The Pequod Review:
Henry James’s early works were mostly comprised of serials and short novellas, which perhaps due to serial-imposed deadlines tend to be of somewhat mixed quality. One of the best of these was Daisy Miller, published in the British periodical Cornhill Magazine in 1878. The story is a perceptive character study of the title heroine, a beautiful American girl from Schenectady, NY, who is vacationing in Italy and has (as James would later put it) “an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence.” Daisy attracts (and enjoys) the attention of a number of young men, but doesn’t realize she can’t flirt with the same freedom as she does in America. As a result, she develops a scandalous reputation, a judgment that James explores and assesses throughout the novel. By the end of the book, it is clear that the most objectionable behavior actually comes from her traditional and proper suitor (Frederick Winterbourne), who casually abandons Daisy “with a sort of relief” when he sees her talking to another man in the Colosseum:
It was as if a sudden illumination had been flashed upon the ambiguity of Daisy's behavior and the riddle had become easy to read. She was a young lady whom a gentleman need no longer be at pains to respect.
Henry James would write better and more complete novels later in life, but Daisy Miller remains one of his most essential books.