Before I officially start my Currently Reading piece, I have to admit something: I’m not really a fan of Victorian lit. Although Daisy Miller is a novella, the entire first part seemed long-winded to me. What is it with Victorian literature and its enormous emphasis on background information anyway? Also, the language in Victorian literature is sometimes too simple and too straightforward. I prefer the symbolism, the beautiful, yet complicated diction present in modernist and postmodernist literature.
I liked the second part of Daisy Miller much more, however. Perhaps this was because there was actually a conflict then. But it could have also been because I noticed a recurring element: the label of Daisy Miller as an “American flirt.” Daisy’s “Americanness” sets her apart from the European characters in the novella. Daisy is notorious for being a flirt, which was not accepted and considered transgressive in Victorian Europe. So when Daisy flirts with a man known as Mr. Giovanelli, rumors spread that they are engaged, which she vehemently denies.
The label of Daisy as an “American flirt” also highlights gender dynamics in Victorian society. Winterbourne, the main character of Daisy Miller, views Daisy as uncultivated for her flirtatiousness. Daisy, however, reclaims the label as an “American flirt”, calling herself a “fearful, frightful flirt.” In ways, Daisy’s reclamation of the label is a feminist action; it serves to challenge standards of femininity in European society. In addition to challenging standards of femininity, Daisy combats standards of masculinity. Daisy consistently calls Winterbourne “stiff” throughout the novella. Daisy interprets Winterbourne's reserve, which would normally be seen as proper as "stiff", which de-normalizes European masculinity. Hence, Daisy successfully challenges the trope of Victorian European masculinity.
Finally, here’s a spoiler: Daisy dies in the ending. After the rumors spread about Daisy and Mr. Giovanelli getting engaged, Daisy falls ill eventually dies. Her “positive” aspects, such as her beauty, amiableness, and innocence (she flirts, but she doesn’t go any further) are preserved. I believe that Daisy dies due to her inability to function in a society with such stringent gender and sexual roles.
After reading Daisy Miller, I came to a conclusion. I like Victorian literature more than I thought I would.
- Jacqueline Retalis