As a teenager, I was forced by my ‘evil’ literature teacher to read Henry James’s novel ‘The Turn of the Screw’ and I hated every little second of that tale. However, I have decided to forgive Henry that ill, and have recently been attempting to read more from this – according to Wikipedia – ‘key figure in 19th-century literary realism’.
I started with the short story ‘Daisy Miller’ and then moved my way over to ‘Washington Square’. ‘Washington Square’ was an easy, not thoroughly unenjoyable read, but ‘Daisy Miller’ was the James novel that I found most intriguing.
Daisy Miller is a young American girl, traveling and exploring everything Europe has to offer – the sights, the sounds … and the handsome gentlemen. She happens to cross paths with Mr. Frederick Winterbourne, a very English gentleman whom becomes enamored with her. However, our heroine, Daisy, is not one to put all her eggs in one basket so she also makes friends with another gentleman and this is where the scandal begins.
Daisy, and one of her beau’s, are swiftly shunned by polite society, with one particularly stuffy dame referring to Daisy as ‘vulgar’.
‘They are hopelessly vulgar. Whether or no being hopelessly vulgar is being bad is a question for the metaphysicians. They are bad enough to dislike, at any rate; and for this short life that is quite enough.’
And before the end of the tale, Daisy contracts a fever and dies.
No really – she dies. Sorry to ruin the ending folks, but trust me the tale is still worth reading.
Now I took this novella, in addition to being a pleasurable way to pass the time, as a not-so-subterfuged warning – to all women of the time and possibly the future – to know their role and follow their p’s and q’s or you will maybe not literally, but figuratively die. Fancy literary critics, however, believe that Daisy is representative of a full, bright flower whom blooms and plays in the summer and dies in the winter. Well, they can have their interpretation and I will have mine. If you decide to read this short tale – it should take you no longer than an hour, it may be 65 pages in total if that – please feel free to let me know what you think.