Thursday, September 04, 2008

'Daisy Miller'

by Henry James
Fiction/Classic, 1878
Penguin, trade pb, 118 p.
Travelling in Europe with her family, Daisy Miller, an exquisitely beautiful young American woman, presents her fellow-countryman Winterbourne with a dilemma he cannot resolve. Is she deliberately flouting social conventions in the way she talks and acts, or is she simply ignorant of them? When she strikes up an intimate friendship with an urbane young Italian, her flat refusal to observe the codes of respectable behaviour leaves her perilously exposed. In Daisy Miller James created his first great portrait of an enigmatic and independent American woman, a figure who would come to dominate his later masterpieces.
I haven’t read much by Henry James and I’ve had mixed results with what I have read. First was Washington Square, which I quite enjoyed, then a couple of years ago I read The Turn of the Screw and The Aspern Papers but I really struggled with his prose in those. It turns out that this was a good choice to try more by James. It’s a novella, so it’s quite short, but it’s also one of his earlier works so it’s not bogged down in the dense, convoluted prose that he’s famous for later on. Even though short, the innocent, reckless Daisy becomes a very vivid character, especially in contrast to the proper Mr Winterbourne and the other representatives of society that so disapprove of her behaviour. This clash of American and European values is a theme that James apparently returned to again and again. Overall, this was very readable and a pleasant surprise. Someday I’ll actually have to attempt one of his longer novels.

Read Henry James online

My Rating: 3.5/5
(#37 for 2008, My Year of Reading Dangerously, What’s in a Name Challenge)

11 comments:

  1. Thanks for the "Read Henry James online" section. I didn't know that website was out there. Very cool!

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  2. I love James' stories and characters. What I can't stand is his writing style! By the time he gets to the end of a sentence, I can't remember what the point was. I've labored through two of his books though, since, again, I like his stories and characters.

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  3. Hi nat =)
    I like Henri James,however one has to be in a mood to read his novels, I find them to be slow reads.

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  4. I've always been curious about Henry James, but also a bit intimidated by him. It sounds like this might be a good one to start with.

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  5. I've not read anything by Henry James although I feel like I already "know" a lot of his stories. Isn't that weird.

    And, yes thanks for the link to The Literature Network!

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  6. I've been afraid of Henry James since I saw the movie Washington Square. But, you liked the book? I should know better than to judge based on a movie.

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  7. Amanda- It looks like a great resource, I'm glad I stumbled upon it.

    Terri B.- LOL. I know what you mean! He does have great stories and characters, shame about the writing. ;)

    Madeleine- Yes, I have to be in the right mood to read James too. This one was quite fast but then it was also very short.

    Nymeth- I think this would be a good one to start with. Even though he'd been writing for a few years, it was his first major success. This Penguin copy apparently followed the original, instead of the later New York version that James apparently added some of his 'famous' twisty prose too. So that might be something to look out for.

    Iliana- I feel like that with some other classics that have become such a part of the culture. Plus there have been quite a few movies. I know I've seen Wings of a Dove and probably something else.

    Nancy- I haven't seen the movie so I don't know how it compares but I remember liking the story. Have you read anything by James?

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  8. Daisy Miller was just recommended to me and after reading your thoughts I think this would be a good first Henry James for me.

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  9. Heather- I think it would be a good one to start with. It's definitely more readable than some of his other stuff.

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  10. I remember liking Daisy Miller when I read it years ago--although that's about all I remember about it. :-) Terrible I know. One thing I remember most about James Henry is his gift for writing long sentences.

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  11. Wendy- I have a pretty bad memory too sometimes. The fact that this story by James didn't really have his typical long sentences certainly allowed me to enjoy it more than I might have otherwise.

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