By Elizabeth Allen
A whole size learn of James' use of the "American woman" heroine in his novels, from Daisy Miller via Isabel Archer to Milly Theale and Maggie Verver.
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Much of the time, particularly in the stories,] ames uses women in a conventional way. U In Washington Square ( 188o), in which the lack of European contrast takes the edge off the 'American-ness' of the characters, the conventional expectations of the feminine are exposed as repressive in their inaptness and banality. Catherine Sloper is not an inadequate American girl, but an inadequate romantic maiden, fairytale princess or heiress. Her insistence on loving romantically nonetheless means that she fails to signify even the plain honest virtues of domestic femininity.
In Woman's Fiction: A Guide to Novels By and About Women in America, I82o-I8Jo, 60 Nina Baym sets out to describe how the deployment of conventional significations of the feminine could nonetheless result in a 'moderate and pragmatic' attempt to assert the female as subject by making her perception of her experiences the central thread of the novel. In contrast, some of the novelists in the second half of the nineteenth century who employed the figure of the American girl were using new significations of the feminine which hinted at her as somehow not-sign (thinking for herself, independent, socially iconoclastic) and yet attempting to resolve them in socially conventional ways.
I have chosen to compare these two works for three main reasons. The subject matter of both books forms the framework of material for much of] ames's later fiction. Even more to my purpose is the fact that in one the central American is male-Newman-and in the other female- Daisy. I hope to show that there is a difference in treatment, and through a comparison of the use of both Newman and Daisy as sign to show that this function is paramount and intrinsic for Daisy, while it is not for Newman. Finally, I believe that Daisy Miller 'leads on' to many of James's major novels in a more diverse and complex way than The American, and that this is to do with the different emphasis accorded the process of interpretation (of signs) and its implication for the individual (woman) thus defined.