A most significant setting to Wharton's story, Rome is a city of passions much different from upper society's Victorian New York. Far removed from their own society, in Rome the Ansley and Spade women drop the veneer of primness that surrounds them at home.
With the "spring effulgence of the Roman skies," the young daughters of Grace Ansley and Alida Slade boldly call to young men as they prepare to go out for the evening unchaperoned--a "new system" of freedom for women in the 1920s that has given the two mothers "a good deal of time to kill." In Rome, too, the young ladies are have the freedom in which to indulge their passions without censure from their New York society.
As the older women sit on the "lofty terrace" which looks down upon the "spread glories of the Palatine and the Forum," they are both literally and figuratively far from the confining environment of Manhattan's East Side. So, although they know all the banal details of each other's lives, having lived across the street from each other for years, it is only in the warmth and artistic expanse of the terrace in Rome that they divulge their own passionate feelings. Seeing Barbara Ansley again, so vibrant and vivacious, has awakened in Mrs. Slade her old jealousies that have warred in her so many years ago in Rome. And, along with the ambiance of a night so long ago as she and her old friend share the "most beautiful view in the world," Mrs. Slade recalls the past in which she was "blind with rage."