The Envious Role in “Roman Fever”

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The fine line between the fear of the unknown and what is known can sometimes become blurred. In the short story “Roman Fever”, Edith Wharton does just that by telling the story of two ladies who were ‘childhood friends’. Both are recently widowed, and encounter each other in Rome by coincidence while traveling abroad with their daughters Jenny and Barbara. One of the ladies, Alida Slade, has long suspected that her intimate friend, Grace Ansley was involved with her fiancé many years ago and has been harboring some sort of dark secret about that liaison. As the story unfolds, Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley wonder about the familiar situation they have found themselves and their daughters in while in Rome. The similarity between the two holidays has brought many of Mrs. Slade’s lingering doubts back to the surface. Mrs. Slade’s actions throughout the story are motivated by the fear of what she does not know and the fear of what she suspects to be true. In addition, Mrs. Slade’s inherent dislike of Grace, her feelings of insecurity, jealously, and their current circumstances will force her into revealing a long kept secret of her own that she hopes will reveal the truth she has sought all these years. Mrs. Slade’s peculiar behavior throughout the story is directly motivated by all of these factors. Jealousy and envy have always played a major role in the intertwined lives of Alida Slade and Grace Ansley. The feelings of jealousy and envy date back to when Alida and Grace first met while on a holiday in Rome as younger women. As they begin to reminisce about the onset of their friendship many years ago, they realize that although they have been friends for many years, they are relative strangers. Sitting outside in silence, the two women, “who have been intimate since childhood, reflect how little they knew each other” (Wharton 1368). Slowly, the reader begins to understand that there had been a subtle, hidden competition for Alida’s fiancé, Delphin. Alida worried that Grace was attempting to steal her fiancé from her. This fear fuels the jealousy and envy Alida feels towards Grace and the resurfacing of those feelings motivates Alida’s odd behavior of revisiting the past in the story.

Although Alida Slade projects an image of well-bred confidence, she is actually very insecure and relentlessly compares her life to that of Grace’s. Seeing as they end up living across the street from one another, the reader soon realizes that although their lives are ironically similar, Alida considers hers to be lacking by comparison. The only big diffence is that of how Alida feels. Grace does not show the same feelings as Alida. From the onset of the story, Alida’s thoughts are in the forefront, while Grace’s thoughts assume a lesser role. The readers automatically make more of a connection with Alida more so than Grace. This leads the readers to feel what Alida is feeling and thinking instead of Grace, allowing more of an eventful feel to the story. Through Wharton’s use of the third person omniscient point of view, the reader senses the underlying competition between the two women. Alida sees Grace and her husband Horace made a “good-looking, irreproachable, exemplary”, (Wharton 1368) couple, stereotyping them as “museum specimens of old New York”, (Wharton 1368), which in itself is exactly like her, yet she does not see it. After further analyzing the story, the reader realizes that Alida’s envy of Grace, compounded with her own doubts of fears about the past intensifies her hatred for Grace and her desire for revenge.

Alida Slade had long speculated that Grace and her fiancé, Delphin, were once romantically involved, and even after all these years married to Delphin, she still feels inferior to Grace because of her doubts. Additionally, since the death of her well known husband, Alida’s life seems dull and she craves the attention that was part of that lifestyle. By creating drama with Grace, she hopes to at long last discover the...
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