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Edith Wartons "Roman Fever"

By cbush87 Oct 26, 2014 1067 Words
Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever”
by: Cassandra Bush

“Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton is a story about two wealthy American widows who have been friends for almost a lifetime, but have a secret they have kept bottled up for a very long time. Alida Slade and Grace Ansley are the main characters in this compelling story that incorporates love, mother/daughter relationships and revenge. The story's beginning finds the older women having lunch overlooking a beautiful view of the Forum. Their daughters, on the other hand, partake on an adventure with two Italian men alone. Utilizing their time alone, the mothers compared their own adventures in Rome when they were their daughter’s age. They point out that their own mothers were very overprotective of them and this behavior comes from a long line of family mothers who were just as protective over their daughters. Roman fever was used as a way to prevent people from venturing out at night. The setting of Wharton's Roman Fever is very important to the story's blatant theme about love, considering the fact that Rome is one of the most romantic spots on earth. Not only does it play an important role in respect to the mother/daughter relationship, but also regarding illness. The cold Grace gets has some hidden implications that hints to the reader that the cold itself is not the primary focus. It can be argued that Roman fever was just a cover for malaria and cholera, which the author cleverly masks with a metaphor. Roman fever is defined as a disease that refers to a particularly deadly strain of malaria that affected Rome, Italy, throughout various spans of time in history; an epidemic of Roman fever during the fifth century AD may have contributed to the fall of the Roman empire. It was thought that Roman fever was contracted at night which made it dangerous to venture out. “The most deadly diseases to which Rome’s population routinely succumbed were affected by temperature; in particular, the most lethal form of malaria, which had long incubation period and high temperature requirement, did not reach its peak frequency until autumn.” (Gigante, 1) As the reader, it is difficult to decide which one of the two characters is the villain and who is the hero, since they both act as such throughout the story. Alida is made the enemy when she attempts to use all of her jealousy, guilt and vindictive gratification to cause harm to Grace. She had bottled up all of those feelings she had after finding out that she went behind her back earlier on in their friendship. It seems that Grace feigned an illness one evening after a late night sightseeing expedition. What really happened, which did not escape Alida’s knowledge, was the fact that Grace had met with Alida’s fiancé, Delphin Slade. When Alida found out Grace’s secret love for her fiancé, she spitefully composed a letter as if she were Delphin to entice Grace to a prearranged meeting. At this point, as the reader, you are trying to determine who is the most out of line with their actions. Grace for undermining Alida’s relationship with Delphin or Alida for sabotaging Grace. The climax of the story finds even though Alida and Grace have been friends many years after Grace had her secret rendezvouse with Alida’s fiancé, Alida still cannot disregard her strong feelings of envy and jealousy. We can tell throughout the story that Alida has dedicated her life to impressing others. She adored the title of Mrs. Delphin Slade. Unfortunately, such a vibrant display only brought her more suffering and spite. It is interesting how the two women are portrayed as friends from the beginning, but in actuality they represent enemies more than anything else. Alida obviously does not even enjoy the company of Grace, but puts up a façade anyway. Most likely due to the fact that while they were friends this entire time she believed she had one up on Grace given she had been the one that wrote the letter and not Delphin. As the reader finishes this story they are left with a firm impression of boy envy and competition. The primary focus being that Alida is unable to forgive Grace and her determined focus has ruined any chance of them having a renewed friendship. The only reason the two woman are drawn to each other is due to the fact that they are both widows and they must find their daughters suitable husbands, just as their mothers had done for them. It is ironic that they do this in one of the most romantic cities due to the fact that Alida never experiences such a love during her life. It is a sad realization when the reader understands Alida's ultimate motivation in life is for nothing else but trying to overcome her own hurtful envy and jealousy. After reading more about Edith Wharton, it seems that she may relate with the characters of this story more than originally thought. Wharton came from a very wealthy family and was very successful in her writing. It is stated that though she was successful, she wasn’t very pretty. “She had relatively few friendships with women and none with female writers of her calibre—more strikes against her, in terms of sympathy—but she forged close and lasting friendships with an extraordinary number of successful men, including Henry James, Bernard Berenson, and André Gide. Many were gay or otherwise confirmed in bachelorhood. In the instances where her male friends were married, Wharton seems mostly to have treated the wives with indifference or outright jealousy.“ (A Critic at Large) She is a lot like Alida in a way that she is very negative to a lot of things that have happened around her and with other women. She makes herself bitter with these thoughts. Grace was described to be very beautiful in her day and this too relates back to the author personally. “At the center of each of her three finest novels is a female character of exceptional beauty, chosen deliberately to complicate the problem of sympathy.” (A Critic at Large)

Cited Sources:
A Critic at Large. “A Rooting Interest.” The New Yorker. 13 February 2012 issue

Gigante, Linda. “Death and Disease in Ancient Rome.” Innominate Society.

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