Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Daisy Miller (thoughts)

I realised that I hadn't review my fifth and final classics challenge, Henry James' Daisy Miller.

I first 'heard of' Henry James in a novel I read last year by Colm Toibin called The Master. Toibin basically writes a somewhat-fictionalized account of certain parts of Henry James' life. That novel was so interesting, I decided I wanted to read some of James' actual books. So, this summer I read The Ambassadors, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

The Classics Challenge rolled around, and it seemed natural to put some James on my list. Originally, I was going to read Portrait of a Lady. But, then I was worried that with the other challenges I had bitten off more than I could chew. Added to the fact that Daisy Miller is what made James famous, I went for the novella instead.

Now, I'm wishing I had stuck with Portrait of a Lady. I mean, I enjoyed reading Daisy Miller, but I think I prefer James when he has space to stretch out and take a couple of deep breaths. I missed the slow development of character, the teasing glimpses of plot, that The Ambassadors won me over with. I also felt as if I didn't really understand the *world* of Daisy Miller: there was no flesh. While I enjoyed Daisy and the narrator's characters, I didn't feel that they had much opportunity to grow.

So, in the end Daisy Miller was well-written, but way too short to satisfy me. The ending was very abrupt (don't want to give it away, for those who don't know it), and the reader is left wondering what the hell just happened. It also carries a hint of allegory, though I'm not sure what kind. I'm not sorry that I read it, after all it took under an hour to read, but I wouldn't recommend it to people who love classics because of all of their detail, their tidy endings, and their slow-moving plots. This felt almost like a modern novella. Also, while I love novels, and adore well-written short stories, the novella seems like an unhappy offspring, who got its father's nose, and mother's eyes, and yet isn't as pretty as either.


booklogged said...

Congratulations on completing the classics challenge. I'm adding James' The Amassadors to next year's challenge list. I've never read James, but sounds like I need to.

Sarah said...

I'm sorry you didn't enjoy Daisy Miller :( Personally, I was bowled over by, and sought out more James, because of it.

I found the increasing attraction-repulsion between Daisy and Winterbourne hypnotic. Throughout, I felt you could sense the decisive moment for their relationship was approaching and so didn't find the ending all that abrupt.

I think the tragedy of the novella is that Winterbourne can't or won't grow to be worthy of Daisy and her unconventional ways. For me, the ending fits with Winterbourne's sudden casting off of Daisy.

I don't know if it makes a difference, but I read the novella slowly and not in one sitting. Perhaps having more time to think about it made it a bit meatier. There's an interesting discussion of the meaning of Daisy Miller in Azar Nafisi's Reading Lolita in Tehran by her Iranian female students. I read it before the novella, so it may have enhanced my reading.

Sarah said...

PS Congratulations on finishing the Classics Challenge!

Sarah said...
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3M said...

Congrats on finishing the Classics Challenge!