The interaction between Daisy Miller and Mr. Winterbourne in Vevey serves not only to define a difference between American culture and its European parent, but overlays a sexual tension which drives the whole course of action. Daisy is an American girl with no qualms about how others perceive her in a vastly different cultural environment. She feels herself free to flirt with whomever she likes and, because of this, she becomes the object of gossip among the American circles in Geneva and Rome which pride themselves on conforming to European standards of behavior. Daisys willingness to openly display her sexuality calls into question for these circles just how innocent, as is the operative word throughout the text, she really is. She feels no lack of power in a society geared towards denying an active sexuality for women, and for this her character is continuously on trial.
We learn that, in Geneva, a young man was not at liberty to speak to a young unmarried lady, due to Europes stricter cultural climate, which Daisy perceives as stifling, though she continues to associate with various young men at the cost of her reputation. Her willingness to defy social conventions are not portrayed as any kind of proto-feminism, for it seems that even the character who cares for her most in the beginning, Winterbourne, sees her as not much more than an unsophisticated flirt, and by excusing her actions on that basis he denies that she is actively aware of what she is doing. Winterbourne even goes so far as to attribute this behavior to a formula that applie[s] to Miss Daisy Miller, implying that, soon after having just met her, he has already figured her out, and nothing in her actions could be more complex than her sex.
Though Winterbourne claims to respect Daisy, it is only on his own terms that he does so and consistently finds himself having to excuse her actions and convince others that his pursuit of conquest over her, to win her true affection, is justified. James tells us that he had assented to the idea that she was common or was he simply getting used to her commonness? Winterbourne knows that he is attracted to Daisy, but he is not sure if his attraction is any different than other mens attraction to her. The sexual tension underlying their relationship takes on a double standard in the Europhilic American circles as indicated by Mrs. Costellos statement that Of course a man may know everyone. Men are welcome to the privilege! She later goes on to say that, in regards to making character assessments, whether or not being hopelessly vulgar is being bad is a question for the metaphysicians, though hypocritically she and many others seem to believe themselves perfectly qualified to make such ontological statements on Daisys character.
It is only through Daisys relationship with Mr. Giovanelli that her unapologetic sexuality is allowed its full course of action. We are told that in Rome it is improper for Roman girls to go out for walks with men they have met on the street, but Daisy knows that she is not a Roman girl, and so does not pretend to act as one. She says that I have never allowed a gentleman to interfere with anything I do. James tells us that Winterbourne, who becomes jealous of Daisys relationship with Giovanelli, [feels] a superior indignation at his own lovely fellow contrywomans not knowing the difference between a spurious gentleman and a real one, the real one being Winterbourne himself. But Winterbourne knows nothing of Giovanelli to make this statement, and thus continues to denigrate Daisys judgment. Because he cannot accept that Daisy actively draws control for her own life through her sexuality, Winterbourne is never able to have her on the terms he wants.