In Edith Wharton’s short story, Roman Fever, two women gaze down at the splendor of Rome and its ancient ruins. Once old friends, the evening darkness reveals the deceit that once occurred between the two women, twenty-five years previously, and how destructive passion can overrule one’s judgment.
When Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade spot one another on the same terrace they had originally met on, they find that undefinable tension from betrayal is still in the afternoon light around them. Their seemingly friendly demeanor is slowly overturned by their ever-haunting pasts, driving them to reveal almost deadly secrets. “The sun’s set. You’re not afraid, my dear?” is the question Alida Slade asks Grace Ansley, which is referring to the darkness that surrounds them, leading the ladies into one another’s dark minds. The darkness has a connotation for secrets in two ways between the women: an exciting rendezvous, for Grace, and for Alida, the ultimate betrayal by her late husband and one of her close friends. However, the light that comes from the moon, opens Grace’s eyes as to what has been troubling Alida for so many years.
The two women find themselves overlooking the crumbling ruins of the Colosseum, noticing how this intertwines with the ruins of their previous friendship, destroyed by deceit. Due to Grace sleeping with Alida’s fiancée, Delphin, rather than contracting Roman fever, the area represents the central place of betrayal. However, because Alida wrote the letter convincing Grace to go the Colosseum, not all of the blame can be placed on Grace for the ruins representing betrayal. Through both of the girl’s jealous actions, the Colosseum’s ruins show a visual depiction of the dying friendship.
After all of the secrets are revealed, the hint of irony from Barbra being Delphin’s daughter rather than Horace’s, displays how darkness can bring out past altercations and reveal how destructive passion can be to one’s judgment.
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