Daisy Miller, Winnaretta Singer Princesse de Polignac, Princess Belgiojoso, Clover Adams, Emily Truxton Beale, Alice James, Oscar Wilde
Here comes my sister! She’s an American girl.
Randolph Miller in Henry James, Daisy Miller, 1878.
The American girl is different. Daisy Miller horrified European America and much of Europe with her cheerful boldness, so Henry James killed her with a villainous miasma. Why?
There are two stories in Daisy Miller. First, the comedy of manners: an heiress goes to Europe and shocks American-European high society with her free-and-easy, potentially lewd American ways. Second, the public-health story: an heiress goes to Europe and dies of malaria. James mushes these two not-very-gripping stories together: if heiress A is the same person as heiress B, the feeling of meaning emerges.
Was the lovely moonlit night at the Coliseum the villainous miasma? Were the greasy, mustachioed Italians she consorted with the villainous miasma? Were the horrible society ladies the villainous miasma? Was Winterbourne’s rejection of Daisy the villainous miasma? Did Daisy die because she had tempted God? — “I don’t care whether I have Roman fever or not!”
Mark Twain rewrote this kind of story all the time. All that would be needed is a pious twin who, while Daisy is frolicking with some Italian, contracts malaria during a churchy moonlight visit to the Coliseum where so many Christian martyrs died. There are already martyr-references scattered through James’s book, so the retrofit would be easy. The burial scene at the so-called Protestant cemetery would be poignant — Keats and Shelley are buried there, which would give the lewd sister something to think about during the service. If Daisy had sneaked off to a hotel room with Giovanelli instead of sharing that romantic evening in the moonlight with him, she would have lived to tell about it.
Unfortunately, Daisy actually died of a natural cause: malaria spread by a mosquito. Here we again bump up against the problem you have with every goddamn realist novel. In order to make something into a story, you have to give unreasonable significance to one or more vivid facts. (Balzac and Zola were aided in this task by gross superstition, and Balzac also believed in the pseudoscience of physiognomy, which deduces character from facial features). The business about the miasma striking down possibly-lewd women (but not the men with her) would work fine in Beowulf or in the Old Testament, but realism isn’t supposed to be like that. Like the “long fine needle of shivered glass” that pierced the London girl’s heart, Daisy’s death is just a coincidence. So much for that.
Why did Daisy need to die horribly? At the end of the story we learn that she hadn’t even put out. The Italian fortune-hunter and seducer realized early on that he wasn’t going to score, and continued the relationship out of curiosity and amazement. Daisy had not been lewd, and even if she had been lewd, the miasma would never have reached her if she had followed the sophisticated European lewdness protocols.
The first protocol is sneaking around. “Do you call it an intrigue – an affair that goes on with such peculiar publicity?” asks one of the horrible society ladies. When you flaunt it, that takes the fun out of gossip, since no one can get an exclusive on the story. And you dare not deny the society ladies their pound of flesh.
The second requirement is to put out, but only eventually. Be demure, play hard to get, sneak around, but then succumb to the irresistible advances of the conqueror. In Winterbourne’s terms, be a coquette rather than a flirt. (In contemporary language, don’t be a cocktease). The actual libertine Arsène Houssaye never met the fictional Daisy, but if he had, he would certainly have filed an angry protest with the proper authorities. Alfred de Musset was the teen idol of his era and ate more chicken than a man ever seen, but because the lovely and very reasonable Princess Belgiojoso never put out for him, Musset’s biographer Émile Henriot accused her of being a heartless flirt and even blamed her for killing him.
The third requirement of proper lewdness is remembering who you are. Daisy was a serious heiress who would have had suitors if she’d been a dog. But she failed to put the proper value on her booty, or even to realize that she was booty at all. She vaguely knew that she should be “exclusive”, but didn’t seem to understand that concept: “Well, we are exclusive, my mother and I. We don’t speak to everyone – or they don’t speak to us. I suppose it’s about the same thing”. She should have been angling for a noble spouse (as Henry Adams’s Victoria Dare did, to her credit), but, in Winterbourne’s words, “Daisy and her mamma have not risen to the stage of – what shall I call it – of culture, at which the idea of catching a count or a marchese begins. I believe that they are intellectually incapable of that conception.” The American sewing machine heiress Winnaretta Singer, Princess Edmond de Polignac, ex-Princess de Scey-Montbéliard — who also didn’t put out — could have taught Daisy a thing or two, and another American beneficiary of sewing machine money, Martin Peretz, had nothing to learn from greasy European fortune-hunters.
A remarkable thing in Daisy Miller is that social-climbing Europhile Americans of Puritan heritage retain nothing of their ancestral religion but its severity of judgement, which they mobilize for the enforcement of the standards of sophisticated European corruption.
As Duby has shown, since the beginning of time the males of the various Frankish tribes have devoted themselves to the pursuit of adventure, romance, loose women, heiresses, and fortunes. All of Frankish life is organized around these themes, the way American life is organized around the Horatio Alger story, which also involves heiresses. (Someone should write a book about this.) Loose women are sexy and expensive, whereas heiresses (wives) are sexless and wealthy and primarily useful for financing the pursuit of the former. A good French father uses his daughter’s booty as a legal instrument for the purpose of conveying his wealth to a golddigger son-in-law he hates. This has produced a richly elaborated dual sexual regime within which men ignore their wives and make love to shortlived pauper ladies (La Traviata, La Bohème, La Dame aux Camelias, et. al.) or to other men’s wives. If Daisy had understood Frankish customs regarding conveyances Henry James would not have had to kill her.
What was Henry James’ motive? We know that it was Henry James and no one else who killed Daisy Miller. James did not kill Daisy because he shared society’s view that her behavior was scandalous and intolerable, or Winterbourne’s milder version of that same judgment; these judgments were not his, but part of the story he told. It may be that he felt that he had to kill Daisy to protect himself (and his book) against Daisy’s fate. As it was, the book outraged many, and if Daisy had blithely returned to Schenectady and New York to wreak havoc there, the outrage would have been much more intense. Furthermore, if Daisy had returned to the United States without anything really big happening – for example, if she had returned married to Winterbourne* — it would have been anticlimactic. The demands of the story meant that Daisy had to die or something, and death was the only storyteller’s ending that would not have made James’ book too shocking to publish.
[* Astonishingly to me, at press time I found that in 1883 James did write a dramatized version with a happy Daisy-marries-Winterbourne ending. The young author was apparently still finding his way].
A second possibility is that James killed Daisy in order to assure his European friends — rather than his American readers — that he was “not like that”, i.e., not like Daisy. The idea that anyone might think that James was “like that” seems ludicrous, but really, you can never be too careful. And finally, there is the obvious Am Lit 101 reason: Winterbourne and Daisy represent the two halves of James’s psyche, and by killing off the original innocence he made possible the full flowering of his sophisticated yet stuffy Winterbourne identity.
Was Oscar Wilde an American girl?
Daisy didn’t care that people were talking about her, whereas for Wilde the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about. Daisy and Wilde made a point of being cheeky to aunts (and the cheekiness of Victoria Dare, below, could have served as a model for Wilde), whereas Winterbourne had imbibed in Geneva the idea that one must always be attentive to one’s aunt. Wilde was as little earnest as possible, whereas one of Winterbourne’s auntly encumbrances, after having been rebuked for snubbing Daisy, declares “In such a case, I don’t wish to be clever, I wish to be earnest”.
Seventeen years before him, Daisy was Oscar.“But I don’t believe it. They are only pretending to be shocked. They don’t really care a straw what I do.” Neither Daisy nor Wilde really believed that earnestness (the miasma) would track them down and kill them. But it did. Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God.
Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, 1831:
I’ve often been surprised and even almost frightened to observe the remarkable dexterity and cheerful audacity with which young American women guide themselves through the pitfalls of playful conversation; a philosopher might stumble repeatedly on the narrow pathways they run along without accidents and without trouble…. It’s easy to recognize that, right in the middle of the independence of early youth, the American girl never ceases to be entirely her own master; she enjoys every pleasure allowed her without abandoning herself to any of them, and her mind never lets go of the reins, though she often seems to let them slacken.
Arsène Houssaye, Man About Paris, 1885:
In America, where young people flirt with incredible abandon, my action would have seemed completely natural; in France, where flirting has not yet spread in the social world, I was accused of playing with the pangs of love.
Émile Henriot, Musset’s biographer, speaking of Musset’s failure to seduce Princess Belgiojoso (cited by Beth Archer Brombert in Cristina: Portrait of a Princess, 1977):
One views with regret the pointless enslavement of that still childish being [Musset], always willing to be caught, subjected to the rude shocks of the heartless flirt who led him on.
Winterbourne to Daisy, in the book:
Flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn’t exist here.
Henry James, “The Point of View” , (Mrs. Church in to a friend in Geneva):e
There’s a peculiar custom in this country – I shouldn’t know he to express it in Genevese — it’s called ‘being attentive’, and young girls are the object of the futile process. It hasn’t necessarily anything to do with the projects of marriage – though it’s the privilege only of the unmarried and though at the same time…. it has no relation to other projects. It’s simply an arrangement by which young persons of the two sexes pass large parts of their time together with no questions asked.
Godey’s Lady’s Book and Magazine, July 1860, cited in Daniel Mark Fogel, Daisy Miller: A Dark Comedy of Manners, Twayne, 1990, p. 60:Mrs. Church in to a friend in Geneva:
Flirting is to marriage what free trade is to commerce. By it the value of a woman is exhibited, tested, her capacities known, her temper displayed, and the opportunity offered of judging what sort of wife she may probably become.
Georg Simmel in “On Flirting” (1909) in On Women, Sexuality, and Love:
The power of the woman in relation to the man is exhibited in consent or refusal. It is precisely this antithesis — in which the conduct of the flirt alternates — that grounds the feeling of freedom, the independence of self from the one as well as the other, the autonomous existence that lies beyond the dominated oppositions. The power of the woman over consent and refusal is prior to the decision. Once she has decided, in either direction, her power is ended….
Daisy Miller, in the book:
The young ladies of this country have a dreadfully pokey time of it as far as I can learn.
Daisy Miller, last page:
Winterbourne took it in; he stood staring at the raw protuberance among the April daisies. [Daisy pushing up daisies. Ha].
Alice James, The Diary of Alice James, Penguin 1934/1982, p. 86:
Julia Marcou, whose father was French, told me that one of her friends in Paris who was just married told her of her excitement in going out alone for the first time and how frightened she was in finding that a gentleman was following her. As she approached her house, her terror increased lest she should meet her husband!! for he would think that she had encouraged the man! She suddenly took out her purse, and handed the creature a penny whereupon he turned on his heel and she was saved from seeing her husband degrade himself. Julia told this as all quite natural. Surely there is an unbridgeable gulf betwixt the Northern man and he of the Latin races!
Raymonde Carroll, Cultural Misunderstandings, Chicago, 1988, pp. 132-3:
In France one may speak of one’s amorous conquests without shocking anyone. We have, in France, a great deal of indulgence and admiration for the “irresistible” man or woman, for “charmers” large and small of both cases. Seduction is an art which is learned and perfected. It is not enough to be handsome or beautiful to seduce; a certain intelligence and expertise are necessary, which can only be learned by long apprenticeship, even if this apprenticeship begins in the most tender infancy.
Georges Duby, “Youth in Aristocratic Society” (translation slightly adapted for sake of readability and intelligibility):
Within these bands of companions pleasure was pursued. The leader squandered his money, for he loved luxury, play, miming, horses, and dogs; morals were far from strict…. The pressures which forced twelfth-century knights, after they were dubbed, into a life of errancy must therefore be attributed to customs regulating the distribution of inheritances and of family wealth…. In fact, these adventures were also revealed as quests for wives perhaps first and foremost. Throughout their wanderings the bands of “youths” were animated by hopes of marriage. They knew that their leader, once himself settled, would consider it his first duty to marry off his companions. All juvenes were on the outlook for an heiress.
Eugenia Kaledin, The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams, citing Clover Adams (Mrs. Henry Adams):
I stoutly defended Henry James and Daisy Miller to stout Mrs. Smith in Chicago, and protested that the latter was charming, and that the author adored her. (Clover drew the line at Oscar Wilde, with whom she did not sympathize, and committed suicide at age 42).
Eugenia Kaledin, The Education of Mrs. Henry Adams, p. 183
We know from Clover’s letters that she had a falling out with Emily Beale, whose wit and beauty Henry particularly enjoyed….
Henry James to Eliza Linton (cited by Philip Horne in Approaches to Teaching Henry James’s Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw, ed. Reed and Beidler, p. 52:
Poor little D.M. was (as I understand her) in all things innocent…. The whole idea of the story is the little tragedy of s light, thin, natural, unsuspecting creature being sacrificed, as it were, to a social rumpus that went on quite over her head & to which she stood in no measurable relation
Henry Adams, Democracy: An American Novel, 1880, Chapter VI:
What a noble river!” remarked Lord Dunbeg, as the boat passed out upon the wide stream; “I suppose you often sail on it?”
“I never was here in my life till now,” replied the untruthful Miss Dare; “we don’t think much of it; it’s too small; we’re used to so much larger rivers.”
“I am afraid you would not like our English rivers then; they are mere brooks compared with this.”
“Are they indeed?” said Victoria, with an appearance of vague surprise; “how curious! I don’t think I care to be an Englishwoman then. I could not live without big rivers.”
Lord Dunbeg stared, and hinted that this was almost unreasonable.
“Unless I were a Countess!” continued Victoria, meditatively, looking at Alexandria, and paying no attention to his lordship; “I think I could manage if I were a C-c-countess. It is such a pretty title!”
“Duchess is commonly thought a prettier one,” stammered Dunbeg, much embarrassed. The young man was not used to chaff from women.
“I should be satisfied with Countess. It sounds well. I am surprised that you don’t like it.”
Dunbeg looked about him uneasily for some means of escape but he was barred in.
“I should think you would feel an awful responsibility in selecting a Countess. How do you do it?”
Lord Dunbeg nervously joined in the general laughter as Sybil ejaculated: “Oh, Victoria!” but Miss Dare continued without a smile or any elevation of her monotonous voice:
“Now, Sybil, don’t interrupt me, please. I am deeply interested in Lord Dunbeg’s conversation. He understands that my interest is purely scientific, but my happiness requires that I should know how Countesses are selected. Lord Dunbeg, how would you recommend a friend to choose a Countess?” Lord Dunbeg began to be amused by her impudence, and he even tried to lay down for her satisfaction one or two rules for selecting Countesses, but long before he had invented his first rule, Victoria had darted off to a new subject. “Which would you rather be, Lord Dunbeg? an Earl or George Washington?” …….. “Who do you think is engaged? Victoria Dare, to a coronet and a peat-bog, with Lord Dunbeg attached. Victoria says she is happier than she ever was before in any of her other engagements, and she is sure this is the real one”.
Frances Parthenope Verney (sister of Florence Nightingale), “The Americans Painted by Themselves”, in Peasant Properties, vol. 2, 1885; cited in The Mind and Art of Henry Adams, Jacob Clavner Levenson, 1968
There is Miss Victoria Dare, for example, who plays the chaste hussy, almost a caricature of the Daisy Miller type….
“L’Américaine”, Tristan Corbière:
C’etait une Américaine, libre comme l’Amérique, et blonde, mais blonde!….Intrépide et bête…. et trop jolie pour elle, cette Yankee. C’était de la beauté perdue.
Vladimir Nabokov, Lolita (Charlotte Haze, Lolita’s mother, speaking):
“Your old-world reticence, your sense of decorum, may be shocked by the boldness of an American girl
You revolting creature. I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you’ve done to me. I ought to call the police and tell them you raped me. Oh, you dirty, dirty old man.
The headmistress of Lolita’s school and Humbert Humbert:
Mr. Haze. You are an old-fashioned Continental father, aren’t you?” “Why, no, “I said, “conservative, perhaps, but not what you would call old-fashioned.”
Emily Beale / Victoria Dare)
Emily Truxtun Beale, the model for Henry Adams’s Victoria Dare*, was a California girl**, the great-granddaughter of Revolutionary War hero Thomas Truxtun (a lodge fellow of Herman Melville’s grandfather Peter Gansevoort, another Revolutionary war hero and Navy man); the daughter of Edward Fitzgerald Beale (a larger-than-life sailor, war hero, explorer, frontiersman, rancher, and public servant who blazed Route 66, experimented with raising camels in the Southwest, and served as the American ambassador to Austria-Hungary); and the sister of Truxtun Beale, who played a role in more than one famous scandal.
Emily was a leading light of Washington society and a friend both of Henry Adams and of Henry James (whose novels were written at almost the same time). She married John Roll McLean, a former part-owner of the Cincinnati Reds (and briefly, a player on that team) who had just bought the Washington Post. Their son, Edward Beale McLean, took over the Post and ran it until 1933, by which time he was insane and the newspaper bankrupt (to be sold for a song to the present ownership). Edward Beale McLean was close to the Harding Administration, lived lavishly, raised race horses, and at one time owned the Hope Diamond and played his own role in the legend of the diamond’s curse. Emily has no biography, not even a Wiki page, and in her father’s Wiki bio her date of death is given as unknown. (Elsewhere it is given as 1912 or 1916)***.
She can’t even be Googled easily because both her married name (Emily Beale McLean) and her maiden name (Emily Truxtun Beale) were used in the family for generation after generation. Get on it, people!
*Virginia Dare was the actual first American girl, but under The Virgin Queen, not Queen Victoria. Get it?
**The first California girl in literature was probably Molly Wopsus in Joaquin Miller’s The One Fair Woman.
***Sept. 8 or 9, 1912 seems to be her DOD, of pneumonia in Bar Harbor. I don’t know why there was any confusion about this. I have tried to correct the Wiki.
Princess Cristina Belgiojoso was a wealthy Italian noblewoman and patriot (from an Austrian-ruled area) whose family had Bonapartist connections. She was married off young to an abusive aristocratic dandy who she was able to pension off after he had given her syphilis (since their money was really hers), and with whom she had almost no later contact.
She was extraordinarily beautiful (though some of the men she rejected came to deny this) and around 1830 every man in Paris was after her, from Lafayette (then in his sixties) to Musset. While she was friendly to all (hence the accusations of being a flirt) she was interested in none, preferring to live a solitary life as a scholar and author. Several of her books are still in print and her report on the unsuccessful 1848 revolution in Italy, in which she participated, is still an important source. During that revolution she organized the nurses in a war hospital, assisted by the famous New England author Margaret Fuller and a number of prostitutes.
In the elite 19th century world everyone was connected to everyone else. When Henry James was writing his biography of the American expat sculptor William Wetmore Story, he came to know of Princess Belgiojoso through Belgiojoso’s connection with Story’s friend Margaret Fuller, and the Ptincess has been suggested as the model for his Princess Casamassima. Likewise, when Stendhal’s The Charterhouse of Parma was published in 1839, many thought that Belgiojoso was the model for the novel’s Duchess Sanseverina. Stendhal knew the princess and was probably in love with her at some point, but after reading the novel she denied any resemblance.
Princess Cristina found the Franks of her time to be excessively formal.
Winnaretta Singer, American Girl
Winnaretta Singer (self-portrait above) was one of the 24 children by about 8 wives of Isaac Merrit Singer (not to be confused with Isaac Bashevis Singer, the Yiddish novelist), who was one of the inventors of the sewing machine, and gained the patent when his lawyer and partner Edward Clark defeated Elias Howe and a third inventor in the court of law. Clark was a pioneer not only in intellectual property rights but also in retailing, and he built up the company while Singer lived mostly abroad and just spent his abundant fortune. (I count Winnaretta as an American girl, even though her father was born a German and she herself grew up mostly in England France, because she acted like eone eabd because her mother, Isabella Eugénie Boyer, though French, was reputed to be one of the models for the Statue of Liberty.
The Singer girls were assuredly familiar with Daisy Miller, which was Henry James’s only popular success. And after reading, the book two of them went to Europe to show people how it was done. They scored three princes in all: Winnaretta’s younger sister Isabelle-Blanche married Jean, duc Decazes, and Winnareta first married Prince Louis de Scey-Montbéliard, But this marriage annulled when Winnaretta said that she would kill herself before agreeing to have sex with Prince Louis.
Her second marriage was brokered by the decadent Comte Robert de Montesquiou, who is remembered as a model for two fictional characters: Jean des Esseintes in Joris-Karl Huysmans’ À rebours, and the Baron de Charlus in Marcel Proust’s À la recherche du temps perdu. Comte Montesquiou was a good friend of the man who became her second husband, the impecunious musician Prince Edmond de Polignac , who was the son of one of Marie Antoinette’s intimates and the disgraced and defeated ultra villain of Franc’s 1830 “revolution”, Jules de Polignac. Since Prince Edmond was himself gay and a lover of music, this marriage worked beautifully. The two held a major salon (in competition with a lesbian California girl Gertrude Stein) and were important patrons of music, notably Stravinsky, Poulenc, and Satie. Winnaretta showed her Americanness by reading Huckleberry Finn to her much older husband on his deathbed.
The somewhat-American girl Daisy Fellowes (b. 1890)
Daisy Fellowes was the granddaughter of Isaac Merritt Singer, the niece and ward of the above-mentioned Winnaretta Singer (Princesse de Polignac and former Princesse de Scey-Montbéliard), who had taken charge of Daisy’s upbringing when Daisy’s mother Isabelle-Blanche Singer (Duchess of Decazes and Glücksberg) committed suicide. By her first husband Jean Amédée Marie Anatole de Broglie (who committed suicide after having been outed as gay) she was the mother of three princesses and a cousin by marriage of the Nobel laureate Louis Victor Pierre Raymond 7th duc de Broglie. She was also a cousin by marriage of Winston Churchill, who failed to seduce her. Of her three princess daughters, she said The eldest, Emmeline, is like my first husband only a great deal more masculine; the second, Isabelle, is like me without guts; and the third, Jacqueline, was the result of a horrible man called Lischmann ….”
She was also an author, Satie’s favorite danceuse, and a patron of Elsa Schiaparelli and of the arts. Her maiden name was Marguerite Séverine Philippine Decazes de Glücksberg., But the “Daisy” came easily enough: marguerite is the French word for “daisy”.
“How cool is that?”
Daisy: “But there’s Giovanelli, leaning against that tree. He’s staring at the women in the carriages: did you ever see anything so cool?…..
Daisy: “But did you ever see anything so cool as Mr. Walker’s wanting me to get into her carriage and drop poor Mr. Giovannelli; and under the pretext that it was proper? People have different ideas! That would have been most unkind; he had been talking about that walk for days”.
The word “flirt”
(From Google Ngram)
Daisy Miller was published in 1878, and Houssaye’s book was published in 1885. According to Google Ngram, he incidence of the word “flirt” in American or British English was fairly stable between 1880 and 1895, ranging from .00006% to .0001%, but during that period the word “flirt” became ten times more frequent in Frankish, its incidence rising from 0.0000025% to 0.00003% (although in 1895 this foreign word was still only a third as common in Frankish as in English). One must assume that during this period American girls taught the Franks how to flirt (starting with Arsène Houssaye) and thus made the lives of the Frankish girls significantly less pokey, and Frankenreich itself a less dreadfully Puritanical place.
The parasite which causes malaria, Plasmodium falciparum, was endemic in Italy from classical times until it was eradicated by fascists during the 1930s. P. falciparum is the most deadly of the five plasmodium species that cause human malaria, and it can cause sudden death, as in Daisy’s case. (“Malaria” is Italian for “bad air”). The plasmodium parasites are all spread by mosquitos, but had not been discovered at the time that James wrote his book.
The Lacanian View
It seems that when Daisy failed to put out for the dark Italian that summer, it meant that she was and would forever remain uncultured, sexless, and not fully human. Beyond this, her ruination was a portent of the collapse of civilization. Madame Bovary and Anna Karenina and many other novelistic females became whole persons by unreservedly accepting their womanhood, but Daisy refused to do so and would have ended her life as a stunted, horrible half-person if the p. falciparum ex machina hadn’t saved her.
Virginia Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl, Wisconsin, 1984:
[James] writes of the American woman that “the conditions of American life in general, and our great scheme of social equality in particular, have done many things for her and have left many other things undone; but they have above all secured for her the primary benefit that she is the woman in the world who is least afraid.” Her total lack of fear became for her, moreover, “her one great sign”, the sign by which Europe “knew her”. Yet this sign, James argues, ultimately portends the doom of civilization (p. 39). Many of the American girls, like Daisy Miller, remain unawakened by the European experience, and consequently unaware of their sexuality (p. 44) …. some of the American girls …. are truly “slim” and “sexless”. They have been unnaturally encouraged by the conditions of American life that produced them to remain in a state of perpetual girlhood. Their inability to perceive their own sexuality can lead, as James suggests in the case of Daisy Miller, to their destruction on the human stage (p.46)….If the American girl’s sexlessness makes it possible for the American man to idealize her as the essence of innocence and moral value…. it also reflects the inability of the girl herself to become fully human (p. 47).
The French Girl
I have used France as my European point of reference. Daisy Miller takes place in Switzerland and Italy, but it isn’t really about Switzerland or Italy at all, except insofar as they are satellites of France, with Geneva also standing in for the Puritans: treating Italians like human beings is one of the sins of the Miller family. This is a book about cultural tourism, and in the 19th century all roads led to Paris. London, Vienna, Berlin, etc., were also major attractors, but people from these cities went to Paris. Geneva and Italy were secondary destinations, places the French went to when they wanted to be tourists themselves, and the Americans in Daisy Miller are tagging along after the French. (French tourists looking for action also went to North Africa, Turkey, and Egypt, but those places were too kinky for Americans).
I recently read the biographies of a number of the classiest and most privileged women of 19th century France: George Sand, Princess Cristina Belgiojoso, Princess Mathilde Bonaparte, Judith Gautier, and Flaubert’s niece and ward Caroline (Fleuriot) Commanville. Of these, all but Sand (who enjoyed fart jokes) had an pokey time of it one way or another, and all of these women were much luckier than the typical respectable Frenchwoman of that era. As for the courtesans, though they had fun while it lasted, most of them came to a bad end — either a lonely and impoverished old age, or early death from the tuberculosis that made them so fetching. (The exception was the monster La Païva, who left us an architectural monument to remember her by and died a Countess — someone who could have taught Ayn Rand and Nietzsche a thing or two about the the power of the will).
The sexy reputation of the French has allowed people to ignore the enforced pokiness of the Frenchwoman’s world. In France, freedom was only for men (and for women of ill repute). A nice girl would be kept in purdah, doing embroidery all day long and occasionally meeting select young men in controlled circumstances, until finally she was married off to a man acceptable to her older relatives. (Dowries and booty, as we have seen). The freedom of American girls was a function of the relative unsexiness of American life — they had no more sexual freedom than the French girls did. The relative lack of pokiness in the life of American girls was made possible by the fact that a young American man and a young American woman could to be trusted to spend time alone in a room together without having sex.
While neither the French nor the American condition was really satisfactory, the obbligato sermons about American puritanism, repression, and lack of sexual sophistication should at least be tempered by a recognition of the positive aspect of the American difference. A book should also be written about the American invention of flirtation, the subsequent introduction of flirtation into France, and the distinction between American flirtation and French seduction.
It’s my understanding the suspension of disbelief is the reader’s choice, and not an obligation. Every realist novel relies for its effects on subjective symbolic associations to justify the illicit treatment of certain details as deeply meaningful omens and portents, but this kind of thing really should only be used for background color (e.g., the daisies growing in the cemetery at Daisy’s funeral). If a novel wants to be realistic, the fundamental turn of the plot (the hook on which the deep meaning of the book is hung) shouldn’t be based on the belief, for example, that malaria is a punishment for sin or disobedience.
But finally: why do we have to be so serious? It’s just a goddamn novel. Do we really need to talk about fiction in this fussy, responsible, judicious, official way, as though we were presenting revised public health principles or new paradigms in transportation planning? It’s not that fiction is too unimportant to write about seriously. It’s more that the whole endeavor of fiction is to be unreal and inconsequential, a risk-free mockup of reality, and if there are any serious truths in or about fiction they are waste products which are toxic if not expelled. The subjection of fiction to seriousness, truth, and reality must come to an end!
Suggestions for further study
1. Mark Twain, Innocents Abroad (1869). The source of the “American innocent” meme, if you ask me.
2. The miasma lives on. Unknown author:
[Daisy] may be open and straightforward, but she is also immature, superficial, and inconsiderate. Her affronting the expatriate community is foolhardy and goes too far. She will not admit that the individual freedom of decision may be impeded by the necessity to adapt oneself to conventions…… She ignores the advice, and when she goes to the Capitol at night, the bad airs take their effect. Daisy catches the Roman fever and dies within a week.
3. Daisy Miller and Daisy Buchanan (The Great Gatsby, 1925). Innocence and corruption, etc., etc.
4. Daisy Miller and Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” (1934). Wharton’s heroine gets away with it, but she does follow the protocols.
5. Tom Petty, “American Girl” (1977).
6. Like Arnold Schoenberg, Ludwig von Mises, Fiorello La Guardia, and Eve Babitz, the quintessential American girl Gidget was an Austro-Hungarian Jew. (Amrican po dream girl Eydie Gormé of “Steve and Eydie” was a Turkish Jew whos mother tongue was Ladino).
7. The villainous miasma gets American girl Amanda Knox — but she escapes!
8. The importance of being ernest: Ernest Pontifex, Ernest Hemingway, Ernst Gellner.
9. Louis-Ferdinand Céline’s California Girl lover, Elizabeth Craig.
Appendix XII The Literature
I found a moderate amount of good stuff in these articles, more in the earlier ones than in the later. It would seem that Daisy Miller was sucked dry long ago, though this is really only true if the templates accepted in the biz are taken as obligatory.
Louise K. Barnett, “ Jamesian Feminism: Women in ‘Daisy Miller’“, Studies in Short Fiction 16.4 (Fall 1979): p281-287. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. p281-287.
James Buzard, Review of William Stowe, Going Abroad: European Travel in Nineteenth-Century American Culture, Princeton University Press, 1994 in Nineteenth-Century Literature, Vol. 51, No. 1 (Jun., 1996), pp. 122-126
Motley F. Deakin, ”Daisy Miller, Tradition, and the European Heroine“, Comparative Literature Studies 6.1 (Mar. 1969): p45-59. Rpt. in Literature Resource Center. Detroit: Gale, p45-59.
Viola Dunbar, “A Note on the Genesis of Daisy Miller“. Philological Quarterly 27.2 (Apr. 1948): p184-86. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. p184-86.
Paul Eakin, The New England Girl, Georgia, 1976.
Leon Edel, Henry James: The Conquest of London, Avon, 1962.
Leslie Fiedler, Love and Death in the American Novel, Stein and Day, 1975.
Daniel Fogel, Daisy Miller, Twayne, 1990.
Virginia Fowler, Henry James’s American Girl, Wisconsin, 1984.
Kenneth Graham, “Daisy Miller: Dynamics of an Enigma”, in Pollak.
Ian Kennedy, “Frederick Winterbourne: The Good Bad Boy in Daisy Miller,” in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 29, No. 2, Summer, 1973.
Carey H. Kirk, ”‘Daisy Miller’: The Reader’s Choice“, Studies in Short Fiction 17.3 (Summer 1980): p275-283. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. pp. 275-283.
David Leverenz, Manhood and the American Renaissance, Cornell, 1990. Meredith Ludwig, Minnie Temple (here proposed as a model for Isabel Archer, not Daisy).
George Monteiro, “What’s in a name? James’ Daisy Miller”, American Literary Realism. 39.3 (Spring 2007), p. 252. Jack D . Nicholls, Aunts in Daisy Miller and Oscar Wilde.
Carol Ohmann, ”Daisy Miller: A Study of Changing Intentions“. American Literature 36.1 (Mar. 1964): p1-11. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. p1-11.
Vivian Pollak, ed., ”New Essays on Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw“, Cambridge 1993. Vivian Pollak, “Introduction”.
John Randall, ”The Genteel Reader and Daisy Miller“, American Quarterly, Vol. 17, No. 3, Fall, 1965, pp. 568-81.
Kimberly Reid and Peter Beiler, eds., Approaches to Teaching: Henry James’s Daisy Miller and the Turn of the Screw, MLA 2005. Articles by Kimberly Reed, Kristin Boudreau, Sean Palmer, Philip Horne, Gert Buelens, Nicolas Witschi, Greg Zacarias, Pericles Lewis, Eric Savoy, Warren Rosenberg, Sallie Duhling and Patrician Worrall, and Mark Eaton.
William Stafford [No not that one], James’s Daisy Miller, Scribner’s, 1983.
Sarah Wadsworth, ”Innocence Abroad: Henry James and the Re-Invention of the American Woman Abroad“, The Henry James Review – Volume 22, Number 2, Spring 2001, pp. 107-127.
Edward Wagenknecht, Eve and Henry James, Oklahoma, 1978.
Lynn Wardley, ”Reassembling Daisy Miller“, American Literary History 3.2 (Summer 1991): p232-254. Rpt. in Short Story Criticism. Ed. Anna J. Sheets. Vol. 32. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. p232-254.
Robert Weisbuch, “Winterbourne and the Doom of Manhood in Daisy Miller”, in Polack.