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Henry James' daisy miller

The Two Daisy Millers of Henry James:
Human becomes Symbol in the Later Aestheticist Revisions

Daisy Miller
By Henry James
126 pp
Penguin Classics, Penguin Books (London)
(other editions used in the collation and analysis as cited in the bibliography)


Introduction to the Article

Henry James did not merely conform an earlier work (“Daisy Miller: a Study,” Cornhill Magazine, 1878) to his later style (Daisy Miller, New York Edition 1909), but rewrote with different intentions and results. Symbolically, transplanting American innocence and provincialism into sophisticated European society fails. James presents this failed experiment, changing Daisy from a full-blooded girl (1878), to an aesthetic symbol (1909). In 1878, a girl dies. In 1909, an ideal fails. James employs the aestheticism to which he was exposed between 1878 and 1909. Thus, the two Daisys are different types, the two versions are separate works of art.

The Article

There are two principal versions of Henry James’ Daisy Miller: “Daisy Miller: a Study” published in Cornhill Magazine in 1878 and his later revised Daisy Miller published in the New York Edition in 1909. (The 1878 Cornhill version will be often cited as “Daisy Miller: a Study,” or Cornhill, while the 1909 version will be cited as Daisy Miller, or New York. Where references otherwise would be ambiguous, the heroine of “Daisy Miller: a Study” (1878) will be referred to as Daisy-1, while the heroine of Daisy Miller (1909) will be referred to as Daisy-2.) The latter version was greatly revised, to the extent that the latter became a separate work of art. Central to this two-separate-works distinction is that Daisy-1 is a plausibly real-life character of the kind expected in examples of Jamesian psychological realism, whereas Daisy-2 is a more allegorical heroine—a reconstituted ideal form made with a combination of refined, aestheticist qualities of innocence. In revision, James erased Daisy-1, the sympathetic, three-dimensional character and in her place inscribed Daisy-2, the abstract, symbolic entity. In 1909, James removed Daisy’s volition, her location in time and space, and her sexual identity; he even changed the way she is referred to from a “her” to an “it” (several examples are presented later in this article). These dehumanizing re-inscriptions, as well as the differences in the overall style of composition (to a more aestheticist style), were not simply improvements by a more mature craftsman. Instead, this article argues that James overhauled Daisy-1 with aestheticist devices in order to disarm the moral objections prevalent among those who took the moral import of the original story too seriously.

The moral controversy surrounding the novella, “an outrage on American girlhood” (New York v), divided readers between pro-Millers and anti-Millers. This controversy began after the novella originally came out in the United States, appearing first in unauthorized versions in periodicals during the second half of 1878 (Bibliography of Henry James, 39), and then published by Harper and Brothers in December 1878.

The 1909 changes often hyperbolicize and use irony which make moral interpretations and judgments ludicrous. These revisions deflate the initial American moral indignation. James viewed the public response as misplaced and peculiar (New York v, vi). The 1909 work, then, becomes a visionary romance in which the erstwhile novel’s moral elements were removed, and the tragedy in 1878 metamorphosed into an ironic comedy in 1909.

Some commentators have addressed the conflicting elements of the natural Daisy and the ideal Daisy, while neglecting the problem of two sharply contrasting versions between 1878 and 1909. One such view is that the novella begins as “a comic portrayal of different ways of living, different manners” (Ohmann 4), contrasting European and American mores, but ends as a metaphysical portrait of purity and nature personified in Daisy. In the second part, Ohmann posits that “Daisy is not identified with a particular society, but simply and wholly with the natural world” (Ohmann 8). But that very “natural world” Ohmann sees in Daisy as contrasting “a particular society” is exactly “a particular society” as James sees it in the United States. Ohmann assumes a distinction between “a particular society” (Daisy’s native society) and the “natural world.” James denies any significant distinction of this kind in the United States. American society, in James’ view, was rustic and unsophisticated, distinctly like the simple, natural world (Hawthorne 10). We see James using Daisy (as New Yorker) to illustrate and represent the rusticity of American society. Yes, Daisy-1 is identified with the natural world, but as a device for the very reason to identify American society with the natural world.

Ohmann thinks this shift (from manners to metaphysics) interrupts the rhythm of the narrative, though it serves a purpose: it makes Daisy’s death more palatable, in fact, inevitable. “Once Daisy is identified with the world of nature, we see that she is subject to its laws of process. Her very beauty becomes a reminder of mortality” (Ohmann 9).

It is interesting that the crux of the shift is in that, without the shift, the reader would conclude that Daisy’s immoral behavior is the cause of her death. The heightened ideal, the pure poetry of Daisy, must be pursued to enable the reader to see her death as natural physically (medically), but not a natural result morally, not deserved. The shift exonerates Daisy of a moral lapse. Ohmann’s emphasis in a shift within the original text is misguided. At no point in the original does Daisy-1 approach the metaphysical ideal of innocence and poetry which Daisy-2 sustains throughout the revised text. Increased metaphysical ideality does indeed disarm moral judgment, but only in the revision. James disarms his readership in the aftermath of thirty years of readers judging and condemning Daisy-1. Ohmann does suggest that such heightening of ideality in the 1909 revision supports her suggestion of the need for the ideal to be emphasized in order to affirm Daisy’s moral purity and reconcile her death. This enhanced reconciliation of her death was only needed in the minds of the so-called anti-Millers who insisted on the puritan rigidity of American girls. It was not needed by the pro-Millers who were happy with Daisy-1 and were apparently ready to come to grips with moral complexity and an ambiguous human tragedy.

To suggest a reconciliation was needed to preserve Daisy’s moral purity overrates James’ interest in moral purity. James derides morally “pure” novels as timid and failing in the artistic imperative to accurately draw the varied qualities of people and relations. He goes so far as to suggest that novels that are intended to be morally pure are artistically corrupt (“The Art of Fiction” 411, 412).

Innocence as serious in human terms at all, whether exonerating Daisy, or glorifying American ideals, may be making much ado about nothing. We know from Edel’s biography that James had little use for American innocence in his own life. “Henry had finally abandoned his American innocence” (Middle Years 237). There is a notable differentiation between morality and innocence which seems to reveal a deprecatory, even pejorative attitude towards Daisy. “Henry was ceasing to believe that Americans were composed of finer moral fibre than the Europeans. He still believed that their innocence had great charm; nevertheless he now discerned in this innocence a claustrophobic ignorance. Worse still, a need to impose it upon others” (Middle Years 240). In the United States, a “large juvenility is stamped upon the face of things” (Hawthorne 10). And we know that when presented with the idea that “Daisy Miller: a Study” might be an “outrage on American girlhood,” he thought the idea had a “bewildering intensity” (New York v, vi). To deflate this bewildering American moral vanity, the revision of 1909 contains an abundance of caricature and hyperbole. While speaking in the original to Daisy-1, Winterbourne warns, “Flirting is a purely American custom; it doesn’t exist here,” but James revised this speech to: “American flirting is a purely American silliness; it has—in its ineptitude of innocence—no place in this system” (57.15-.16, 71). (Parenthetical references comparing text differences show first the Cornhill reference in decimal form [page.line number] followed by a comma and then the New York Edition reference [page number only]. Where quotes are given from text occurring in only one of the two works, page numbers from both works are given to show where the surrounding text occurs in the other.) The revision reflects annoyance with American innocence and with its effects in Daisy’s behavior. Such annoyance might be the natural outcome for James, having spent his lifetime “adapting his puritan heritage to the more flexible—and more realistic—standards of Europe” (The Master 232). And known for the cold realism of his endings, The Golden Bowl ends leaving the most clever and experienced character to receive the worst of fates: She is sent to the United States where no one is clever or experienced. To be jettisoned back into the primitive din of American provincialism “is a cruel fate for the interesting Charlotte, the Europeanized American” (The Master 232). Therefore, it is predictable that Winterbourne would express annoyance at Daisy’s heightened American innocence in the 1909 revision, as Winterbourne—like Charlotte of The Golden Bowl, like so many of James’ characters, and like James himself—was a worldly Europeanized American.

Thus, innocence may not be such a great ideal to espouse. It seems that the revision, in response to a provincial naiveté in Americans who took their morality too seriously, James amused himself by turning the original object of outrage (“Daisy Miller: a Study”) into a light ironical carnival of manners (Daisy Miller), filled with comic hyperbole. By overblowing it to make it small, James deflated cries of moral umbrage. The revisions efface moral import. We recall the woman in the gondola, James’ companion quoted in his preface to the 1909 edition, who warns us that James has, “by poetic artifice, not only led our judgement of it astray, but made any judgement quite impossible” (New York vii).

Much of the commentary on Daisy throughout the years leaves one contemplating innocence, moral rightness, as antithetical to conventional society, sophisticated sin. In fact, one begins contemplating a good deal in terms of either/or; good/evil; black/white. This seems a superficial contemplation, which is troubling when it refers to a subtle and complex psychological realist such as Henry James. By James’ own criteria, he implies finally that Daisy-2 is not a human character (and thereby not subject to moral judgment, moral outrage, or moral sympathy). The drama of ambiguous values, struggles with identity, and human interaction (especially the psychological kind in which James normally relished) in searching for personal and social meaning are erased in Daisy Miller. James did not want his readership to mistake this light comedy for one of his psychologically realistic stories.

Highlighting the contrasting revisions will show that Daisy-2 is an idealized, dehumanized form, displacing the flawed but sympathetic Daisy-1. Significant aestheticist influences are at work in the style of these revisions.

The importance of names cannot be overestimated. They are the primary indication we have of what it is we are talking about. References to Daisy herself in the revision which reconstitute her as an ideal in many cases rename her, change her status from a “her” to an “it.” “[T]he young girl” becomes “the charming creature” (681.10, 8). At one point, “her” evaporates into “the strange little creature” (53.31, 63). Our “Unknown young lady” becomes a “wandering maiden” (684.3, 15). “[T]his young girl” becomes “this charming apparition” (685.16, 17). She is degenderized in the more subtle, but telling change from a “young girl” to a “young person” (686.9, 19). The “very nice young girl” becomes a “very innocent girl” (688.34-.35, 25). In text not occurring in the original, Winterbourne thinks of her as an “exquisite little fatalist” (690.5-.6, 27). Again, “Miss Miller” becomes a “charming creature” (697.10, 42). In another manifestation, she is not merely “Daisy Miller,” but Winterbourne’s “little friend the child of nature” (44.35, 46).

Daisy’s human status is removed in the revision by a number of less direct, but just as effective, devices. Adjectives are applied to her which hyperbolicize her ideal, poetic qualities, such as “sweetness,” or “innocence.” Her actions and thoughts are described in otherworldly terms. Further, human characteristics are removed, such as volition, location in time and space, sexual identity, and relation to other humans. These kinds of changes in Daisy in the revision sometimes refer directly to Daisy and other times to other characters who are talking to or about Daisy.

Daisy looking at a stick her brother is holding changes from “she rested her eyes upon the” to “she gave her sweet eyes to the” (681.28, 9). The verb “glanced,” when applied in scenes of a woman glancing at a man normally carries a lot of possibilities in connotation, some of them sexual. But those possibilities are eliminated when “The young lady glanced at him again” changes to “She glanced at him with lovely remoteness” (681.33, 9). Sexual overtones are lost, but Daisy’s location in time and space relative to both Winterbourne and the reader fades as well. She is in relation to nothing. A subtle change occurs once romantic tension seems lost in Winterbourne when, instead of having “pursued, a little embarrassed,” he rather “pursued with a slight drop of assurance” (681.35-36, 9). When Randolph, Daisy’s brother, addresses Winterbourne and Daisy in a garden, a scene of interaction converts to a scene of shades when “[he] loudly inquired” changes to “[he] asked of all the echoes” (681.44, 10).

In text not occurring in the original, while Winterbourne and Daisy are still in the garden, the narrator depicts Winterbourne as generalizing his interlocutress: “She might be cold, she might be austere...he had already so generalized [that] what the most ‘distant’ American girls did [was to] show how rigidly unapproachable they were.” This leads into text that does have its counterpart in the original, where Daisy is “evidently [not] fluttered” changes to “Clearly [not] fluttered.” (The remotest possibility of emotional ambiguity is thus removed.) Rather, again in text only in the revision, “she was composed of charming little parts that made no ensemble” (682.6-.8, 10, 11). Here Winterbourne is trying to make heads or tales of Daisy as a human being. But Daisy is not forthcoming with evidence of human elements. She is not a human ensemble of qualities. Winterbourne’s effort to identify human elements in Daisy-2 leaves him muddled and mystified.

“Daisy Miller: a Study” gives an impression of a heroine (Daisy-1) who flouts conventions, certainly with awareness and volition. In text not occurring in the original, such flouting is no longer a possible volition, Daisy-2 “having no idea whatever of ‘form’” (682.10, 11). In context, social form is what is meant here by “form.” In the original, Daisy gives Winterbourne “the benefit of her glance...this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking,” which changes to “the benefit of her attention that act unqualified by the faintest shadow of reserve” (682.12-13, 11).

We find “her lively eyes and light, slightly monotonous smile” transformed into “her frank gay eyes and clear rather uniform smile” (684.37, 16). The smile is uniform—pasted on from a stock of ideal smiles. Then, where “the young girl’s eyes were singularly modest and fresh,” they were revised so that “her expression was as decently limpid as the very cleanest water” (682.14, 11). Body parts, such as eyes, disappear, and human freshness changes to an inanimate, limpid, clean water. Daisy-2 has become a sterile collage of de-sexed, ideal parts. When she does get her eyes back, they change from “wonderfully pretty eyes” to “the very prettiest conceivable” (682.16, 11). No longer wonderful, they are perfect, an ideal. Where Winterbourne, while interacting with Daisy, “had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analyzing it,” he changes, with Daisy-2, to taking “a great interest generally in that range of effects and was addicted to noting and, as it were, recording them” (682.18-.20, 11). “Feminine beauty” fades into an indistinct “range of effects.” Saying, in the original, that her beauty, “was not exactly expressive” is expanded in the revision to that it “was n’t pointedly—what point, on earth, could she ever make?—expressive” (682.21, 11). Of course, she could never be on earth! Nevertheless, her beauty in the original “was eminently delicate,” in the revision, “it offered such a collection of small finenesses and neatnesses” (682.21, 11). Her beauty became a collection of rarefied attributes. Here, in the revision, Winterbourne is deconstructing the otherworldly ideal qualities that went into James’ re-inscription of Daisy-2.

Daisy-1 “was a coquette.” But in the revision, Daisy-2 “would have had her own experience of the action of her charms, as she would certainly have acquired a resulting confidence” (682.21, 11,12). Referring to her utterances, “this was said” blossoms into “this flower was gathered” (682.30-.31, 12). Daisy-2 has lost her human voice. Little human acts of volition such as “standing up and walking about; but she presently sat down” are effaced with “hanging round, but she none the less resignedly, after a little, dropped to the bench” (682.35-36, 12).

Daisy’s rough edges continue to be smoothed out from a problematical “deucedly sociable” to being “tremendously easy” (685.3, 17). An “unscrupulous young person” becomes inoffensively “an expert young person” (685.6, 17). When she speaks “very placidly” it mellows further into speaking “with all serenity” (686.4, 19). And then “with the same placidity” fades into “without a shadow of emotion” (686.8, 19). Indeed, she is merely a shadow of a person, emotionless, but vivid as a symbol. Pertaining to Daisy-2 as a character, the reader is also left “without a shadow of emotion.” One cannot sympathize with a sterile, emotionless collage of ideal parts.

From the active, emotional response that “she was offended,” the revision gives it passively and emotionlessly that “she had been drawn back” (686.11, 19). And where once “she only stood there laughing,” revised, “she only remained an elegant image of free light irony” (694.36, 37). Here we find explicit articulation of the process of erasing Daisy the woman and re-inscribing the character as a nonhuman ideal. Daisy-1 is human, laughing. Daisy-2 is the expression of a mental image (such as irony, as long as it is free and light, not conflicting with innocence). Faced with a coquette, Winterbourne had been only “puzzled.” Faced with an ideal object, he is “quite mystified” (695.29, 38).

From hopes, in the original, of some kind of human attachment, including a sexual one, Winterbourne changes to hoping nothing, hardly even thinking of anything beyond going for a walk. First, “he felt as if there were something romantic going forward. He could have believed he was going to elope with her.” Then revised, there is only “the note of some small sweet strain of romance, not intense but clear and sweet. He could believe he was really going ‘off’ with her” (695.42-.44, 39). The “romance” in the revision is merely of an adventure to a castle, as opposed to the connotations of “something romantic going forward.” And in the revision, going off is simply going off to the castle for the day, very far removed from thoughts of eloping in the original. The original involves sex, intrigue, tension, variety; the revision involves bland innocence.

When Daisy-1 “was not fluttered,” Daisy-2 “was clearly not at all in a nervous flutter—as she should have been to match his tension” (696.11-.12, 40). The added wording removes interaction: his tension, already reduced from the tension in the original, is here completely one-sided. James removes the possibility of interpreting Daisy as affected by human factors such as nervousness, or as seen in previous cites, any emotion at all. When Daisy talks, it is no longer “charming garrulity,” which might involve an interlocutor, but rather an isolated “charming innocent prattle” (696.20, 40). Further removal of human interaction occurs in a scene where she “was exchanging greetings,” clearly emphasizing interaction, changes to: she “was engaged in some pretty babble” (45.23, 47). In that same scene, her “reproaches” become “silver shafts” (47.17, 51); and our poor disembodied Daisy loses “her brilliant little face” and grows a “shining bloom” (47.38-.39, 52).

The de-sexing of Daisy is accomplished not just by descriptions of herself, but by removing gender-specific qualities and possibly romantic qualities in her Italian wooer Giovanelli. In fact, if it were not for the original version, Giovanelli would probably never have been characterized as a wooer at all. He certainly is not one in the revision. Originally lending tension and sexual possibilities to the narrative, in the revision Giovanelli metamorphoses into a silly cardboard prop.

It should be noted that James was meticulously correct in pronoun usage (as in other kinds of usage) and would never refer to a person as “that,” unless he intended the nonperson connotation to be apparent. Other pronouns such as “it” take over in the revision as well. As Giovanelli first appears to us in the original, he was a “little man standing nursing his cane” but then became a “little figure that stood nursing its cane.” The description continues, “He had a handsome face [and flowers] in his button-hole” changes to “It had a handsome face [and flowers] in its buttonhole.” Finally the effect culminates in Winterbourne’s jealous response, “Do you mean to speak to that man?” becomes “Do you mean to speak to that thing?” (49.42-.46, 56).

As sexual threat, or sexual hope, Giovanelli is further effaced when he fades from having “a brilliant smile, an intelligent eye” to having “seemed to shine, in his coxcombical way” (50.23, 57). As in Daisy, body parts are removed, which removes connotations of bodily interaction, or as James would say, intercourse. His status as a “clever imitation of [a gentleman]” falls as well. In the revision he “is n’t even a very plausible imitation of one” (50.39, 58).

In a scene where Daisy is being remonstrated for being seen in public with Giovanelli, he is depicted originally as “laughing very agreeably.” The depiction is revised to “laughing irresponsibly” (52.33, 62). “Giovanelli” changes into “the girl’s attendant admirer” (54.37, 66). At a party where in the original Giovanelli sang, in the revision he did not sing, but “warbled” (56.17-.18, 69). The “brilliant little Roman” becomes the “glossy little Roman” (58.20, 74). And again, Daisy’s “cavalier” is, in the revision, reduced to “her coxcomb of the Corso” (59.5-.6, 75).

Part of Daisy-1’s moral ambiguity derives from moral imputations from at least partly sympathetic characters in Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. After the revisions, Daisy-2 is saved from moral question because the caricaturing of Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker discredits them as moral voices. In the revision, these women receive less sympathetic description and become so exaggeratedly nasty towards Daisy-2 that the reader must side with Daisy-2. There is no ambiguity.

Mrs. Costello, who is Winterbourne’s aunt, undergoes a revised view of the Millers, from “they are very common” to “they’re horribly common” (687.5, 23). Again, from telling Winterbourne that Daisy “is very common” Costello is revised to say “she’s of the last crudity” (688.4, 23). And from a “dreadful girl” Daisy is thought “a horror” (688.45, 25). Our heroine, in the original, is fairly called by Costello a “young person” but in revision the intolerant old aunt calls our heroine a “little abomination” (698.29, 44). Speaking of Daisy’s Italian friends, who include Giovanelli, Costello’s reference to “her foreigners” becomes “her unmistakably low foreigners” (44.21, 45-46).

When Mrs. Walker wants to know who Daisy plans to go out with, in the original, she “asked,” but in the revision she more imposingly “asked without mercy” (48.20, 53). Rather than telling Daisy “don’t walk off,” Walker is revised to warn her, “don’t prowl off” (48.27, 53). From “That girl” Daisy becomes for Walker, “that crazy girl” (51.26, 59). And where, in the original, Walker already made Daisy out to be “crazy,” she is revised to “reckless” (51.33, 60). At her party, where Walker has publicly slighted Daisy, text which does not occur in the original at all is added: “But this lady’s [Walker’s] face was also as a stone” (58.16, 74).

These hyperbolic reactions to Daisy in the revision have a “bewildering intensity” that seems to place them into the camp of anti-Millers—those morally vane Americans whose outrage seemed extreme and inappropriate to James. Here James seems to have ironically brought the anti-Miller moral objectors into the revision and cast them as Mrs. Costello and Mrs. Walker. One sees James amusedly envisioning the American moral purists rereading Daisy Miller in 1909 and finding their own nasty comments imported into the revised text via Costello and Walker. Costello and Walker (1878) as reasonably concerned onlookers are erased and reinscribed (1909) as the unreasonable judgmental readers who had instigated the American moral controversy. Thus James’ perspective—that the moral outrage was ludicrous among readers between 1878 and 1909—is written into the 1909 text, forcing that perspective on the readers of the revised version.

Some commentators (notably Dunbar and Ohmann) inexplicably conclude that the heightened poetic artifice of the ideal, “adds to the emotional appeal [and] intensifies our response to his story” (Ohmann 11). But sympathetic human qualities dissolve when characters are made into objectified, idealized conventions. From the revision, we cannot dredge up a complex human emotion. There is less substance in the character for readers to identify with. Indeed, James would agree: “As people feel life, so they will feel the art that is most closely related to it” (“Art of Fiction” 405). Daisy-2 is removed from relation to life. Further, James objects to any tampering with the accuracy with which fictional characters retain real-world qualities: “In proportion as in what [art] offers us we see life without rearrangement do we feel that we are touching the truth; in proportion as we see it with rearrangement do we feel that we are being put off with a convention” (“Art of Fiction” 405). Emotion evoked from sympathy with a human character, one that corresponds to real-world experience, to “truth in detail” (“Art of Fiction” 399), is central to James’ own view of character development. Daisy-1 retains truth in detail, she is not rearranged. Daisy-2 puts us off with a convention.

In Daisy Miller (1909) the human condition is not represented and the character is a conventional ideal of innocence. Thus, the main difference between the so-called pro-Millers and anti-Millers lies in one being interested in moral complexity, the other in poetic idealism and moral purity. The original contains more of what James calls “moral energy” (“Art of Fiction” 411), more accurately depicting moral ambiguity.

Ohmann also states that, “These revisions [for the New York Edition] are occasional and do not essentially change Daisy Miller” (Ohmann 11). On the contrary, the two Daisys are as different as flesh from clouds, and the two versions as different as psychological realism from aestheticist tragicomedy.

Aestheticist influences in the revision are clear enough in the placements of the words such as “charming,” “sweet,” and expressions such as, “limpid as the very cleanest water” as effacing human descriptions, Daisy’s face re-inscribed as a shining bloom and her utterances characterized as flowers gathered, a person transformed into a creature or an apparition, or a charming apparition, people becoming echoes, emotions in terms of shadows, and again, “she remained an elegant image of free light irony.”

The reader familiar with aestheticist works finds that the overall aesthetic experience with the work of art, Daisy Miller, is of a distinctly aestheticist flavor. The experience with “Daisy Miller: a Study” is not.

Further evidence deserves attention, to illustrate the impact of aestheticism on James’ later works and on later revisions of his early works. Creation of ideals in art was a salient feature of aestheticism, as asserted and described by contemporaries of Henry James: Walter Pater, and later Oscar Wilde. Although aestheticism was discredited for many years on moral grounds, its intellectual and critical grounds were important enough to influence James between 1878 and 1909.

James had mixed feelings, mostly negative, about aestheticism in 1878. James had read Walter Pater’s Renaissance, and first found it written “more eloquently than coherently” (Ellmann 133). James had even, “blamed the ‘excessive enthusiasm’ of the aesthetes on their ‘lack of real aesthetic discrimination’” (Ellmann 139). In the intervening years, James had been exposed to Huysmans’ A Rebours, read and met with Oscar Wilde, experienced the aesthetic ‘80s and the Decadent ‘90s, and experimented with aestheticism in many of his own works.

It is interesting to look at some of Wilde’s epigrams that serve as samples of aestheticism, and compare them with James’ comments on similar matters. “The object of art is not simple truth, but complex beauty [and] when art surrenders her imaginative medium, she surrenders everything” (Decay 302). “Those who find beautiful meanings in beautiful things are the cultivated. They are the elect to whom beautiful things mean only beauty [and] No artist desires to prove anything. All art is quite useless” (Picture 3,4). “Art never expresses anything but itself” (Decay 319). “Life imitates Art far more than Art imitates Life. At twilight, nature becomes a wonderfully suggestive effect” (Decay 320).

Such an aesthetic reverberates in James’ “Art makes life, makes interest, makes importance.” H. G. Wells attacked James’ view “that the novel could be an aesthetic and artistic end in itself” (The Master, 496). And speaking of the women in James’ life as well as in his fiction, “they belonged to a single line of fantasy—life into art,” and “He [James] could worship a younger woman in a utopia of the mind” (The Master 110, 111). For James, “Composition alone was ‘positive beauty’, he would say, and art preserved life” (The Master 295). This held true even in historical biography where one would consider “facts” of optimum value. In biography, according to James, fact as well as form was retouched, as, “life in its raw state was inartistic” (The Master, 457.)

From using aestheticism in negative ways after his earlier exposure to it, James “came back to aestheticism for the last time in 1904” (Ellmann 148). That date may be pushed up to 1909 when the New York Edition revisions were completed. It is in 1904 that “James holds out hope that aestheticism will yet find a more convincing advocate, as if Pater and Wilde, Huysmans and D’Annunzio had all written in vain. It isn’t fanciful to suggest that Henry James probably thought of himself as that more convincing advocate” (Ellmann 149). Furthermore, in writing the Golden Bowl in 1903, “James might well feel that in this novel he is remixing the ingredients of aestheticism to show how they might be more gainfully employed than they had been in the past” (Ellmann 149).

Further examples are helpful in tracing to aestheticist writers some ideas that James adopted between 1878 and 1909. For Pater, “Our education becomes complete in proportion as our susceptibility to these impressions increases in depth and variety” (Renaissance xix). These might be the “elect to whom [as Wilde notes] beautiful things mean only beauty” (Picture 3). James as well, regarding the production of art (by which the appreciation of art might follow), asserts his own version of the cultivated elite. “In proportion as that intelligence is fine will the novel, the picture, the statue partake of the substance of beauty and truth” (“Art of Fiction” 412).

James’ artistic sensibilities are unmistakably scented by the flowers of 1880s and 1890s aestheticism. The work of art is an object in the mind valued as meaningful according to its perceived harmony of artistic elements. For Pater, the right aesthetic harmony perceived by a susceptible intellect determined the value of experience. James seems to agree, when he says that what “constitutes [the novel’s] value is greater or less according to the intensity of impression. The form, it seems to me, is to be appreciated after the fact. Then in a word we can enjoy one of the most charming of pleasures” (“Art of Fiction” 394, 395).

By 1904, “James makes the fastidiousness of aestheticism and its insistence upon beauty central to life’s concerns rather than opposed or peripheral to them” (Ellmann 149). The idealization of beauty, purity, innocence, and the ideal in poetry, are central themes in aestheticism. And 1904 was not quite the last time James came back to aestheticism. It had become integral to his artistic values, his style of composition. Aestheticism, as James had appropriated it, colored the revisions of 1909.

Daisy Miller and “Daisy Miller: a Study,” are two works of art with markedly different compositional qualities. They are works of “art” inasmuch as they are perceived as such by, say, one of James’ “fine intelligences.” They are distinctly different works of art when their artistic ingredients and the artistic effects are perceived as distinctly different. If after reviewing the evidence one still does not perceive the fundamental differences which demand that two separate works be recognized, “we can only reply that, in effect, the object is a delicate one” (Hawthorne 98).

Similar two-works claims, in fact, are made by James’ biographer Leon Edel. Edel’s primary claim specifically pertains to Portrait of a Lady. But Edel implies that the “net effect of James’s revisions” is similar for James’ early works in general which were revised for the New York Edition (The Master 329). Speaking of Portrait, “the rewriting has been so subtle and skilful as to create a new novel. The New York Edition becomes a separate and unique entity” (The Master 329). Perhaps the 1909 Henry James would agree, for even more subjective reasons, as he refers to his own early style: “‘How sickly I used to write!’” (The Master 329).

In speaking of how not to approach writing novels, James warns not to let art be viewed as a “heavenly messenger [that] wings her way outside of life altogether, breathing a superfine air” (“Art of Fiction” 413). And in a critique of Hawthorne’s Scarlet Letter, James faults that book for its poetic terms, its rearrangement of human qualities away from reality: “The faults of the book are, to my sense, a want of reality and an abuse of the fanciful element—of a certain superficial symbolism. The people strike me not as characters, but as representatives, very picturesquely arranged, of a single state of mind; and the interest of the story lies, not in them, but in the situation” (Hawthorne 90). But this is precisely what James achieved in his 1909 revision in Daisy Miller. It would be an indictment if we thought James meant to adhere to his own warnings, to adhere to what he called “truth in detail” (“Art of Fiction” 399), in creating Daisy-2, as a corresponding-to-life character such as Daisy-1.

But we do not think this. Rather, Daisy Miller is a different experiment: a symbolic analysis of the consequences of artificially injecting an ideal into an (intellectual or social) environment with which the ideal is not compatible, an environment in which such an ideal did not organically evolve, in which an ideal such as American innocence does not naturally reside. The carefree American girl does not belong in European society. He intentionally mimics Hawthorne’s “faults” to delineate Daisy Miller (1909) as a departure from his usual psychological realism. In this way, he makes the morally outraged American readership of the early 1880s look silly. Innocence, with Daisy-2 as its symbol, is thrown upon foreign soil. (Ideal innocence in the revision becomes so refined it would even be out of place on American soil.) That is the over-arching symbolism of Daisy Miller. Using aestheticist techniques in 1909, James took the very points he had used to criticize Hawthorne, and created an almost Hawthorne-like “picturesque situation.” Only James’s situation is strictly picturesque, devoid of Hawthornean moral references.

Though the experiment is symbolic, it is not entirely serious. It may be a perfectly serious fact that American innocence, as Winterbourne implies, “has no place in this (European) system.” But the revision introduces so much caricature and hyperbole, elements which succeed in making the revision a funnier work lacking a fully developed sense of tragedy, turn the experiment into something of a comedy (Daisy’s death notwithstanding). The idea of comedy is quite consciously entertained between 1878 and 1909 by James as reflected in the title of his 1882 theatrical version: Daisy Miller: A Comedy in Three Acts. Indeed, one feels James under the spell of the comedic muse in many of the revisions of Daisy Miller in 1909.

James’s ultimate intentions, his “figure in the carpet,” may not be easy to pinpoint. As a suspicion of Daisy’s courier is revised from the original “I think he smokes,” to “I think he smokes in their faces” (688.20, 24), so the shifting effects between 1878 and 1909 seem intended to blow smoke in the face of the morally outraged.

Again we hear from James’ companion in the gondola chatting about Daisy Miller, “[Y]our pretty perversion of it [Daisy Miller], or your unprincipled mystification of our sense of it, does it really too much honour—in spite of which, none the less, as anything charming or touching always to that extent justifies itself, we after a fashion forgive and understand you. But why waste your romance?” (New York vii). Such self-conscious tones ring with aestheticism. Henry James did indeed return to aestheticism, in the 1909 Daisy Miller, with his own “elegant image of free light irony,” perhaps an aesthetic way of saying, “he laughed.” Clearly in his later years, aestheticism had become a deeply entwined element in James’ literary thought, in his writing style. This influence contributed to the net effect of reconstituting the work.

Thus, the work, “Daisy Miller: a Study” and the work, Daisy Miller, are two distinct works of art. The former deals with psychological study, getting at meaning through conversation, exploring ambiguities and contrasts of values; while the latter deals with developing, with a lightly (and ironically) constituted aesthetic experience, a picturesque symbol of ideal innocence, with comedic effects. Perhaps Daisy’s death in the revision might evoke an emotional rapture with the idea of lost innocence. Ironically, a comic lightness surrounds its death. Human passion is effaced. The idea of passion is aestheticised. Apropos of the 1909 Daisy, one is reminded of the adopted father of aestheticism, John Keats: “Bold Lover, never, never canst thou kiss” (Keats 345).


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Note on the article research

Mr. Robert Rose-Coutré consulted original texts for this article at the British Museum Library in London. He collated letter by letter the 1878 “Daisy Miller: a Study” against the 1909 Daisy Miller and conducted a character-to-character comparison for this study. To acquire a sense of James’ changing writing trends and styles, and evolving intentions over the span of his career, Rose-Coutré also read most of the novels and other writings by Henry James, and most of the various biographies, critiques, and essays about James’ life and writing. Some but not all of these are included in the bibliography.