Roman Fever Questions and Answers
by Edith Wharton

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What is the meaning of the comment about "the wrong end of [the] little telescope" (paragraph 24)? How is that comment a suitable conclusion for the first part of the story?

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D. Reynolds eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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Looking through the wrong end of the telescope reduces, rather than enlarges, an image. This phrase therefore means that each woman, Alida and Grace, is looking at the other in a way that diminishes her. They are regarding each other with pity. Alida has the idea that she has a harder time being a widow than "poor Grace" ever would, because Alida's husband and life had been so much more exciting than Grace's husband or life. Grace meanwhile also looks down on Alida, thinking that Alida is "not as brilliant as thinks." Grace also believes Alida has had a "sad" life, full of mistakes and failures. She feels "rather sorry for" her friend.

Each of these frenemies wants to reduce the other: hence the use of the phrase wrong of the telescope to describe how they are looking at each other.

Neither Alida nor Grace has all the information about the other one's life: Alida does not know, for instance, that Grace slept with her husband once, and the result was her daughter Barbara.

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sagetrieb eNotes educator | Certified Educator

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The first part of the story presents the women in very narrrow ways, usually from the point of view of each other or, alternatively, from the point of view of a narrator who observes a distance herself (always third person). They are referred to as “the dark lady,” “the other lady, “her companion,” and so on, for they do not know each other at all.  The simile of the telescope makes use of the idea that in looking through the wrong end of a telescope the vision becomes reduced, more narrow, rather enlarged. Such is the view each has of the other.  In the two previous paragraphs, Mrs Slade “refects” that “she felt her own unemployment” more than her friend, suggesting she perceives her self as more important and with greater sensibilities, while Mrs. Ansley thinks “Alida Slade's awfully brilliant; but not as brilliant as she thinks," an equally belittling remark.

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