What social pressures have shaped Mrs. Slade's and Mrs. Ansley's lives in "Roman Fever"?

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mwestwood | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

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"Roman Fever" is a short story about two women who have spent most of their lives seeing the other "through the wrong end of her little telescope" in part because of their social positions and the conditions of the Gilded Age in which they live.  For, there is a mystification of the social hierarchy in Mrs. Slade, who considers her marriage to Delphin as an indication of her social superiority over Mrs. Ansley which, of course, has been demystified by the birth of Barabara Ansley.

At the time of their affair, because of social pressures in the upper class of New York, Delphin and Grace cannot be married because he is already engaged to Alida.  And, because it would be a great social scandal and bring much humiliation to her family, Grace must find a husband so that her child will be legitimate and have a proper family. For, appearances are of paramount importance in the Gilded Age. Indicative of this adherence to appearances is this passage:  

When the drawing room curtains in No. 20 East 73rd Street were renewed, No. 23, across the way, was always aware of it.

Clearly, the women of Wharton's story have been enmeshed in the social pressures of their age; accordingly, their lives have been mere pretences, pretences that are only uncovered in the return of the matrons to Rome.

 

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