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Gossip in Daisy Miller

Upon completing this book, I figured it was one of my most disliked books that I have read in my entire life. As Professor Eversley always begs us to ask questions when reading, I asked myself why I felt this way. Similar to what one of our classmates said in class yesterday, I felt I didn’t care about the result when the book ended. Even more so, I had to question what the author’s purpose in writing this story was. It seemed to be a rather pointless tale of an American flirt who is being criticized by pretentious American born Europeans for being unlady like. But at the end of the day, who really cares?

From here I had an epiphany that this was the exact point Henry James was trying to make. Who really cares? As we mentioned in class yesterday, a major theme of this text is that of gossip.  Everyone is discussing Daisy’s behaviors and judging her accordingly. Even the story itself is a piece of gossip- in the Notes on the Texts section of the book it reports that, “The source of ‘Daisy Miller’ was an anecdote that James heard in Rome during the autumn of 1877” (pg. xxix). James reports the story in a sort of nonchalant attitude that makes readers believe he doesn’t know or care about the validity of this story, so why is he presenting it to us? In my opinion, it seems he is criticizing this behavior, telling us that we shouldn’t really care what other people are doing in their lives, and we shouldn’t be so quick to judge the behaviors of others. We all formed opinions of Daisy based on the description provided for us, but we know that she was intended to be the hero of this story. Henry James is a realist—he portrays his characters as they are, with no embellishments. Yet his intent wasn’t to criticize Daisy, but to defend her, as a young innocent girl just trying to live her life the best way she sees fit. And when she dies, no one cares. Not only did we, the audience members, not care, but the characters in the book don’t even care! It just seems amazing to me that people could spend so much time gossiping about a girl only for her to die and leave them completely unaffected by her death. But I think this is what James is attacking afterall- the behaviors of the pretentious upper-class Europeans, gossiping and dwelling into the lives of others who they remain unaffected by.

Any thoughts?


264 responses so far

264 Responses to “Gossip in Daisy Miller”

  1. SEversleyon Feb 17th 2011 at 9:01 am

    You make some good points. If people don’t really care about gossip, why do you think they repeat it? And why do you think James would title the novella “Daisy Miller” and not something like, “Gossipy Americans in Europe”?

  2. jm124766on Feb 21st 2011 at 6:06 pm

    You points are very interesting. I never thought of it that way and you opened my eyes to a different interpretation of the book.

    However, unlike you, I did care about Daisy. I was not happy when she died and no one cared (not even Winterbourne or Giovanelli). Then I thought about your comment on the idea that this entire novella was based upon gossip and this idea hit me.

    I think Daisy Miller was used because Henry James wanted to turn her into a tragic heroine – some sort of a martyr for the cause (in this case gossip). I think what killed her literally were mosquitoes but figuratively, gossip killed her. From the very start of the scene at the Colosseum, Daisy was engulfed in gossip. Winterbourne warned her of the possibility of catching malaria at night. However, was this belief true? Where did he get the idea from. It seemed that from the beginning of this scene, Winterbourne had almost “sealed Daisy’s fate” by pronouncing her death from this idea (passed on to him from societal beliefs) that she will die from malaria at night. Also, even after Daisy got sick, we don’t know if she was sick from the mosquitoes. It was her mother who announced to everyone that “It’s going around at night that way you bet – that’s what made her sick…” (78). Hence, we can see that in a gossip and judgment driven society, a free spirit like Daisy Miller had no place. She was bound to die – making her story a tragedy.