Compare the description of Slade and Ansley in "Roman Fever".How does the contrast between these two characters enhance the irony in the story?Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever"

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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In Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever" it seems odd that such a woman as Grace Ansley would even care to travel to Rome. For, she presents the picture of the proper middle-aged widow, knitting and glancing at the Roman view with the calmest of exteriors.  In contrast to Mrs. Slade, who is

fuller, and higher in color, with a small determined nose supported by vigorous black eyebrows,

Mrs. Ansley is smaller and paler and speaks in less superlative tones, "much less articulate" than her old friend, whom Mrs. Slade, "very dashing" as a young woman, considers "old-fashioned" and

far less sure than her companion of herself and of her rights in the world.

However, as they sit together in anticipation of watching the moonlight illuminate the night view of Rome, Mrs Ansley remarks ironically,

I've come to the conclusion that I don't in the least know what they [the daughters] aare....And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other.

Her verbal irony continues, "I never should have supposed you were sentimental, Alida."  The two ladies sit quietly and reflect how little they knew each other.  Both give the appearance of decorum and gentility, but under those corsets there were seething emotions in both as young woman although they were so "guarded" as Mrs. Ansley reflects.  In fact, the guardness of Mrs. Slade, who attempted to be surreptitious--anything but sentimental--by forging her husband's note to Grace Ansley, had her plan backfire as she, indeed, did not know much about her social friend, or even enough about her husband, who found Grace exciting. 

The irony of the denouement of Wharton's story is certainly enhanced by the descriptions of Mrs. Ansley as perceived by Mrs. Slade.  Staid and proper, lacking an exuberance of personality, Mrs. Ansley certainly surprises both Alida Slade and the reader when she reveals her passionate night in Rome with Delphin Slade, a night that produces the vivacious daughter Barbara.


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