What are the first hints of submerged conflict between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in part 1 of "Roman Fever"?
The discrepancy between what is spoken and what is privately thought represents the first hints of submerged conflict between the two women. Mrs. Slade unceremoniously thinks that Mrs. Ansley is "old-fashioned" but never divulges her thoughts to her.
Later, when the waiter mentions dinner under full moonlight, Mrs. Slade becomes visibly uncomfortable. Her "black brows drew together, as though references to the moon were out of place and even unwelcome." Atypical reactions to the ordinary (such as moonlight) are often significant in fiction. The moon, however, is an important symbol in the story. In Part One, it is mentioned five times.
Notice that Mrs. Slade smiles away her frown as soon as it appears. In conversation, she makes no mention of her unease but will only address the superficial, mysterious significance of the celestial object: "Moonlight—moonlight! What a part it still plays. Do you suppose they're as sentimental as we were?" Meanwhile, Mrs. Ansley's reaction to Mrs. Slade's comment is telling:
"I've come to the conclusion that I don't in the least know what they are," said Mrs. Ansley. "And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other."
Mrs. Ansley's reply is cryptic, but above all, it is ominous in tone. The revelation that she and Mrs. Slade know little about each other completely destroys the illusion of an easy friendship between the two.
The latent conflict between the two is further exposed when Mrs. Slade questions her friend about their daughters' itinerary. In answer to the question, Mrs. Ansley blushes and then carefully tells Mrs. Slade that their daughters have gone to meet their Italian beaus. The discrepancy between what is said and how the women emote constitute the first hints of submerged conflict between the two. It is apparent that both are hiding great secrets from each other, and this fact is confirmed by the author in Part Two of the story.
In "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton, two matrons sit on the terrace, much as they did many years ago in their youth when they may have thought themselves friends. When Mrs. Slade comments that she feels it is still "the most beautiful view in the world," Mrs. Ansley replies, "It always will be, to me," with emphasis on me, but Mrs. Slade makes no comment.
Grace Ansley was always old-fashioned," she thought; and added aloud,..."It's a view we've both been familiar with for a good many years. when we first met here we were younger than our girls are now. You remember?"
Then, when an allusion to the full moon causes Mrs. Slade to frown "as though references to the moon were out of place" the tension builds as Mrs. Ansley remarks further that she and Mrs. Slade did not know much about each other when they were young. Nevertheless, each woman has "a label ready to attach to each other's name," not to mention many uncharitable thoughts about each other such as those about how pretty they were, and the personalities of their daughters. In other words, they "visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope."
In truth, they only socialize with each other because they are neighbors and were friends in their youth. They now feel mainly resentment, disrespect, and envy. Obviously, something has occurred in the past for which each harbors a certain antipathy for the other.