Henry James's Two-Part Magazine Stories and "Daisy Miller"
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Henry James’s Two-Part Magazine Stories and “Daisy Miller”

Leon Edel provides this succinct summary of what occurred after “Daisy Miller: A Study” appeared in the June and July 1878 issues of the British Cornhill Magazine:

By mid-1878 “Daisy Miller” had made [Henry James] the most talked-of American writer in England; and a pirated version of the story was widely read in the United States—he was having his “reasonable show of fame,” after twenty years of modest writing and publishing. . . . “Daisy” made him only more industrious, and he began to plan a “great” novel—a work [Portrait of a Lady] he would write with much deliberation and care.

Scholars have divided Henry James’s career at this point: before 1878 were the years of apprenticeship, in which he studied and wrote about the work of others while developing his own style; in the nearly four decades that followed, the confident master of his art produced major works of both long and short fiction. 1

Some critics have even argued that “Daisy Miller” marked two periods of American literary history, concluding a time in which the European tradition framed writing in the New World and beginning an era of indigenous artistic expression. 2 The new nation, having achieved a clear idea of its own identity, began with this 1878 story by Henry James successfully to export its forms and techniques to Europe. I would like to be even more precise in fixing this pivotal moment of cultural change. I propose the space between the June and the July 1878 parts of Henry James’s “Daisy Miller” as the point of transition between an early and a later American literature.

Much of “Daisy Miller”’s immediate popularity can be accounted for by its thematic content, James’s “international” theme carried forward in the character of an innocent young American woman attempting to live in the structured society [End Page 126] of ancient Europe. James’s mastery of technique in this story also contributed to its success, the central consciousness of an observer moving toward fuller understanding of a paradoxical other (see Fogel 9; Graham, “Daisy,” 35–36). However, the structure of “Daisy Miller” was also a factor in its remarkable impact, and that structure derived from the periodical context of publication as well as from subject, form, and author’s beliefs concerning the art of fiction.

In the 1870s, much American literature was read first in what have been called the “quality” periodicals: Putnam’s Magazine, The Atlantic Monthly, Century, Scribners’ Magazine, Lippincott’s, Galaxy, Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, and others. When The Atlantic Monthly reviewed James’s first volume of short stories in April 1875, for instance, the magazine pointedly noted: “Our readers will remember how, in the company of the supposed narrator, Clement Searle goes down from London . . .” (Gard 32). The Atlantic’s readers would “remember” because Clement Searle’s story, “The Passionate Pilgrim,” had appeared in the March and April 1871 issues of this periodical.

Richard Brodhead has shown how the conditions of art’s production affect its themes and forms:

Writing always takes place within some completely concrete cultural situation, a situation that surrounds it with some particular landscape of institutional structures, affiliates it with some particular group from among the array of contemporary groupings, and installs it [in] some group-based world of understandings, practices, and values.

(8)

The concrete cultural situation which surrounded James’s work leading up to “Daisy Miller” was magazine publication, the primary medium in which his previous writing had appeared. And the attention drawn to this pivotal work can be linked to the shape periodical publication contributed to the story when it appeared in print. 3

While less has been written about James’s short fiction than his novels, even the criticism focused on his tales has tended to place little emphasis on publication format. In 1988 Richard P. Gage noted that “the large corpus of James’s short stories has yet to be closely studied” (1), and Richard A. Hocks found it “very surprising” in 1990 that “one would find so few critical books since...