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Domestic Ideology in Henry James Daisy Miller - Book Report/Review Example

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Domestic Ideology in Henry James Daisy Miller

The young Daisy, an American girl of flirtatious demeanor and apparent stubbornness quite rare of women her age, meets and is pursued by the sophisticated Winterbourne-a bachelor of high status, but with decidedly traditional values. He is enamored by her, but is taken aback when Daisy's behavior debunks everything he knows as true; that a young woman should never be outspoken or carefree, and that she should not be allowed to be friendly with men. Unless she is engaged to him, and that situation still calls for numerous restrictions. The young and pretty Daisy apparently enjoying the teasing and flirting with Winterbourne, also befriends an Italian gentleman named Giovanello-and their much-witnessed romps and trips around Rome sealed the girl's fate and reputation as an unsuitable woman. Winterbourne acknowledges and supports this general opinion after concluding that Daisy had chosen Giovanello over him, and tries to dissuade her from creating an even more horrid image of herself. Daisy finds this laughable, and continues to move around with the Italian, until their regular evening outings cause her to be afflicted and to die of malaria, or Roman fever. In the end, Winterbourne is told of Daisy's last message for him, which is to clarify that she is not engaged to Giovanello. Soon after, Winterbourne proceeds to live his regular life in Switzerland.
The story clearly echoes a widely-acknowledged Victorian philosophy, called domestic ideology. During this time, a woman is only held as good, or true, when her environment and social parameters are limited to the home and family. She was required to uphold her identity foremost as a virtuous and dutiful wife and mother, coming from an earlier life as a good sister and daughter. Such are the ideology's rules that should a woman violate or neglect any, she is immediately relegated to a persona of negative impression. This thinking is commonly applied to many Victorian novels, including those of Dickens, Bronte, Eliot, and Gissing (Klaver). The Victorian bourgeois family is typical of having the father, a married man, at the helm. Women in the family are expected to serve, and be completely dependent on the men (Gordon, 2002).
Several characters in Daisy Miller fall in the defined limits of domestic ideology, both in and out. Obviously, Daisy is one that is deemed to be unqualified and unacceptable, because of her clear understanding of her own mindset and her manner with men. Her mother, Mrs. Miller, is the exact opposite-she tends to keep her distance from men in general, and follows the rules of society at every turn. But the women Mrs. Walker and Mrs. Costello, Winterbourne's friend and aunt, respectively, seem not to carry the meek and docile feminine image as defined. They know and understand the values and expectations, but they remain heads of their families and dictate their own comings and goings. Hypocritical may be a term fit to describe these characters, for they would malign Daisy and tarnish her reputation in society, and particularly voice this out with Winterbourne. Giovanello, the almost-emasculated Italian, is hardly described as a real person; most of the references are limited to his clothes and appearance. Which is, in fact, the way the narrative exposes Daisy, through Winterbourne. Throughout the ...Show more


The legendary literary writer Henry James has penned several iconic works that center on the perception and role of women during the 19th century, The Turn of the Screw and Portrait of a Lady, to name two. However, it is Daisy Miller, the novella James published in 1878, that touches on very specific parameters regarding society's collective mindset at the time.
Author : rkihn
Domestic Ideology in Henry James Daisy Miller
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