Daisy Miller Summary

Daisy Miller Summary

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Henry James establishes the setting for “Daisy Miller” as a beautiful resort town in Switzerland called Vevey that is populated in the summer months by many tourists and is a favorite spot for Americans on vacation. There are all classes of hotels and inns in the area and one of the finest in particular is where the opening action of “Daisy Miller” occurs. It is here that the first character introduced in the Henry James story appears. His name is simply Winterbourne and he is described as being a thoughtful and amicable young man who was there to see his aunt, although he came from Geneva just before, where he visits and is “very devoted to a lady who lived there—a foreign lady—a person older than himself.” The reader is left to speculate on this relationship, between Winterbourne and an older woman, but it is clear that he is well-traveled and despite being an American, was educated in Europe, thus giving him a nuanced understanding of European culture—surely more understanding than any of the American tourists would likely have. With that in mind, it should be noted that the fine hotel is not European-looking so much as reminiscent of hotels in fine American cities and with the same atmosphere.

Winterbourne finds that his aunt has a headache and will not be seen so he sits down at for breakfast at a café. After finishing, a small, well-dressed American boy comes along and asks, without manners, for a lump of sugar in a voice that was “immature yet somehow not young” and who goes on to comment on “old Europe” with disgust and seems only to want American things, such as American candy. Upon finding out that Winterbourne too is American, even though Winterbourne reflects he was this child’s age upon coming to Europe.

Interrupting his reverie, a woman approaches, calling after the boy who says American men are the best and as Winterbourne sees the figure approaching, he replies that American women are the best. The woman who approaches is very well-dressed as well with a “hundred frills and frounces” and proceeds to scold the boy who his clearly her young brother. Winterbourne is used to the highly formal introductions of unmarried ladies to men but realizes this is not in order with American girls and for a moment, doesn’t know what to say. He listens as the girls scolds her brother more and finds that they are considering going into Italy. He asks what mountain they are preparing to go over but neither know, to them it’s just “some mountain” and Randolph, the young boy wonders if he can find American candy there.