Daisy Miller
Henry James
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 2

Winterbourne tries to figure out how to approach the young woman. He is well aware of the rules of social interaction which, in his social circle, are very rigid and are always observed. For instance, in Geneva, Winterbourne -- as a young unmarried man -- would never speak to an unmarried woman like this boy’s sister. It would be considered very "forward": improper, suggestive, and even aggressive! 

But Winterbourne feels that here, in a sunny resort garden, the rules might be a little more relaxed. So he begins to try to speak to the girl. At first she doesn’t respond to his greetings, and Winterbourne is afraid he has offended her. But gradually he realizes this is simply her personality: she doesn’t pay attention until she’s interested in the conversation. But the more Winterbourne talks to her, the more interested she becomes, and soon she is chatting away to him as if she has known him for years. 

Winterbourne learns that the little boy’s name is Randolph Miller, and that his sister is called Daisy Miller, though her real name is Annie. They are traveling with their mother in Europe, and their father is a very wealthy businessman who works in Schenectady, New York. Daisy talks about many trivial things. We learn, for instance, that Randolph is nine years old, that he doesn’t like Europe, and that the family is going to Rome for the winter, where Daisy’s mother will try to find Randolph a tutor. 

Daisy adds that she likes Europe very much, but she misses the "society" she had at home in Schenectady and New York. By this she means that she had many friends -- young men and young women -- who held dinner parties for each other, and with whom she spent lots of time. Daisy adds, giving Winterbourne a bright smile, that she has always had "a great deal of gentlemen’s society."

Winterbourne is charmed by Daisy Miller, but he is also very confused. Daisy talks to him without a trace of shyness, and as if she’s not aware that she ought to seem awkward or nervous with him. Normally, young ladies in high society would never talk so freely to men they have just met! Moreover, it is very strange to hear Daisy talk openly about all the "gentlemen friends" she has had. Usually, in this society, young women are careful to avoid suggesting that they have ever had "suspicious" friendships. Winterbourne wonders why Daisy talks so differently from all the other young women he knows. Is a flirt, or just very innocent? Is she manipulative, or morally "loose"? Does she have a hidden agenda with him?

But Daisy seems to be completely open and innocent. She appears to be totally without a sense of what is "proper" in society -- which means she speaks and acts without either restraint or hypocrisy. This is part of what makes her so very charming. Winterbourne decides that Daisy is just very innocent, very unsophisticated in the ways of "society," and harmlessly flirtatious. She fits in -- he thinks -- to a category of young women he has heard people talk about before: "a pretty American flirt."

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