Dec 20 2011

Daisy Miller – Characters

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  • Daisy Miller – Daisy Miller is a wealthy, young, American girl from upstate New York, traveling around Europe with her mother and Randolph [younger brother]. Daisy is spirited, independent, and well meaning, but she is also shallow, ignorant, and provincial. Her opinion is that Europe is “perfectly sweet,” and talks  shameless about the details of her family’s habits and idiosyncrasies. Thinks Winterbourne might know an Englishwoman she met on the train because they both live in Europe, and wonders if Winterbourne has heard of a little place called New York. Daisy is a flirt. She has no social graces or conversational gifts; such as charm, wit, and a talent for repartee, and she is really interested in manipulating men and making herself the center of attention.
  • Winterbourne – An American who has lived most of his life in Europe. Winterbourne is the type of Europeanized expatriate. He is also closely associated with New England Puritanism: he makes his home in Geneva, not out of necessity but by choice. Winterbourne is as central a character as Daisy and may very well be the story’s true protagonist. Certainly, he is the novel’s central consciousness, the character through whose eyes we see and experience everything. We are told that Winterbourne is “addicted to observing and analyzing” feminine beauty. However, he does not appear to be a very deep or discriminating thinker. He spends time with his aunt because he has been taught that “one must always be attentive to one’s aunt.” Winterbourne seems to hold in high regard what Mrs. Costello tells him. Out loud he defends Daisy but the whole novel is the story of Winterbourne’s attempts and inability to define Daisy in clear moral terms. Winterbourne is preoccupied with analyzing Daisy’s character. He wants to be able to define and categorize her, pin her down to some known class of woman that he understands. Daisy is a novelty to him. Her candor and spontaneity charm him, but he is also mystified by her lack of concern for the social niceties and the rules of propriety that have been laid down by centuries of European civilization and adopted by the American community in Rome. He befriends Daisy and tries to save her but ultimately decides that she is morally beyond redemption.
  • Randolph Miller – Daisy’s younger brother. Randolph is a loud, ill-mannered, ungovernable little boy of about nine or ten.
  • Mrs. Miller –  Daisy and Randolph’s vague, weak, ineffectual mother. Mrs. Miller seems obsessed with her health and is utterly incapable of governing the behavior of her children. She is silly and clueless, but when Daisy falls ill, she proves “a most judicious and efficient nurse.”
  • Mrs. Costello –  Winterbourne’s aunt, a shallow, self-important woman who seems genuinely fond of Winterbourne. Mrs. Costello is the voice of snobbish high society. She also fulfills the role of “confidante,” a frequent figure in Henry James’s novels.
  • Eugenio –  The Millers’ supercilious interpreter/guide, often referred to as “the courier.” Eugenio has better judgment and a greater sense of propriety than either Daisy or Mrs. Miller and often treats them with thinly veiled contempt.
  • Mrs. Walker –  A wealthy, well-connected American widow who lives in Rome, knows Winterbourne from Geneva, and has befriended Daisy. Mrs. Walker shares the values of the rest of the American expatriate community, but she genuinely seems to care what happens to Daisy and tries to save her.
  • Mr. Giovanelli –  An Italian of unknown background and origins. Mr. Giovanelli’s indiscreet friendship with Daisy is misinterpreted by the American expatriate community and leads, directly or indirectly, to Daisy’s ostracism and death.
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