Daisy Miller was long the most popular of James's characters, and perhaps still is. Her success is due primarily to her vitality, for she is one of the few characters in James who seems to walk directly onto the page from the real world. Daisy is seen only from outside, and her mind is of the simplest, yet she has a warmth of presence that somehow breaks through the reflective frame otherwise so dominant in Jamesian fiction. Soon after creating Daisy, James tried to provide her with a sister, Aurora Church, in 'The Pension Beaurepas' (1879) and 'The Point of View' (1882). This counterpart is spoilt by her American mother's European refinement, as Daisy is ruined by her mother's lack of refinement. The narrator of 'The Pension Beaurepas' almost flirts with Aurora in the Geneva hotel garden as Winterbourne does with Daisy at Vevey. But the Aurora stories are more lightly composed than 'Daisy Miller', staying close to the vein of brilliant journalistic travelogue with which 'Daisy Miller' begins. James took more pains with his portrait of Daisy, perhaps sensing that he had struck gold. The sophisticated composition of the story may have been a second reason for Daisy's popularity, one readers would not easily be aware of, so well does James conceal his art. The value of 'the ultimately most prosperous child of my invention' (NY vi) was made fully clear to him after publication, so he devoted special care to the rewriting for the New York Edition in 1908, as if repainting a precious oil canvas stroke by stroke. Here Daisy is presented more lyrically, almost more reverently, and the medium in which she appears, Winterbourne's reflective consciousness, is made smoother and subtler, giving the portrait a richer tone. This rewriting atones for James's attempt to cash in on Daisy's popularity in the appalling play Daisy Miller (1882), with its pantomime villains and its happy ending. There Daisy was placed in the wrong frame; her freshness became raw, her frankness brash, and she was stripped of her charm insofar as it depended on the framing of the 1878 story.
The technique of that framing is an elementary achievement of James's art, but it is still sufficiently elaborate to be worthy of analysis. James frames Daisy's portrait against a series of backgrounds, apparently following a painterly principle (in anticipation of The Portrait of a Lady where Isabel is set against a succession of finely composed backgrounds). A third layer of perspectival depth is provided by the foreground, the registering consciousness of Winterbourne. Daisy is first framed against Lake Geneva, with references to Chillon -- an ominous note. Winterbourne appraises her as a visual form: 'He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analysing it' and he finds in Daisy's face 'a want of finish' (243). In the second chapter she appears at dusk, against the starlit lake: 'There was a vague sheen upon its surface, and in the distance were dimly-seen mountain forms. Daisy looked out upon the mysterious prospect' (254). She is registering the hurt caused by Mrs Costello's rejection, and the scene intimates the tragic future that lies ahead. Later we see her against the 'vaulted chambers', 'corkscrew staircases,' and 'rugged embrasures of Chillon' (262); 'tortuous passages' are added in the later text (NY 41). Her spontaneous affection is imprisoned by the twisted suspicious mind of its addressee, who is ever ready to comment disparagingly on her directness and candour.
The third chapter ends with another scenic tableau, observed by the jealous Winterbourne: Daisy and Giovanelli 'looking off at the great flat-topped pine-clusters of the Villa Borghese.... The western sun in the opposite sky sent out a brilliant shaft through a couple of cloud-bars' (278). As Giovanelli opens the parasol, hiding both their heads, Winterbourne is cut off from the scene of romance, which he seeks to categorize as immoral: 'Would a nice girl... make a rendezvous with a presumably low-lived foreigner?' (273). The final chapter brings us further pictures of Daisy and Giovanelli 'strolling about the great church' of St. Peter's (284), framed in the nook enshrining the portrait of not so innocent Innocent X in the Doria Palace (286; see Adeline Tintner, The Museum World of Henry James [UMI Research Press, 1986], 63-8), and on the Palatine, 'in that beautiful abode of flowering desolation known as the Palace of the Caesars' with 'the enchanting harmony of line and colour that remotely encircles the city' in the background (288). Winterbourne sees Daisy with a painter's eye here: 'It seemed to him also that Daisy had never looked so pretty... and Giovanelli, too, wore an aspect of even unwonted brilliancy'.
It is as 'a lover of the picturesque' (290) that Winterbourne visits the moonlit Coliseum. The picture that meets his eyes comes slowly into focus: 'The great cross in the centre was covered with shadow; it was only as he drew near it that he made it out distinctly. Then he saw that two persons were seated upon the low steps which formed its base. One of these was a woman, seated; her companion was standing in front of her' (290-1). Then comes the recognition that the woman is Daisy: 'Winterbourne stopped, with a sort of horror; and, it must be added, with a sort of relief. It was as if a sudden illumination had been flashed upon the ambiguity of Daisy's behaviour and the riddle had become easy to read'. At last his picture of Daisy has taken a satisfying shape, perspective is established, and there is no longer a discord between his disposition to see the world in dark puritanical hues and the uncanny brightness of Daisy's innocence. 'She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect' (291). The brutality and pique here is muffled in the New York edition: 'She was a young lady about the shades of whose perversity a foolish puzzled gentleman need no longer trouble his head or his heart. That once questionable quantity had no shades -- it was a mere black little blot' (NY 86). The new phrasing is more painterly: chiaroscuro yields to sharply defined black and white, and it does so with the effect of a persuasive aesthetic insight. James's late style, like Goethe's, holds the reader's moral judgments at bay. Winterbourne's consciousness is exhibited neutrally in all its nuances and the reader will move only slowly and by approximations to an assessment of his stance.
Winterbourne now condemns Daisy in the very language of Calvinist predestinationism: 'What a clever little reprobate she was, and how smartly she played an injured innocence!' (291). This is the 'formula' he has been searching for all along. On their first encounter he settled on the formula 'a pretty American flirt' (247). The urge to categorize people has deep Calvinist roots. It is an uneasy sense that things should be transparent, a fear of murky motives, a wish to anticipate the Last Judgment.
Winterbourne's cool, aesthetic framing of Daisy, anticipating Osmond's framing of Isabel, was subtly oppressive from the start. He cannot enter the frame to join her nor allow her to step out of it to join him. Every so often she directly challenges him: 'What on earth are you so grave about?... You look as if you were taking me to a funeral' (261-2); note the ominous irony. 'Why, it was Mr. Winterbourne! He saw me -- and he cuts me!' (291); 'cuts me dead' in the later text. We catch a glimpse of how he appears in her eyes, as in those paintings in which the artist is reflected in a mirror (Van Eyck's Arnolfini portrait) or located by the gazes of the subjects (Velasquez, 'Las Meninas'). Eugenio's eyes 'looking sharply at her companion' (249) and his aunt's -- 'That's what makes you so pensive in these days, eh?' (284) -- play a similar role.
Winterbourne's badinage with Daisy is rather desultory and his feelings for her, or hers for him, scarcely develop beyond 'a little sentiment'. Daisy 'smothered this feeling to the best of her ability (though at the end a glimpse of it is given' (James 1956:172): 'She would have appreciated one's esteem' (295). The aunt's gloss on this: 'Is that a modest way... of saying that she would have reciprocated one's affection', stretches the sentiment as far as it will go. The suggestion of an intense reaction on Winterbourne's part in the later text is oblique and not very convincing: 'she after a little looked round at him... but the effect of that wasn't to make her repeat the question' (NY 93). James may have had difficulty with the question of Winterbourne's emotions. In the later text he tries to intensify them, to give them a weight fitted to the tragic outcome. When Daisy joins him for the Chillon excursion, we read: 'he felt there was something romantic going forward' (261). In the later text this becomes: 'the note of some small sweet strain of romance, not intense but clear and sweet, seemed to sound' (NY 39). 'She was not fluttered' (261) becomes 'she was clearly not at all in a nervous flutter -- as she should have been to match his tension' (NY 40). There are other unconvincing additions: 'He had a pleasant sense that he should never be afraid of Daisy Miller' (283) becomes 'It pleased him to believe that even were twenty other things different and Daisy should love him and he should know it and like it, he would still never be afraid of Daisy' (NY 75). But the suggestion of a possible tenderness, the mute sense of loss, the bitter-sweet regret for something that might have been, are perhaps the appropriate ingredients for the story's light poignancy. The death of Daisy, which might seem too heavy a burden for the tale, is softened by Romantic associations. She is buried alongside Keats and Shelley 'in an angle of the wall of imperial Rome, beneath the cypresses and the thick spring-flowers' (294), the same as are mentioned in Adonais. Geneva, Chillon, imperial and papal Rome represent powerful, sophisticated, oppressive society, Daisy a flower that blooms in its interstices but is crushed uncomprehendingly. (On the Horatian floral imagery of the story see Mauro Lo Dico, 'Seize the Day's Eye: The Odes of Horace and Henry James's "Daisy Miller"', International Journal of the Classical Tradition 22 :76-99.)
Readers who loved the story may have bypassed Winterbourne's broodings altogether and substituted their own response to Daisy's attractions. The story was originally titled, 'for reasons which I confess I fail to recapture' (NY vi), 'Daisy Miller: A Study'. James supposes that this was in deprecation of the heroine as 'an object scant and superficially vulgar -- from which, however, a sufficiently brooding tenderness might eventually extract a shy incongruous charm'. But it may be that the 'study' was meant to be primarily that of Winterbourne as a representative of Puritan thinking. How vivid to James the topic of Puritanism was at this time is seen in the biography of Hawthorne he wrote the following year (1879). But the meteoric career of the heroine may have cast into the shade his original concern with a Hawthornian 'after-sense of the old Puritan consciousness of life' (James Literary Criticism: Essays on Literature, American Writers, and English Writers [Library of America,1984], 404). Hawthorne studied the Puritan mentality disinterestedly with no belief in its premises: 'He had ample cognizance of the Puritan conscience... But his relation to it was only, as one may say, intellectual; it was not moral or theological. He played with it and used it as a pigment' (ib., 363). The same pigment is found in the portrait of Daisy through Winterbourne's eyes.
The name Winterbourne recalls the name Chillingworth of The Scarlet Letter, a novel in which James finds a 'passionless quality', an 'element of cold and ingenious fantasy', 'the absence of something warm and straightforward', due to Hawthorne's 'miasmatic conscience' (James 1984:405-6), all of which could apply quite well to Winterbourne. There are some echoes of The Marble Faun, of which James says: 'It is part of the intellectual equipment of the Anglo-Saxon visitor to Rome, and is read by every English-speaking traveller who arrives there, who has been there, or who expects to go' (James 1984:444). Both stories have a scene in the Coliseum by moonlight in which there is reference to 'Byron's celebrated description' (Hawthorne, 678), 'Byron's famous lines' (James, 290), the 'steps' of 'the great black cross in the centre' (James: 'the great cross in the centre'), 'wild beasts' (James: 'lions and tigers'), and the inevitable 'Christian martyrs'. Hawthorne refers to the 'dusky arches' (680), James to the 'dusky circle' and 'dark archways' (290, 292) of the Coliseum. The Pincian gardens, St. Peter's, and the Palace of the Caesars also figure in Hawthorne's novel.
This Hawthornian pigment changes 'Daisy Miller' from the story of a young girl's social mishaps to a study of the blighting power of Puritanism on the mind and on the innocent young lives it touches. This is the story of Chillingworth and Hester Prynne in a lighter key. Like Hester, Daisy is ostracized by her community, but in the end triumphs over her judges. The darker the shadows in Winterbourne's mind, the brighter the image of Daisy shines. This effect is more powerfully achieved in 'The Turn of the Screw' in which the children's innocence seems to goad the Governess into ever more acute paroxysms of puritanical imagination of evil. Winterbourne is predisposed by a deadly mix of snobbism and puritanism to doubt the validity of his own perceptions of goodness and innocence and to fall into line with the viciously judgmental outlook of his aunt and Mrs Walker. One of the subtlest points the story appears to make is that Puritan suspicion always outruns the data on which it has to work, for it has the supplementary premise that 'sin' is usually to be found lurking under the surface of appearances of innocence. Puritanism thus quickly turns into cynicism. James shows its language of righteousness and respectability serving as a mask for pique and jealousy, class and racial prejudice. Unable to renounce his puritanical, cynical, frameworks of judgment and perception, Winterbourne cannot connect with his instincts or respond to Daisy with trust and generosity.
If an objective corrective to Winterbourne's dark outlook is required, it is supplied by the figure of Daisy's brother. How could the later creator of the haunted, haunting Miles ever have allowed such an uncouth brat as Randolph C. Miller to run riot in his pages? But it is the 'tell-tale appendage' (NY 11) Randolph who shows the reader what Winterbourne is unable to believe: that Daisy, too, is the embodiment of fresh and natural innocence. Such correctives to Winterbourne's vision project objective portraits of Daisy and of Winterbourne himself which clash with those projected from his own point of view. The framer of Daisy is thus himself framed by the story. It ends as it begins, as if to say that the subject has now been fully portrayed: 'he was at Geneva "studying"' (239); 'a report that he is "studying" hard' (295) -- studying with no chance of making progress, since he cannot overstep the 'bourne' of the 'wintry' cast of mind that distances him from life.