Mary Condela Reading Blog #8
In “Daisy Miller: A Study” Henry James focuses on how one’s perception of one’s self often contradicts others’ perspective of you. And how easily a person can misrepresent themselves or be misinterpreted. James heightens this theme by placing people of different cultures together, creating even more of a barrier between understanding one another. This is displayed to its utmost height in Daisy. She ends up being quite aware of her true self, but because of this consciousness of her own self-worth and self-pride, she becomes ostracized by “high” society. This upper-class society labels her as a common girl and so they don’t give her inherent pride any mind. Actually, as a woman, they believe she should never wear her pride so easily if she wants to attain any recognition; and besides that, they recognize her pride as licentiousness. Born into upper class society; their worth is displayed through money, taste, class, discretion, and an in-bred superiority. To them “common” people must continually prove themselves to work their way up the ladder and then gain a reason to be proud (which is quite a different pride than the one Daisy felt). Pride among lower class people, especially a woman, is frowned upon and seen as rebellious, uncalled for, and, most importantly, vulgar.
This theme of misrepresentation is set up from the start when Frederick goes to visit his aunt. When asked about Daisy, the aunt criticizes her family’s lack of a sense of superiority, which Mrs. Costello seems to think coincides with a lack of dignity. She expresses this concern when she says, “She is a young lady… who has an intimacy with her mamma’s courier?” (James 430) Her nephew quickly starts “An intimacy with the courier?” (James 430) His shocked and urgent tone shows that he took his aunt’s words to mean a more sexual intimacy, which is not what she had intended. His aunt was simply saying that Daisy and her family treat everyone with respect, even an employee, which is unacceptable to Mrs. Costello if you hope to gain her own society. She seems to think you cannot respect everyone if you want to be respected. This conversation demonstrates the weight of words and how one must be careful to express one’s self fully or what you say could easily be taken the wrong way and reek unnecessary havoc.
In the same manner, Daisy is rebuked by Frederick, who is trying to show her what is wrong with her actions and how it is interpreted within this unfamiliar culture. When he tries to explain that being alone with men in public while single is frowned upon by the Italians due to their natural imposition of a sinister undertone, he never states it out, clearly, and seriously enough for Daisy to abandon her own idea of propriety to save herself. While Winterbourne seems to try to separate himself from the prude high-society Italians, he often fails to do so completely. When he responds to Daisy’s expression of her intimacy with Giovanelli as “too good friends for that; we are very intimate friends” (James 450) with a jump up to love (partly in jest), he’s still under the impression that there must be more to her actions than being a friend. He also makes an assumption about Giovanelli based on his lower class when he says “Though you may be flirting, Mr. Giovanelli is not; he means something else” (James 450). Frederick assumes he can read people well throughout the whole story, but is proven to be utterly wrong.
A lot of ambiguity surrounds the message about the castle in Switzerland, since we are cut off from any further explanation. During the actual visit to the castle Frederick is underwhelmed by Daisy’s reaction. He was expecting a love of romance and excitement at the gothic from a woman. In this the roles of femininity and masculinity are inverted since Frederick is sentimental and Daisy is not. This trope is carried throughout the novel and has a lot to do with why Daisy is so misunderstood, assuming that Giovanelli was telling the truth, which he may have not. At the castle however, Frederick did not take Daisy seriously enough when she asked him to come with her. Daisy became incredibly jealous, but to save face she calls her lament “teasing” and binds him to a promise. Frederick must have completely forgotten Daisy’s tirade regarding the other woman when he thinks he is being a good judge of Daisy, despite her perplexity, and thinks “He could hardly have said why, but she seemed to him a girl who would never be jealous” (James 451). Frederick’s mistake is always taking Daisy too lightly. This mistake highlights the fact that Frederick completely let fly one of Daisy’s more obvious articulations of what she felt, when she says “I want you to come for me” (James 438). While everything else was lost in chatter and conviction, Daisy asks for exactly what she wants, and is shrugged off. Such a simple, earnest, dangerous request is basically ignored.
In the message that Daisy left, open to be interpreted as it is absent of any detail, I believe she is finally understood by Frederick. At least I agree with what I perceive to be Frederick’s understanding of this unexplained, second-hand statement. I think Daisy is asserting respect for herself, saying that it does matter if she was not engaged. Not only is she showing that her virtue does matter, but she also shows that she wished that it was important to him alone, since she wanted him to care about her. Frederick’s intimates his own interpretation when he says “She would have appreciated one’s esteem” (James 459). I believe he meant, at that moment, his aunt’s esteem. Daisy felt she deserved some respect.