Observation In Daisy Miller Essay

2118 words - 9 pages

He said to himself that she was too light and childish, too uncultivated and unreasoning, too provincial, to have reflected upon the ostracism or even to have perceived it. Then at other moments he believed that she carried about in her elegant and irresponsible organism a defiant, passionate, perfectly observant consciousness of the impression she produced. (43)

The socialites in Daisy Miller's world aspire to a perfection, a nobility, and a superlative of character. But character is a misleading word; interiority is important only insofar as it reflects the assumed depths that come with an appearance of refinement, for the relationships in "Daisy Miller: A Study" are formed by ...view middle of the document...

From the start, Winterbourne is shown as a participatory voyeur. His greatest talent is in particularize female beauty into discrete parts, refining his vision of the whole into smaller, more appreciable pieces:
They were wonderfully pretty eyes; and, indeed, Winterbourne had not seen for a long time anything prettier than his fair countrywoman's various features‹her complexion, her nose, her ears, her teeth. He had a great relish for feminine beauty; he was addicted to observing and analysing it; and as regards this young lady's face he made several observations. (7)

Besides the visual blazon he writes on Daisy as a traditional weapon of subjugation (and which permits him, momentarily, to "mentally accuse" her face "of a want of finish" [7]), Winterbourne tries something equally dominating‹to usurp Daisy's own power of sight by judging her eyes only on aesthetic terms. In their meeting, Daisy is at first ostensibly pinned by Winterbourne's evaluative gaze of superlatives and particularization, but her eyes tell another story: "She sat there with her extremely pretty hands, ornamented with very brilliant rings, folded in her lap, and with her pretty eyes now resting upon those of Winterbourne, now wandering over the garden, the people who passed by, and the beautiful view" (9). Daisy's agency and spontaneity, the qualities that draw Winterbourne after her, are on display here, so prominently, in fact, that Winterbourne's own formerly powerful eyes get lost in the shifting catalog of her line-of-sight.

James makes it easy to trace the origins of Daisy's mode of surveillance. The description of her mother contains several hints as to where Daisy picked up her evasive eyeballing:
Her mother was a small, spare, light person, with a wandering eye, a very exiguous nose, and a large forehead, decorated with a certain amount of thin, much-frizzled hair. Like her daughter, Mrs. Miller was dressed with extreme elegance; she had enormous diamonds in her ears. So far as Winterbourne could observe, she gave him no greeting‹she certainly was not looking at him. (18)

Winterbourne's reduced powers of observation highlights another feature of Mrs. Miller's which Daisy shares‹her appearance of mystery through opposition. The smallness of her body contrasts with her "wandering eye," just as her "exiguous nose" plays against her "large forehead," or even that her hair is both "thin" and "much-frizzled." This state of ambiguity, much more attractive in Daisy, is what causes a retrospective Winterbourne to note confusedly that Daisy's face "was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive" (7) and, more generally, wonder about Daisy's motivations. Mrs. Miller's appearance contrasts sharply with that of Winterbourne's aunt, whose natural refinement is pronounced by her consistency of extreme:
Mrs. Costello was a widow who frequently intimated that, if she were not so dreadfully liable to sick-headaches, she would probably have left a...

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