What is the significance of the title, "Roman Fever" and how does it relate to the characters?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Roman Fever," by Edith Wharton is a story about two close Victorian friends who do not know each other.  These women revisit Rome years after their first youthful visit; this time they have their daughters with them, and the jealous comparisons are made between the women.  Mrs. Slade asks Mrs. Ansley how "two such exemplary characters as you and Horace had managed to produce anything quite so dynamic," and says of her own daughter, "I always wanted a brilliant daughter...and never quite understood why I got an angel instead."

For the older women, now widowed, Rome "brings back the past a little too acutely."  In truth, there was a secret resentment on the part of Mrs. Slade, for she learned that Mrs. Ansley had gone "to meet the man [she] was engaged to" because she had written the letter that took her to the rendez-vous.  In a twist of fate, however, Mrs. Ansley had answered the letter, and this action is what brought Delphin Slade to her.  They did, in fact, meet and went into the Coloseum.  As Mrs. Slade had hoped then, Mrs. Ansley became very ill with the "Roman Fever."  But, Mrs. Slade tells Mrs. Ansley, she regrets that her friend became so sick.

Mrs. Ansley is upset by the revelation because she has cherished the letter all these years as the only letter of Delphin's that she had.  While Mrs. Slade feels some regret, she defends her actions by observing that Mrs. Ansley could not have been too in love with Delphin because she quickly married after she became well.  In a moment of truth, Mrs. Ansley apologizes for taking Delphin that night.  But, Mrs. Slade mitigates this apology by declaring that she was married to Mr. Slade for twenty-five years while Mrs. Ansley "had nothing but that one letter tha he didn't write."

Mrs. Ansley was agai silent.  She took a step, and turned back, facing her companion.

'I had Barbara,' she said, and began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway.

A significant title, "Roman Fever" denotes a illnes that one could incur if in the Roman night air when the two women were young; it also connotes romantic passion; and, in the second visit of the "old friends,' it connotes the ill feelings that arise between the Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley as they finally discuss the incidents from their youth.

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