"Roman Fever" is among Edith Wharton's last writings and caps off her noteworthy career. "Roman Fever" was first published in Liberty magazine in 1934, and it was included in Wharton's final collection of short stories, The World Over, in 1936. Several reviewers of this final collection from newspapers and magazines throughout the nation called special attention to "Roman Fever." Since then, however, the story has received little critical attention. The few critics who have written about the story describe it as artistic, complex, and reflective of Wharton's moral landscape.
"Roman Fever," however, is frequently included in anthologies, both of Wharton's work and of American literature, and this may be a better indicator of its value as worthwhile literature than its critical history is. The story, at first, seems to be little more than a tale about the nostalgic remembrances of two middle-aged women revisiting Rome. Yet the tone of both the outer and inner dialogue shows a deep-felt animosity between the two women. The more outgoing Mrs. Slade is envious of Mrs. Ansley's vivacious daughter and jealous of her past love for Mrs. Slade's husband. The final sentence of the story reveals that Mrs. Slade has a valid reason for her feelings of competition with Mrs. Ansley though she only learns of it after years of ill-feeling. Some readers may find this final sentence to be a trick ending, on par with those of Saki or O. Henry. But a close reading of "Roman Fever" shows that Wharton carefully crafted her story to lead up to that exact moment of truth. Wharton's fine construction indeed makes "Roman Fever" one of her greater works of short fiction.
Did this raise a question for you?