Back To CourseEnglish 102: American Literature
13 chapters | 131 lessons | 11 flashcard sets
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Katherine is a teacher of middle and high school English and has an M.A. in English Education and an M.Ed. in Educational Administration.
One of the most distinct writers of the realism movement was Henry James. James, who spent his early years living in both the United States and Europe, created work that revealed the tension between what he experienced of this new American culture and the old European world (remember, and this is important in his work, the United States was considered the youthful and flashy relative of the traditional and alluring Europe). He did this through stories that were grounded in social and political commentary and driven by multidimensional characters. In the literary sense, as an essayist, critic and author, James was like other writers of the realism movement. He revealed through his writing what he felt were the social realities of life in the 19th century and how the new and the old mostly clashed. However, he focused on themes like the morality (or lack thereof) of the class system, feminism, perception and freedom. If you think about it, these were really kind of modern and risky ideas for the time period. Throw in some Victorian values and cross that with some assertive American behavior and bam - you've got an instant readership. Known most widely for novels, like The Portrait of a Lady, and shorter narratives, like The Turn of the Screw, James actually wrote over 20 novels and over 100 short fiction pieces in his lifetime, all of which showed originality in storytelling (he was fond of playing with point of view and internal monologue) as well as social relevance on a larger scale.
As a result of his father's stature as a theologian and prominence in intellectual circles, Henry James and his family traveled quite a bit, which meant the children would grow up in both Europe and the United States throughout the mid-1800s. James knew at a young age that his education was important and was lucky enough to learn firsthand of European culture by living and touring Western Europe. He read voraciously, learned from private tutors and began to write at a young age, ultimately deciding to focus solely on his writing by the age of 21. While he did travel back to the States, he spent much of the rest of his life in Europe, eventually becoming a British citizen around the time of WWI.
Why is all of this important? Well, one of the themes that ties much of James's work together is the concept of the American (remember, the new, exciting and at times flashy American) in the middle of old Europe (and tradition and social rules and all of that 'status' stuff). While this certainly isn't inclusive of all of his work, James's legacy includes stories that reveal the uncomfortable and unavoidable confrontation that occurs between these worlds when an American character is placed in European society. While most stories include characters with a certain amount of wealth and education, the obvious tension and social separation still exists.
Within the context of the story of the American abroad, James explores concepts of class and behavior among both societies, what each believes about themselves and each other, while digging deeper into what he sees as the incompatibility of American values and British tradition. In his novel The Portrait of a Lady, we learn about an American woman living in Europe and dealing with life in between these new and old worlds after she inherits a large amount of money. The American is a novel about the adventures of an American businessman on his first European trip where his less-than-refined behavior defines him as different (to say the least). The Ambassadors is a novel about an American man who travels to Europe in search of his fiancée's son and in the process finds himself fascinated by Europe. As you can see, James's pattern was one that allowed for an entertaining story along with an examination of clashing cultures (without really showing allegiance to either side). One of the best examples of this story framework and one of the most commercially successful of all of James's stories was his novella, 'Daisy Miller'.
'Daisy Miller' is a novella about a young girl named Daisy Miller. She is a beautiful and wealthy American traveling around Europe with her brother, Randolph, and her mother, Mrs. Miller. Winterbourne is a young American expatriate (an American who has chosen to leave the country and live abroad) who has spent much of his life in Switzerland (sounds a little bit like James himself, right?) Mrs. Costello is Winterborne's aunt. The story begins in Vevey, Switzerland at a hotel where Daisy (who is vacationing) and Winterbourne (who is visiting his aunt) meet.
We start with Winterbourne meeting and being quite fascinated by the young Daisy Miller. Initially, Winterbourne does not know what to make of Daisy - to him, she behaves in a way that's direct, uncultivated and flirtatious, but still he senses an appealing innocence about her. And she's beautiful (in, of course, an unrefined kind of way). When she declares a desire to see a nearby castle, Winterbourne agrees to escort her there. This is a bit of a scandal for the time period - she would go with Winterbourne (a man she just met) to a strange castle without a chaperone (which all ladies would have used).
Although Daisy would like to be introduced to Winterbourne's aunt, Mrs. Costello, it won't happen for a couple of reasons. Mrs. Costello has heard about the Millers and believes that they are uncivilized. When Winterbourne mentions their little outing plan, Mrs. Costello is all the more aghast, believing that Daisy is a young girl without manners and with only undignified thoughts in mind. She warns her nephew to be careful.
So, Daisy and Winterbourne visit the castle. There, Daisy carries on animated conversations, and although some attention is paid to the castle itself, Daisy focuses on conversation with Winterbourne. She learns that he will be returning to his home, Geneva, in a few days. Daisy is disappointed and talks little for the rest of their time together but does ask him to visit her in Rome the next winter.
The next winter, Mrs. Costello writes to her nephew from Rome. There, the Millers have also been staying, and according to Mrs. Costello, creating quite a reputation for themselves. According to her, Daisy had been palling around with one too many Italian men in a way that appeared to be less than proper or decent. There was one specific man, Giovanelli, with whom she'd been spending quite a bit of her time recently.
Winterbourne comes to visit Rome. Daisy and he meet unexpectedly at a dinner party held by a Mrs. Walker, at which she speaks of Giovanelli. Daisy announces her intentions to meet Giovanelli in town at a very visible location that night. The others try to dissuade her from doing so (this is not what young ladies would do). She refuses to change her plans but does allow Winterbourne to chaperone her there. Mrs. Walker shows up with her carriage in an attempt to save Daisy's reputation and whisk her away before she is seen, but she refuses. Winterbourne and Mrs. Walker leave her there.
As a result of her bold actions, Daisy earns a less-than-favorable reputation in Rome. She continues to see Giovanelli but is rejected by her former social circles. People gossip. Winterbourne sees what is happening, and he feels badly for Daisy.
And then one night, Winterbourne comes across Daisy and Giovanelli together in the area of the Coliseum. This is scandalous because according to the others around her, she is flaunting her inappropriately flirtatious behavior in public in an area many thought was a breeding ground for malaria (which they thought was most often caught during the nighttime). Winterbourne is disgusted and wants to give up on Daisy. Although, he does talk to them and insist that they leave the area.
Within days, Winterbourne hears that Daisy is sick. He visits. She eventually succumbs to her sickness and dies. In time, Winterbourne thinks of Daisy and her very different ways and wonders whether or not he gave her enough credit.
There are a few important things to remember about Henry James. He was an expatriate writer of the realism movement who created short and long fiction pieces that, through often funny and melodramatic stories, revealed the tension between new America and old Europe. It was because of his childhood traveling between America and Europe that he was able to do this so successfully. He had gained a unique perspective into how social rules not only differed, but were completely incompatible.
'Daisy Miller' is a story that is quintessentially James. Through the development of the relationship of young Daisy and Winterbourne, along with the reactions of his aunt Mrs. Costello, the reader sees how perception and judgment, clouded by those social differences, create a portrait of Daisy that may or may not be accurate. Daisy, whose life in America had not been led by social constraints, behaves the way she wants to. Through the eyes of those around her in European society, she creates a less-than-favorable reputation for herself. It is only after her death (when it is too late) that Winterbourne thinks he may have misjudged her. He thinks about a message Daisy wanted him to hear when she was ill - that she was not committed to Giovanelli. Winterbourne felt as though she must have cared what he thought after all. Later at her funeral, Giovanelli reveals that Daisy was nothing but an innocent girl. Once again, James creates a portrait of two worlds that can't coexist - one new and one old, one led by youthful optimism and one led by a respect for tradition and modesty. This is the unique tension that appears in much of James's work and defines him as a writer.
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Back To CourseEnglish 102: American Literature
13 chapters | 131 lessons | 11 flashcard sets