This essay will be examining the many ways in which Henry James and Theodore Dreiser represent the role of women, female revolt and/or the emancipation in literature in the nineteenth century. Daisy Miller, is a novella about a young and pretty American girl named Daisy Miller and her courtship with a young American named Winterbourne. Written by Henry James in 1878, James explored many themes within his novel such as respect, the role of women, foreignness, tradition and many more. Sister Carrie, is a novel written by Theodore Dreiser, about a young suburban girl who moves to the big city with an American Dream. Similarly, to James, Dreiser explores many themes within his novel, such as: the role of women and femininity, class, and society, and many more. Throughout this essay, the representation of women and the female revolt will be heavily examined in terms of its context and origin in time. TALK ABOUT TIME PERIOD!!!
Daisy Miller, is a story that revolves around the main character Daisy, who is a rather independent, self-confident, and naïve individual in her escapades across Europe. With a rather unrefined American nature, her antics manage to make a reputation for herself within society, leading Winterbourne to become indecisive about his feelings and position with her. James, is successful at exploring the representation of female revolt in his novella as the main character, Daisy, challenges the ideal conventions of a woman in the nineteenth century period. “I have never allowed a gentleman to dictate to me, or to interfere with anything I do.”1 From this quote the reader can infer that Daisy is a very independent lady and doesn’t like to rely upon or trust a gentleman’s opinion. In a time period where society was most likely patriarchal, Daisy is extremely firm when taking a stand against Winterbourne, after he attempts to discourage her from hanging out with a man she just met, Giovanelli, she even uses the term “imperious”2 to describe Winterbourne’s domineering assertion. In Richard Hocks study of short fiction, Hocks explores how Daisy is an individual who “ignores class structures and customary behaviour…treating all she meets as equal human beings.”3 It is clear that Hock is able to make links between Daisy’s character and the theme of class and society in James’ novella, he suggests that whilst she goes against the customary behaviour she treats every individual the same, which can be seen as a positive quality as she does not treat anyone differently depending on their status or class. Again, a characteristic that is not conventional for a woman in the nineteenth century.
Another perspective the readers can understand about the female revolt and/or role of women is the way in which the male characters view them. For example, the way in which Winterbourne admirably describes Daisy’s beauty is by grouping her into a category with other attractive, American women. “How pretty they are,”4 Winterbourne is categorizing Daisy with other Americans as he uses the term ‘they’, although he is attracted to her he refuses to identify her as an individual, but instead as part of a group, a type. The fact that Winterbourne chooses to place women into categories shows that he either objectifies or makes an opinion about the women he comes across. Later in the novel, as Winterbourne realises Daisy is a girl of a flirty nature, the reader can begin to understand why he groups women together. As Robert Weisbuch mentions in Pollack’s, New Essays on Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. The American Novel Series, he states that, “Winterbourne will not allow women to be, will not grant them an integrating wholeness, will instead dissect and categorize.”5 This explains why Winterbourne is a man who has a demeaning attitude and perspective towards women, as he could dislike them, and even more so when they emit negative traits. This links in to the representation of the female revolt as the way women were perceived by the opposite sex in this book is of a mixed opinion. At one stage they are deemed attractive and vibrant and then considered a ‘type’ due to their characteristics and qualities.
Considering the idea that Winterbourne could be against women who inhibit negative qualities, he does make Daisy aware that her flirtatious nature is acceptable and appropriate if he is the recipient of that flirting. This declaration makes the reader want to question Winterbourne’s motives and character to understand his morals better. In comparison to the other gentleman that Daisy comes across, Mr. Giovanelli, there are many comparisons that can be made between the two male characters. At the end of the novel, Mr. Giovanelli and Winterbourne discuss Daisy over her grave with Giovanelli describing her as, “the most beautiful young lady I ever saw, and the most amiable…and she was the most innocent.”6 This comment by Mr Giovanelli led Winterbourne to respond in shock over Daisy’s innocence. Given the social setting that the two characters are in, the reader can understand that Giovanelli is more mature and socially advanced with knowing what to say at such a sad occasion, emphasising his gentlemanly character. With this in mind, Weisbuch makes another observation claiming that, “Giovanelli is not Winterbourne’s gigolo opposite so much as his double, and finally his better.”7 From this the reader can understand that the difference between the two male characters is that Giovanelli is more advanced and educated in social settings and considerate of people’s
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3 Page 33 Hocks, Richard A. Henry James: A Study of the Short Fiction. Twayne’s Studies in Short Fiction. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990.
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5 Pollack 76- Pollak, Vivian R., ed. New Essays on Daisy Miller and The Turn of the Screw. The American Novel Series. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1993.
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7 Pollack 73