‘Daisy Miller’ by Henry James – A Severe Reading Setback

‘Daisy Miller’ by Henry James  (1878) – 80 pages


If you want to retain a good opinion of Henry James, don’t read ‘Daisy Miller’.   When you read this novella, you realize that it was written by a haughty snobbish upper class twit.   James’ total contempt for us common people shines through.

The story of Daisy Miller is told through the eyes of a twenty-seven year old man named only Winterbourne.  Winterbourne is an American who has plenty of real money, so he travels around with his aunt to only the finest hotels and resorts in Europe.   In the town of Vevey in Switzerland there is a hotel that is even grand enough for Winterbourne, “being distinguished from its upstart neighbors by an air both of luxury and maturity.”

There Winterbourne meets a rambunctious little American boy named Randolph who introduces him to his pretty older sister, Daisy Miller.

“They were wonderfully pretty eyes, and indeed Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair country-woman’s various features – her complexion, her hair, her nose, her ears, her teeth.  He had a great relish for feminine beauty.”    

Winterbourne is really attracted to Daisy, but first he must determine if her money and her behavior are worthy of his refined attention, so he hovers around Daisy for the rest of the novella.   By watching her, he determines that Daisy is kind of a free spirit, and of course Winterbourne severely criticizes her for that.

The Millers decide to relocate to Rome, Italy, and Winterbourne hears rumors about Daisy.

“The girl goes about alone with her foreigners.”

So Winterbourne immediately rushes to Rome where presumably he finds an even more luxurious and exclusive hotel, so that he can continue to hover around Daisy.  He finds out that the free spirit Daisy has gotten involved with an Italian guy called Giovanelli who claims to be a Count.  Winterbourne can tell just by looking at the guy that he doesn’t have any real money, so he pesters Daisy to ditch the Count.  Daisy doesn’t ditch the Italian Count, so soon she becomes a shame and an embarrassment to her entire hotel of snooty people.

Of course in a Henry James story Daisy Miller must die for her sins, and she gets a mysterious fever.  After she dies, Winterbourne moves on to an even more posh elegant hotel in Geneva.

After reading a couple of other works by Henry James, I was just getting to the point where I could stomach his pompous pretentious ways, but I must report that ‘Daisy Miller’ was a severe setback in my regard for Henry James.


Grade:    C-


14 responses to this post.

  1. Couldn’t agree more!

    Liked by 1 person


  2. I love this review, Tony! It made m chuckle 🤣



  3. This novella did nothing for me either. Fortunately I then went onto read Waashingtonn Square which is much darker.



    • Hi Booker,
      Yes, Washington Square is a much finer novel. That one I really liked. Portrait of a Lady does have its snobbish elements, but still I thought that it was very well done. The Aspern Papers is another I enjoyed. I still have not been able to make it through any of his last three giant novels, and now I will have to postpone attempting them again. 🙂



      • It took me while to warm to Portrait of a Lady though I got there in the end. Still have to tackle The Bostonians, etc



        • I might read ‘The Bostonians’ sometime because that is late middle period James. The three that terrify me are the giant ones written after 1900: ‘The Wings of the Dove’, ‘The Ambassadors’, and ‘The Golden Bowl’. I have already started ‘The Wings of the Dove’ a couple of times and given up in frustration due to its convolutedness.



  4. I love your review.

    I agree with you, Whashington Square is a lot better. It’s so modern. And so is What Daisy Knew, one I really recommend.



  5. I can see why you didn’t like this…. :)))



  6. Posted by joanne on February 6, 2017 at 10:12 PM

    not his best one, so true.



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