Tuesday, July 15, 2008

The Beginning of Henry James’ Daisy Miller and Plato’s Republic

Part I: The Meeting in the Garden

Henry James was the son of a widely known writer about theology, and the brother of a great philosopher. When I began reading James’ novella Daisy Miller, it struck me how it’s opening is evocative of many philosophic works in general, and of the beginning of Plato’s Republic in particular.

James begins his novella by placing it in the town of Vevey. In the region of Vevey is also the setting for Rousseau’s Julie, ou la nouvelle Heloise, the first romantic novel. It is not likely that James, profoundly knowledgeable about French literature, was ignorant of that association.

Many philosophic dialogues have traditionally begun in enclosed gardens. The greatest and best known of these is Plato’s Republic, but also include Thomas More’s Utopia and Machiavelli’s On War. Daisy Miller begins in the gardens of the Hotel Trois Couronnes – like the settings for the other three books, an actual location. In being the garden of a hotel, it most closely resembles the setting for More’s Utopia, which is also set in the gardens of a hotel.

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