Daisy Miller
Henry James
Contributed by Bobbie Heil
Chapter 4

In the afternoon, after Winterbourne’s aunt has gotten over her headache, Winterbourne goes to visit her in her room. Winterbourne’s aunt, whose name is Mrs. Costello, is a very wealthy widow who clearly has a strong personality. She is very important in her sector of "society," and always wears her fluffy white hair in an impressively high, puffy hairdo. She lives in New York, and has three sons, including one who is "on his travels" in Europe; but her sons try to avoid running into her, and so Winterbourne, who has a great sense of duty toward his aunt, is the relative who sees her most often. Mrs. Costello is fond of him and often talks to him about her power in the rigid social hierarchy of New York -- stories which leave Winterbourne simultaneously intrigued and repelled.

Winterbourne tells his aunt about Daisy Miller, and discovers that she already knows who the Millers are. Although his aunt acknowledges that Daisy is very pretty and has good taste in clothes, she thinks the Millers are "very common" -- she thinks they are "the sort of Americans that one does one’s duty by... not accepting." The Millers, it seems, are far too "intimate" with their Italian courier Eugenio -- they even eat meals with him, and sit with him in the garden! Socializing with social inferiors, to Mrs. Costello, is a sure sign that someone is "common."

Winterbourne’s aunt is even more skeptical when she discovers that Daisy has agreed to go see Castle Chillon with Winterbourne, after only having known him for half an hour. To her, this is not the sort of thing a well-bred young woman ought to do. She says that it confirms Daisy’s "commonness," and not even her granddaughters in New York would do such things! (Since Winterbourne has heard that his cousins are considered tremendous flirts, it’s clear that Daisy’s actions must, indeed, be somewhat shocking behavior.) 

At the end of their conversation, Winterbourne’s aunt recommends to Winterbourne that he avoid Daisy: he has been living in Europe too long, she says, and is likely to make "some great mistake." Winterbourne replies that he is not as innocent as his aunt believes, and thinks he can take care of himself.

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