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Daisy Miller

A Study in Two Parts

By Henry James


Illustrated from drawings by Harry W. McVickar

New York: Harper & Brothers, 1892


Author's Preface of 1907

A Note on the Text

Online notes

Chapter 1, 2, 3, 4


to the New York edition [1907]

It was in Rome during the autumn of 1877; a friend then living there but settled now in a South less weighted with appeals and memories happened to mention--which she might perfectly not have done--some simple and uninformed American lady of the previous winter, whose young daughter, a child of nature and of freedom, accompanying her from hotel to hotel, had 'picked up' by the wayside, with the best conscience in the world, a good-looking Roman, of vague identity, astonished at his luck, yet (so far as might be, by the pair) all innocently, all serenely exhibited and introduced: this at least till the occurrence of some small social check, some interrupting incident, of no great gravity or dignity, and which I forget I had never heard, save on this showing, of the amiable but not otherwise eminent ladies, who weren't in fact named, I think, and whose case had merely served to point a familiar moral; and it must have been just their want of salience that left a margin for the small pencil-mark inveterately signifying, in such connections, 'Dramatize, dramatize!' The result of my recognizing a few months later the sense of my pencil-mark was the short chronicle of Daisy Miller, which I indited in London the following spring and then addressed, with no conditions attached, as I remember, to the editor of a magazine that had its seat of publication at Philadelphia and had lately appeared to appreciate my contributions. That gentleman however (an historian of some repute) promptly returned me my missive, and with an absence of comment that struck me at the time as rather grim--as, given the circumstances, requiring indeed some explanation: till a friend to whom I appealed for light, giving him the thing to read, declared it could only have passed with the Philadelphian critic for 'an outrage on American girlhood'. This was verily a light, and of bewildering intensity; though I was presently to read into the matter a further helpful inference. To the fault of being outrageous this little composition added that of being essentially and pre-eminently a nouvelle; a signal example in fact of that type, foredoomed at the best, in more cases than not, to editorial disfavour. If accordingly I was afterwards to be cradled, almost blissfully, in the conception that Daisy at least, among my productions, might approach 'success', such success for example, on her eventual appearance, as the state of being promptly pirated in Boston--a sweet tribute I hadn't yet received and was never again to know--the irony of things yet claimed its rights, I couldn't but long continue to feel, in the circumstance that quite a special reprobation had waited on the first appearance in the world of the ultimately most prosperous child of my invention. So doubly discredited, at all events, this bantling met indulgence, with no great delay, in the eyes of my admirable friend the late Leslie Stephen and was published in two numbers of the Cornhill Magazine (1878).

It qualified itself in that publication and afterwards as 'a Study'; for reasons which I confess I fail to recapture unless they may have taken account simply of a certain flatness in my poor little heroine's literal denomination. Flatness indeed, one must have felt, was the very sum of her story; so that perhaps after all the attached epithet was meant but as a deprecation, addressed to the reader, of any great critical hope of stirring scenes. It provided for mere concentration, and on an object scant and superficially vulgar--from which, however, a sufficiently brooding tenderness might eventually extract a shy incongruous charm. I suppress at all events here the appended qualification--in view of the simple truth, which ought from the first to have been apparent to me, that my little exhibition is made to no degree whatever in critical but, quite inordinately and extravagantly, in poetical terms. It comes back to me that I was at a certain hour long afterwards to have reflected, in this connection, on the characteristic free play of the whirligig of time. It was in Italy again--in Venice and in the prized society of an interesting friend, now dead, with whom I happened to wait, on the Grand Canal, at the animated water-steps of one of the hotels. The considerable little terrace there was so disposed as to make a salient stage for certain demonstrations on the part of two young girls, children they, if ever, of nature and of freedom, whose use of those resources, in the general public eye, and under our own as we sat in the gondola, drew from the lips of a second companion, sociably afloat with us, the remark that there before us, with no sign absent, were a couple of attesting Daisy Millers. Then it was that, in my charming hostess's prompt protest, the whirligig, as I have called it, at once betrayed itself. 'How can you liken those creatures to a figure of which the only fault is touchingly to have transmuted so sorry a type and to have, by a poetic artifice, not only led our judgement of it astray, but made any judgement quite impossible?' With which this gentle lady and admirable critic turned on the author himself. 'You know you quite falsified, by the turn you gave it, the thing you had begun with having in mind, the thing you had had, to satiety, the chance of "observing": your pretty perversion of it, or your unprincipled mystification of our sense of it, does it really too much honour--in spite of which, none the less, as anything charming or touching always to that extent justifies itself, we after a fashion forgive and understand you. But why waste your romance? There are cases, too many, in which you've done it again; in which, provoked by a spirit of observation at first no doubt sufficiently sincere, and with the measured and felt truth fairly twitching your sleeve, you have yielded to your incurable prejudice in favour of grace--to whatever it is in you that makes so inordinately for form and prettiness and pathos; not to say sometimes for misplaced drolling. Is it that you've after all too much imagination? Those awful young women capering at the hotel-door, they are the real little Daisy Millers that were; whereas yours in the tale is such a one, more's the pity, as--for pitch of the ingenuous, for quality of the artless--couldn't possibly have been at all.' My answer to all which bristled of course with more professions than I can or need report here; the chief of them inevitably to the effect that my supposedly typical little figure was of course pure poetry, and had never been anything else; since this is what helpful imagination, in however slight a dose, ever directly makes for. As for the original grossness of readers, I dare say I added, that was another matter--but one which at any rate had then quite ceased to signify.


A Note on the Text

As copy-text for this online edition we use the first American book edition, 1878, by Harper and Brothers. (Illustrations are from the 1892 edition.) This text is also followed by the Penguin Classics paperback edition of 1986, ISBN 0-14-04362-0, edited with an introduction by Geoffrey Moore, notes by Patricia Clark.

We use the Anglicized spelling of words such as "honour" but use the double quote mark instead of the British single one. Em dashes are rendered as two minus signs without space on either side.

The printing history of Daisy Miller is alluded to in the author's preface above. James first sent the manuscript to the Philadelphia magazine, Lippincott's, which rejected it--James says it was explained to him by a friend that the portrayal of Daisy was "an outrage on American girlhood."

James's friend Leslie Stephen (1832-1904, father of Virginia Woolf) issued the story in two parts in The Cornhill Magazine, number 37, June, 1878, and number 38, July, 1878. As James notes, it was quickly pirated by magazines in Boston and New York. (There were no international copyright laws at the time.) Harpers published it later in 1878 as a book, and Macmillan's in London. A dramatic adaptation in 1882-3 failed on the stage.

For the definitive New York edition of Henry James's work, the author made extensive revisions. We do not follow them. Moore points out: "Although James conscientiously attempted to supply for the definitive edition the psychological depth and nuances which he felt were lacking in the 1878 version, he succeeded only in burying the unassuming simplicity of his early style under the mannerisms of the Master." Moore's introduction to the Penguin edition provides several illuminating examples.

The novelette was of course a great success. William Dean Howells wrote to James Russell Lowell in 1878,

"There has been a vast discussion in which nobody felt very deeply, and everybody talked very loudly. The thing went so far that society almost divided itself into Daisy Millerites and anti-Daisy Millerites. I was glad of it for I hoped that in making James so thoroughly known, it would call attention to the beautiful work he had been doing for very few readers."

Moore's introduction draws parallels between Daisy and Huck Finn and Emerson's concept of self-reliance.

"For us, the readers, it is Daisy who is on the side of the angels, and I am sure that James meant it to be so, despite the fact that he invoked poetic justice in consigning her to her doom for being such a wicked flouter of convention. . . . If there is one abiding theme which runs through the American experience it is that men and women must have the courage to go it alone, setting their faces resolutely against what they see as arbitrary and outmoded rules and regulations. . . . In Daisy Miller there is the seed of what we are to find in full bloom at the end of his career. . . . the pitting of the values of America against those of Europe. The reason Daisy has nothing in common with her fellow Americans in Rome is because they subscribe to the European way of looking at life, a way which so many of James's novels reveal to be shallow, superficial and cynical. Daisy is honest, fresh and open. . . ."

Moore quotes critic Leslie Fiedler:

"Daisy is. . . the prototype of all those young American female tourists who continue to baffle their continental lovers with an innocence not at all impeached, though they have taken to sleeping with their Giovanellis as well as standing with them in the moonlight. What the European male fails to understand is that the American Girl is innocent by definition, mythically innocent; and that her purity depends upon nothing she says or does. . ."

An interesting comparison could be made between Daisy Miller and The Marble Faun, Nathaniel Hawthorne's novel of some 18 years before, as both depict single American women in Rome, and contrast American and European morals and society. While Daisy has been successfully adapted for television, Hawthorne's romance has been studiously ignored for many years.

Online notes

Online notes are at the end of each (chapter) page. They are intended for secondary school readers.

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Alice Barlett
is the name of the friend who told him the story
young child (dictionary says it's probably an alteration of bastard)
set down in writing

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