Daisy Miller is a fifty-seven page novella chock full of more dating dilemmas than any Cosmopolitan magazine. Written in 1878 by Henry James, the story follows the tantalizing young American, Daisy Miller, as she captures and puzzles the heart of a foreign-bred American, Mr. Winterbourne, on her first trip abroad. Winterbourne is simultaneously shocked, intrigued, and horrified by a girl he cannot seem to fit into typical labels. The novel is meant to explore the effects of the world abroad on Americans, investigating what the consequences are of foreign elements on an otherwise centuries old mating ritual of dating and courtship. Though Winterbourne was born in America, he has spent the better part of his life in Geneva and so only knows American girls from stories about them, his interaction with tourists, and comparing them to European girls. Daisy, however, doesn’t fit into any of these categories. Abroad for the first time with a less than attentive mother, she resembles the American flirt that Winterbourne is familiar with, yet has “an inscrutable combination of audacity and innocence” that continues to confuse and irritate Winterbourne.
She was very charming…was she simply a pretty girl from New York State–were they all like that, the pretty girls who had a good deal of Gentleman’s society? Or was she also a designing, an audacious, an unscrupulous young person?
You may not see the connection between Winterbourne and Daisy’s problems to modern dating dilemmas, but if Cosmopolitan’s December 2012 “What His Text Really Means” article celebrating the 20th birthday of the text message is any indication, it appears as if the current culture, like Winterbourne, is still trying to label, pin down, and decipher a new dating journey we all embarked on over 20 years ago. If meeting, and dating, new people isn’t hard enough, add to this climate of confusion the most ambiguous form of conversation ever invented (text messaging) and you suddenly may begin to see why the current culture is full of young singles screaming for some relationship definition. Henry James was very aware of the confusion that foreign elements can bring to the dating world. When Daisy gets mixed up with the playboy Italian man, Mr. Giovanelli, Winterbourne is continually exasperated with Daisy for not being able to see through Giovanelli’s falsity: “Mr. Giovanelli had certainly a very pretty face; but Winterbourne felt a superior indignation at this own lovely fellow countrywoman’s not knowing the difference between a spurious gentleman and a real one.” James, the author, is of course making the point that Daisy struggles to see what Winterbourne sees so clearly because she is in a foreign land, with foreign men, and does not understand foreign ways. The first SMS messages may have been sent across cyber space 20 years ago, but we’re still finding this instant communication to be a very foreign, very troublesome element in our relationships. From personal experience, texts intended one way can very often be interpreted in a myriad of very different, and very wrong, ways. Just check out what dating coach Adam LaDolce interprets from these five little words in the cosmo article: “Want to meet up later? “
If a guy sends you this message before 8 p.m., it shows he’s being proactive in his attempt to see you, LoDolce says. But, if all he does is text you, and you want to see some more effort, tell him you prefer to talk on the phone. “This will separate the guys who want a relationship from the ones who don’t,” he says. “If he calls, it’s a fair assumption that he’s interested in something more than just a booty call.
That’s a lot of definition. It might be true, sure, but, it might not…but, then again, who would know? You can’t hear his voice, see his face, or read his body language…You just got five little words to base a rather significant decision on. In Daisy Miller, the conclusion for the confused lovers doesn’t end in a “happily ever after.” Daisy finds herself becoming pulled deeper into a foreign world she falsely believes she understands, until, in a late night rendevous with Mr. Giovanelli in the Roman Coliseum, she catches the “Roman fever” and dies. Winterbourne, blaming his own years in a foreign land, determines that if he had not spent so many years in a land that wasn’t his birthright, he perhaps could have better interpreted, and thus saved, his fellow American from being overcome by a society she didn’t understand. Of course, misreading a text probably won’t have deathly consequences like Daisy’s misreading of the dashing Mr. Giovanelli, but then again, maybe it would…at least for your relationship. My advice for your dating dilemmas? Take a clue from Daisy and Winterbourne and avoid bringing foreign elements into your relationship. Text what you mean, or maybe don’t text at all…perhaps kicking the text habit is just what the doctor ordered for some healthy, normal, personal, old-fashioned conversation.
– <3 A.
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-Jane Austen in Northanger Abbey
I don’t know why, because I don’t think Jane intended this to be funny, but when I read this I was struck with quite the set of giggles. Probably because I imagined Jane looking smugly at just such a girl and thinking unimaginable things to write about her. Beware of the quiet ones, they’re usually writers, composing something that could bring you to your knees in seconds.
Plain Jane: “I pay very little regard…to what any young person says on the subject of marriage. If they profess a disinclination for it, i only set it down that they have not seen the right person.”
-Jane Austen in Mansfield Park
Jane never married. She got close once, even entered into an engagement, but the day after saying yes she decided what she really meant by yes was…no. I sometimes wonder what sort of man Jane would have been attracted to. Her insights into human character are indeed so deep that it is no wonder a man couldn’t stand up against them. I guess its best for all of our novel-cravings that she never married but instead devoted herself to offering examples to the rest of us of “just what a young man ought to be” (Pride and Prejudice).