visit Mrs. Walker a few minutes after Winterbourne arrives. Daisy plays the am-I-joking-or-am-I-really-mad game again about Winterbourne not writing or visiting her right away when he got to Rome.
    • After a while, she starts gushing about her new "friend" Mr. Giovanelli, one of the mustache guys. She even manages to finagle an invitation for herself and this new love interest to an upcoming party at Mrs. Walker's.
    • Then she announces she's going to meet Giovanelli right now, at the Pincio, a popular public plaza.
    • As you can imagine, the thought of meeting an Italian alone in public totally scandalizes Mrs. Walker, who is of the Mrs. Costello school of thought regarding manners and men with mustaches.
    • Winterbourne accompanies Daisy to the Pincio so that she doesn't have to walk alone, but we also get the sense he's curious about meeting this Mr. Giovanelli character.
    • He gets a little bossy with Daisy on the way, telling her "You should sometimes listen to a gentleman—the right one" (2.86). Yowza.
    • Daisy introduces the two guys and she again shows her surprising coolness by not making it awkward.
    • Winterbourne decides to himself that Giovanelli is handsome, but a sly charmer and a fake gentleman. Real gentlemen don't meet girls alone in public or have elaborate Italian mustaches. But, you ask, what about Winterbourne going alone with Daisy to the castle before? We know, we know. Hypocrisy abounds.
    • Mrs. Walker pulls up next to the trio in her carriage and waves Winterbourne over to convince him to convince Daisy not to walk around in public with two men. Winterbourne responds that maybe it's not such a big deal.
    • Daisy comes over to the carriage with Giovanelli and things get tense pretty quickly between her and Mrs. Walker. It ends with Mrs. Walker practically ordering her to get in the carriage.
    • Daisy asks Winterbourne if he thinks she should get in the carriage, and he gives her a big ol' yes. Daisy laughs and says she'd rather be improper and enjoy her walk with Giovanelli.
    • A tearful Mrs. Walker asks Winterbourne to come ride with her. He does, all the while listening to her complain about Daisy's improprieties. 
    • Winterbourne gets out and walks home alone. On his way, he sees Giovanelli and Daisy cozying up to one another in the sunset like the cover of one of those love song compilation albums they advertise on late-night TV.
    • Three days later, Mrs. Walker has the party. Mrs. Miller arrives without her daughter and tells Winterbourne that Daisy is at home alone with Mr. Giovanelli—womp womp—and will be coming soon.
    • Daisy comes late—after eleven, gasp!—alone with Giovanelli. It's one of those party fouls where everyone stops talking and stares. 
    • Mrs. Walker gives her a rude greeting, but Daisy seems not to care. She says that she has been coaching Giovanelli's rehearsals of a musical performance, which he proceeds to give.
    • Winterbourne gets into an argument with Daisy after the performance, chiding her for her bad behavior yet again.
    • Finally, after accusing her of being a wanton flirt, he manages to let the truth slip out: "I wish you would flirt with me, and me only" (2.156). Cat's out of the bag.
    • Daisy responds coldly, "you are the last man I should think of flirting with" (2.157), even though, basically, they've been flirting this whole time. Yeah, we know.
    • Daisy goes off to the other room where she sits with Giovanelli for the rest of the party.
    • When they go to leave and say goodnight to Mrs. Walker, the older woman snubs the young couple entirely. Ouch.
    • Winterbourne tells Mrs. Walker it was too cruel, and Walker responds that Daisy will never be invited to her house ever again. Total shun.
    • Winterbourne goes to visit Daisy at the hotel in a general way, but she's often not there.
    • When she is, Giovanelli is always with her. Boo.
    • One day, he runs into the happy couple—who insist to everyone that they're not engaged—in a public garden. Giovanelli occupies himself by picking flowers for his lapel while Winterbourne warns Daisy that she's being gossiped about and soon she won't be invited to visit any of the Americans in Rome.
    • Daisy tells him he should speak up for her, and he says he tells people that maybe she and Giovanelli are engaged (which would save her reputation a bit). She responds by saying that they are engaged, and though neither we nor Winterbourne can tell if she's entirely serious, he's pretty bummed about it. And, honestly, so are we.
    • The following week, Winterbourne is on a pensive late-night stroll past the Colosseum when he sees Daisy and Giovanelli doing some more public cuddling.
    • This time, he really freaks out at her. Not only is it late, but it's also malaria season. He's worried she'll get bitten by the mosquitos that come out at night, resulting in what they call "Roman fever" and we call eukaryotic protists of the genus Plasmodium—that's right, malaria.
    • He tries to convince her to go home and take some malaria pills, but she refuses.
    • Finally, Giovanelli says maybe the pills are a good idea, and he calls a cab. Before they leave, Daisy asks Winterbourne if he believes she's really engaged to Giovanelli. He says he doesn't know what to believe anymore.
    • Gossip about Daisy's late-night escapades is all over the American scene in Rome, but Winterbourne has kept his mouth shut.
    • Winterbourne gets wind of a rumor that Daisy is sick, and when he goes to her hotel to visit her, he finds out that it's true.
    • He can't speak to Daisy, but Mrs. Miller tells him that Daisy was very insistent that she pass on the message that she never was engaged to Giovanelli; "I don't know why she wanted you to know," Mrs. Miller says to him, "but she said to me three times, 'Mind you tell Mr. Winterbourne'" (2.260).
    • A week later, Winterbourne gets news that Daisy has died. He goes to the funeral and it's short and sad.
    • Mr. Giovanelli tells Winterbourne that he's sure Daisy never meant to marry him.
    • When Mrs. Costello asks Winterbourne about the funeral, he reflects that Daisy's final message to him means that she really always wanted him, not Mr. Giovanelli.
    • Oops.
    • The last sentence implies that Winterbourne, now living in Geneva, is involved with "a very clever foreign lady" (2.276).
    • Rebound, anyone?