By Elizabeth Allen
A whole size examine of James' use of the "American lady" heroine in his novels, from Daisy Miller via Isabel Archer to Milly Theale and Maggie Verver.
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Extra info for A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James
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.
Of course, this subordination was only the inescapable manifestation of what was in any case presentthe freedom of the American girl existed fundamentally for others, and not for herself. Her status as sign remained unchanged; as Harriet Martineau remarked, despite much indulgence the position of American women was really no better than in England. But it was the very obvious legal, social, and personal contradictions of the total submission of self in marriage for women that focussed the attention of those interested in the position of women at that time.
Newman can see in Claire the qualities he is looking for. Earlier, when he discusses her with her brother Valentin, Valentin says: You have seen her; you know what she is: tall, thin, light, imposing and gentle, half a grande dame and half an angel; a mixture of pride and humility, of the eagle and the dove. She looks like a statue which had failed as stone (p. I 02). The two follow it up with a bundle of labels: perfect, good, charitable, intelligent- which suggest that Claire is the everwomanly repository of values and qualities which can represent the culture and nature of its possessor: the Bellegrades' 'grande dame' or Newman's 'Western Prairie', Madame de Bellegarde's 'woman of conventions and proprieties' or Newman's 'ideal wife'.
A Woman’s Place in the Novels of Henry James by Elizabeth Allen