What kind of morality, if any, do you find in "Roman Fever"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

A Victorian morality exists in the older women who vacation in Rome.  Both have their "little secrets" that they have kept all these years of their "intimate" friendship in which they have "visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope.

Ironically, in Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," Mrs. Spade finds Mrs. Ansley "old-fashioned" as she knits calmly during the Roman sunset.  Yet, it is Mrs. Ansley who commits the sin of adultery with the fiance of Mrs. Spade, but, with Victorian morality, Mrs. Ansley has covered her shame by having married the man who is now her husband, she has hidden her shame from her daughter Barbara who has the last name of Ansley, and she has kept her indiscretion in Rome to herself.

Nonetheless, even Mrs. Ansley is not cleansed of her iniquities.  For, although she has atoned for her indiscretions, she harbors resentment for her old rival who caused her to contract the Roman fever by forging the letter inviting her to the Forum at night, the night that Barbara was conceived.  This rival, in turn, is envious of Mrs. Ansley's for having more vivacious children than she and is still jealous of her for spending that one night with her husband. In the old location of their sins, the two women finally reveal themselves to each other. Mrs. Spade admits,

I found out--and I hated you, hated you.  So in a blind fury I wrote that letter....I don't know why I'm telling you now.

Mrs. Ansley knows.  She responds, "I suppose...it's because you've gone on hating me."  She, then, admits to the importance that the letter has held for her throughout her life.  But, she tells Mrs. Spade, "I'm sorry for you" and she delivers the coup de grace to the wrath of Mrs. Spade:  "I had Barbara."

In the setting of Rome away from Victorian England, the two women recall the passions of their first Roman holiday, and in the warmth of a foreign land, they drop the veneer of their English primness and speak truths to each other.