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Roman Fever by Edith Wharton

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    Running head: Roman Fever by Edith Wharton


    Thesis: The Roman Fever author demonstrates that physical closeness cannot be equated with mutual comprehension through the examples of Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade who are physically close but mentally and emotionally worlds apart
    Daughters represent mothers’ past lives
    Mrs. Ansley catches a cold when she goes to see Delphin – her lover
    Tension is high when Mrs. Slade confesses of her deceptive plot

    Symbolism, irony, and climax serve to show that Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley are close friends who do not know each other well

                Through the Roman Fever story, author Edith Wharton describes the longstanding close relationship of two American women which has however failed to make them know each other fully. The reserved Grace Ansley (Mrs. Ansley) and the pompous Mrs. Slade have known each other for a very long time. The two women have however managed to keep deep secrets from each other despite their close ties. To argue that people can be very close but yet fail to intimately know each other, Wharton employs the literary devices of irony, climax, and symbolism. In effect, the author demonstrates that physical closeness cannot be equated with mutual comprehension through the examples of Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade who are physically close but mentally and emotionally worlds apart.

                To begin with, when Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley meet in Rome, they both contemplate about their past by reflecting on their daughter’s current activities. Jenny – Mrs. Slade’s daughter, and Barbara – Mrs. Ansley’s daughter, are having a good time with the girls’ suitors. The two women thus use the present activities of the daughters to allude to how the mothers used to behave in their youth. For example, Mrs. Slade quips ‘Do you suppose they’re as sentimental as we were?’ in reference to Barbara and Jenny (Wharton & Wolff 1997). The 2 daughters thus symbolize the youthful time that their mother’s had. The mothers however have varied recollections of the past. This concept is evident in Mrs. Ansley’s comment that ‘perhaps we didn’t know much more about each other’ thus suggesting that the mothers’ relationship is not straightforward (Wharton & Wolff 1997). Unlike the daughters who are open with each other, the mothers hide some facts from each other. Mrs. Ansley thinks of a happy past while Mrs. Slade reflects an unhappy past life where she cunningly tricked Mrs. Ansley.

                In addition, Wharton employs irony to show that Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley have kept dark secrets from each other. For instance, when Mrs. Slade deceives Mrs. Ansley into believing that a certain Delphin has written a letter asking Mrs. Ansley to meet him at the Colloseum, irony plays out. Although Mrs. Ansley goes to the Colloseum for a happy and enjoyable event, she catches a cold because of being exposed to cold weather. As she seeks to make Mrs. Ansley understand her, Mrs. Slade  says ‘You don’t remember going to visit some ruins or other one evening, just after dark, and catching a bad chill! You were supposed to have gone to see the moonrise’ (Wharton & Wolff 1997).  This situation introduces irony because Mrs. Ansley gets something that sharply contrasts with her expectations. To illustrate the strange nature of Mrs. Ansley’s cold, Mrs. Slade says, ‘it struck your friends—the reason given for your illness’ (Wharton & Wolff 1997).  In addition, Mrs. Slade’s confession of the treachery makes both Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley for the first time learn completely new things about each other despite their longstanding friendship. The concept that people may be longtime friends but fail to understand each other thus plays out.

                Moreover, the story employs climax as a literary device to highlight the fact that Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade are outwardly close friends but inwardly complete strangers. The journey to the climax begins when Mrs. Slade exclaims that she ‘can’t bear it any longer’ upon which Mrs. Ansley wonders what Mrs. Slade is talking about (Wharton & Wolff 1997). Mrs. Slade then refers Mrs. Ansley to a past episode when Mrs. Ansley went to the Colloseum after Delphin supposedly asks Mrs. Ansley to avail herself. At first, Mrs. Ansley does not understand why Mrs. Slade would be bothered by such an event. The truth only violently comes out when Mrs. Slade delivers a verbatim count of the letter that was allegedly written by Delphin to Mrs. Ansley. At this time, tension is building towards the climax. Mrs. Slade then delivers a confession; she authored the letter, she was jealous of Mrs. Ansley, and thus wanted to have her out of the way to ensure that she does not attract Delphin’s attraction. This event marks the climax of the story as the women come to see each other in their true colors after such a long time. For instance, Mrs. Slade’s phrase ‘Well, my dear, I know what was in that letter because I wrote it’ demonstrates her cunning nature (Wharton & Wolff 1997). Mrs. Ansley understands that Mrs. Slade is a conniving individual. On the other hand, Mrs. Slade realizes that Mrs. Ansley’s quiet disposition has allowed Mrs. Ansley to hide many dark secrets. Through this climax scene, Wharton shows that the two women’s longstanding closeness has not served to make them fully comprehend each other.

                In conclusion, through her Roman Fever story, Wharton describes the covertly strained and strange supposedly close relationship of Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley. In effect, the author uses literary devices such as irony, climax, and symbolism to show that the relationship of the two women has surprisingly not made them completely understand each other. The 2 women’s daughters – Jenny and Barbara symbolize the youthful life their mothers had back in the olden days. Moreover, Mrs. Ansley ironically catches a bad cold from an event that would have otherwise led to pleasant results. Her rendezvous with Delphin – her lover, makes her catch the cold. Ultimately, the story climaxes when Mrs. Slade confesses of her treacherous plans before a stunned Mrs. Ansley.


    Wharton, E.; & Wolff, C. G.  (1997). Roman Fever and Other Stories. Simon & Schuster,


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