Daisy Miller by Henry James

A selection of my favourite passages from each story

Daisy Miller

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • In this region, in the month of June, American travellers are extremely numerous, it may be said indeed, that Vevey assumes at this period some of the characteristics of an American watering-place.
  • There had not been the slightest alteration in her charming complexion; she was evidently neither offended nor fluttered. If she looked another way when he spoke to her, and seemed not particularly to hear him, this was simply her habit, her manner. Yet, as he talked a little more, and pointed out some of the objects of interest in the view, with which she appeared quite unacquainted, she gradually gave him more of the benefit of her glance; and then he saw that this glance was perfectly direct and unshrinking. It was not, however, what would have been called an immodest glance, for the young girl’s eyes were singularly honest and fresh.
  • 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. It was not at all insipid, but it was not exactly expressive; and though it was eminently delicate, Winterbourne mentally accused it — very forgivingly — of a want of finish.
  • Poor Winterbourne was amused, perplexed, and decidedly charmed. He had never yet heard a young girl express herself in just this fashion; never, at least, save in cases where to say such things seemed a kind of demonstrative evidence of a certain laxity of deportment.
  • Winterbourne wondered whether she was seriously wounded, and for a moment almost wished that her sense of injury might be such as to make it becoming in him to attempt to reassure and comfort her. He had a pleasant sense that she would be very approachable for consolatory purposes. He felt then, for the instant, quite ready to sacrifice his aunt, conversationally, to admit that she was a proud, rude woman, and to declare that they needn’t mind her.
  • ‘I myself shall make a fuss if you don’t go,’ said Winterbourne. ‘That’s all I want — a little fuss!’ And the young girl began to laugh again. ‘Mr. Randolph has gone to bed!’ the courier announced, frigidly. ‘Oh, Daisy, now we can go!’ said Mrs.. Miller. Daisy turned away from Winterbourne, looking at him, smiling and fanning herself. ‘Good-night,’ she said; ‘I hope you are disappointed, or disgusted, or something!’
  • He remembered that a cynical compatriot had once told him that American women — the pretty ones and this gave a largeness to the axiom — were at once the most exacting in the world and the least endowed with a sense of indebtedness.
  • Walker was one of those American ladies who, while residing abroad, make a point, in their own phrase, of studying European society; and she had on this occasion collected several specimens of her diversely-born fellow-mortals to serve, as it were, as textbooks.
  • Daisy gave a delighted laugh. ‘If I could have the sweet hope of making you angry, I would say it again.’
  • ‘Though you may be flirting, Mr. Giovanelli is not; he means something else.’ ‘He isn’t preaching, at any rate,’ said Daisy, with vivacity.
  • ‘It has never occurred to Mr. Winterbourne to offer me any tea,’ she said, with her little tormenting manner. ‘I have offered you advice,’ Winterbourne rejoined. ‘I prefer weak tea!’ cried Daisy

Four Meetings

★★★★☆ (4/5)

  • ‘I am not so sure. I don’t think of anything else. I am always thinking of it. It prevents me from thinking of things that are nearer home — things that I ought to attend to. That is a kind of craziness.’
  • ‘I know more about them than you might think,’ she said, with her shy, neat little smile. ‘I mean by reading; I have read a great deal. I have not only read Byron; I have read histories and guide-books. I know I shall like it!’ ‘I understand your case,’ I rejoined. ‘you have the native American passion — the passion for the picturesque. With us, I think it is primordial — antecedent to experience. Experience comes and only shows us something we have dreamt of.’
  • ‘I’m not afraid of running short,’ she said gaily, still looking at the opposite houses. ‘I could sit here all day, saying to myself that here I am at last. It’s so dark, and old, and different.’
  • She was extremely observant; there was something touching in it. She noticed everything that the movement of the street brought before us — peculiarities of costume, the shapes of vehicles, the big Norman horses, the fat priests, the shaven poodles. We talked of these things, and there was something charming in her freshness of perception and the way her book-nourished fancy recognised and welcomed everything.
  • She hesitated again a moment, but her glance, meanwhile, was pleading. ‘I gave him what I had.’ I have always remembered the accent of those words as the most angelic bit of human utterance I had ever listened to; but then, almost with a sense of personal outrage, I jumped up. ‘Good heavens!’ I said, ‘do you call that getting it honestly?’
  • ‘And here you have remained ever since?’ ‘Oh yes!’ she said, gently. ‘When are you going to Europe again?’ This question seemed brutal; but there was something that irritated me in the softness of her resignation, and I wished to extort from her some expression of impatience.

Longstaff’s Marriage

★★★☆☆ (3/5)

  • They had come from honourable and amiable men, and it was not her suitors in themselves that she contemned; it was simply the idea of marrying. She found it insupportable; a fact which completes her analogy with the mythic divinity to whom I have likened her. She was passionately single, fiercely virginal; and in the straight-glancing gray eye which provoked men to admire, there was a certain silvery ray which forbade them to hope
  • and they kept a diary in common, at which they ‘collaborated,’ like French playwrights, and which was studded with quotations from the authors I have mentioned. This lasted a year, at the end of which they found themselves a trifle weary. A snug posting-carriage was a delightful habitation, but looking at miles of pictures was very fatiguing to the back. Buying souvenirs and trinkets under foreign arcades was a most absorbing occupation; but inns were dreadfully apt to be draughty, and bottles of hot water for application to the feet, had a disagreeable way of growing lukewarm
  • For the rest, Agatha contented herself with spinning suppositions about the people she never spoke to. She framed a great deal of hypothetic gossip, invented theories and explanations — generally of the most charitable quality. Her companion took no part in these harmless devisings, except to listen to them with an indolent smile
  • But, slowly, her look of proud compulsion, of mechanical compliance, was exchanged for something more patient and pitying. The young Englishman’s face expressed a kind of spiritual ecstasy which, it was impossible not to feel, gave a peculiar sanctity to the occasion.


★★☆☆☆ (2/5)

  • Benvolio was slim and fair, with clustering locks, remarkably fine eyes, and such a frank, expressive smile, that on the journey through life it was almost as serviceable to its owner as the magic key, or the enchanted ring, or the wishing-cap, or any other bauble of necromantic properties.
  • It was here that his happiest thoughts came to him — that inspiration (as we may say, speaking of a man of the poetic temperament) descended upon him in silence, and for certain divine, appreciable moments, stood poised along the course of his scratching quill.
  • He became conscious of an intellectual condition similar to that of a palate which has lost its relish. To a man with a disordered appetite all things taste alike, and so it seemed to Benvolio that the gustatory faculty of his mind was losing its keenness. It had still its savoury moments, its feasts and its holidays; but, on the whole, the spectacle of human life was growing flat and stale. This is simply a wordy way of expressing that comprehensive fact — Benvolio was blasé. He knew it, he knew it betimes, and he regretted it acutely
  • If a man were a revolutionist, you would reconcile him to society. You are a divine embodiment of all the amenities, the refinements, the complexities of life! You are the flower of urbanity, of culture, of tradition! You are the product of so many influences that it widens one’s horizon to know you; of you too, it is true, that to admire you is a liberal education! Your charm is irresistible, I assure you I don’t resist it!’
  • He had, as we know, his moods of expansion and of contraction; he had been tolerably inflated for many months past, and now he had begun to take in sail.
  • I don’t know that he had ever devoted a formula to the idea that men of imagination are not bound to be consistent, but he certainly conformed to its spirit. We are not, however, by any means at the end of his inconsistencies
  • Benvolio at this season declared that study and science were the only game in life worth the candle, and wondered how he could ever for an instant have cared for more vulgar exercises.
  • When Benvolio liked a thing he liked it as a whole — it appealed to all his senses. He relished its accidents, its accessories, its material envelope
  • Benvolio perceived that she was not in the least a woman of genius. The passion for knowledge, of its own motion, would never have carried her far. But she had a perfect understanding — a mind as clear and still and natural as a woodland pool, giving back an exact and definite image of everything that was presented to it And then she was so teachable, so diligent, so indefatigable
  • He fell asleep again, and in one of those brief but vivid dreams that sometimes occur in the morning hours, he had a brilliant vision of the Countess. She was human beyond a doubt, and duly familiar with headaches and heartaches. He felt an irresistible desire to see her and to tell her that he adored her. This satisfaction was not unattainable, and before the day was over he was well on his way toward enjoying it.
  • Her answer was very simple. ‘I believe you are a poet.’ ‘And a poet oughtn’t to run the risk of turning pedant?”No,’ she answered; ‘a poet ought to run all risks — even that one which for a poet is perhaps most cruel. But he ought to escape them all!’
  • In the middle of the winter she announced to him that she was going to spend ten days in the country: she had received the most attractive accounts of the state of things on her domain. There had been great snow-falls, and the sleighing was magnificent; the lakes and streams were solidly frozen, there was an unclouded moon, and the resident gentry were skating, half the night, by torch-light
  • They parted on terms which it would be hard to define — full of mutual resentment and devotion, at once adoring and hating each other. All this was deep and stirring emotion, and Benvolio, as an artist, always in one way or another found his profit in emotion, even when it lacerated or suffocated him. There was, moreover, a sort of elation in having burnt his ships behind him, and vowed to seek his fortune, his intellectual fortune, in the tumult of life and action

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