Table of Contents
The depiction of Winterbourne and the narrative perspective
The relationship between Winterbourne and Daisy
The change in American masculinity reflected by Winterbourne
Henry James was 35 years old in 1878 when he wrote “Daisy Miller”. He was considered a celebrity in his home country America and also in England, which was later to become his second home. Not only was he successful in writing his novel, he also changed American literature with his masterpiece. Generations of literary critics have been dealing with “Daisy Miller” in terms of the creation of a new type of American female.
In my paper I want to approach the novel a little differently by taking a closer look at the male protagonist Frederick Winterbourne.
I would also like to take a closer look at the narrative perspective and the way Winterbourne is represented by it. Furthermore I am interested in the gender relationship between Daisy and Winterbourne and their attempts to find a way to get together. The problems arising from this, concerning Winterbourne, will lead me to the last topic, the crisis in American masculinity, the images of masculinity reflected in the novel and a way of creating a new identity of American men. A main problem is procrastination that keeps people from doing the right thing and developing as a person. Another thing I want to take a look at is the mystery Daisy as an American woman is for Winterbourne and how he deals with his insecurity. In fighting it he makes attempts to create his masculinity. James also intended to make his protagonists allegories of certain features in the American mentality and shows problems of American society in the 19th century. James takes an exemplary relationship by which he tries to depict the very tricky situation of America itself and gender-relation in America in those days. The young expatriate Winterbourne and his problems with his countrywoman Daisy Miller mirror the problematic situation of the nation. The way James employs shifts in his narration shows the reader how strange the situation is and somehow also comical. Winterbourne whose main interest is the innocence of Daisy is in bigger terms looking for America’s innocence that seemed to be lost after the end of the Civil War.
The depiction of Winterbourne and the narrative perspective
Since James’ novel is written in a third-person narrative that could be called observing, it is quite easy to portray Winterbourne’s situation in an almost comical way. He is described as an American abroad who is wasting his time away by doing nothing special. He must have been traveling around Europe for quite a while. He seems very interested in European culture and in indulging his philosophical idleness. That is, he is dealing with European art a lot and trying to find out his point of view in life. It is not before Daisy Miller, the interesting American girl from “Schenectady” arrives in his vacation town of Vevey in Switzerland, until he finally starts moving away from his idleness. Winterbourne suddenly starts thinking about life seriously and its mere reflection in Daisy Miller, since she reflects a type of American woman to him that is very interesting. To him she is worth exploring her behavior and thoughts. The omniscient narrator gives us a deep insight in Winterbourne’s mind to show us what he thinks about this girl and the way he starts wondering about her. The protagonist is watching every step she makes and the third-person narrator is willing to let us in on what is going on in Frederick’s head.
“[...] She was very quiet, she sat in a charming, tranquil attitude; but her lips and her eyes were constantly moving. She had a soft, slender, agreeable voice, and her tone was delicately sociable.[...]”
It cannot clearly be said who is talking to us readers. Is it really a narrator? Or did the author imply Winterbourne’s thoughts in the? Is Frederick Winterbourne himself talking to us in this scene? The description of Daisy Miller’s behavior is so strikingly emotional and compact that it might be coming from Winterbourne himself and not a distant narrator.
The slight change in the narration makes the novel interesting to read.
By omitting all the important facts about Winterbourne, that are really of interest to the readers, James shows a certain attitude and a new style of narration. His protagonist is to remain a mystery to the reader.
Even though the narrative stays in the third person, something seems to change. There seems to be no distance between him as a protagonist and the knowledge of the narrator. All the things that are left out are supposed to make the readers wonder about the protagonist. There are certain questions that automatically arise.
What about Winterbourne himself? What does the narrator tell us about him? What town does he come from? Why is he in Europe? What is he planning to do? Nothing at all is said about these things by the narrator. He leaves us readers absolutely ignorant. And once again the impression is conveyed that it is not some kind of distant narrator concealing all these things, but a narrator very closely linked to the protagonist Winterbourne. A person whose life has almost come to a standstill before Daisy steps into his life.
Certain words show that Winterbourne’s life gets faster when he meets Daisy. A frequently occurring word like “little” is used to describe Daisy. The word itself shows that Winterbourne sees the woman as a girl in the beginning, but the frequency also conveys the impression that his mind is working more quickly and he himself starts moving again.
Who else but a very closely linked, if not alter ego narrator should adapt to this new way of dealing with things, making observations and being interested in Daisy Miller?
It is a well-known fact that James’ way of playing with the narrative perspective was a very handy one. And he uses it here to develop an intense relationship between two types of American people.
 Muriel G. Shine: The fictional children of Henry James. University of North Carolina Press. 1969.
 Henry James: Daisy Miller. Penguin Popular Classics. 1995. Page 17.
 Daniel Mark Fogel: Daisy Miller. A dark comedy of manners. Twayne Publishers. 1990. Page 27.