Roman Fever Summary
by Edith Wharton

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Roman Fever Summary

"Roman Fever" is a short story by Edith Warton in which Grace and Alida ruminate on their shared history and a secret is revealed: Grace's daughter, Barbara, was fathered by Alida's husband Delphin.

  • Grace and Alida discuss their lives and their daughters, Barbara and Jenny.

  • Alida reveals that in order to humiliate Grace during their youth, she wrote a letter inviting Grace to a romantic rendezvous with Alida's future-husband, Delphin. Alida expected Grace to be left alone and humiliated.

  • Grace reveals that she responded to the letter and that she and Delphin did meet. Alida scoffs, but Grace has proof: her daughter, Barbara.

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Summary

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Two old friends, Alida Slade and Grace Ansley, are finishing lunch on the terrace of a Roman restaurant and move to the parapet, where they benignly contemplate the magnificent ruins of the Palatine and the Forum. Remarking that the scene below is the most beautiful view in the world, the two ladies agree to spend the afternoon on the terrace. Alida arranges with the waiter to permit them to stay until evening. They hear their daughters, Barbara Ansley and Jenny Slade, departing to spend the afternoon with two eligible young Italian men, and Grace remarks that the young women will probably return late, flying back by moonlight from Tarquinia. It becomes evident at this point that Grace has a closer relationship with her daughter than Alida has with Jenny because Alida did not know where the girls were going. Also, Barbara remarks a bit ruefully to Jenny as the two of them depart that they are leaving their mothers with nothing much to do.

At that point, Alida broaches the subject of emotions by asking Grace if she thinks that their daughters are as sentimental, especially about moonlight, as they once were. Grace responds that she does not know at all about the girls’ sentiments and adds that she doubts that the two mothers know much about each other either. The two women sit silently for a while, thinking about their perceptions of each other.

Alida’s perceptions of Grace are recounted as an interior monologue, which continues throughout the story, interspersed with passages of dialogue. As she reflects, she also reveals the circumstances of the years since she first met Grace. Grace had been married to Horace Ansley shortly before Alida had married Delphin Slade. Alida considered the Ansleys nullities, living exemplary but insufferably dull lives in an apartment directly across the street from the Slades in New York City. They had been superficial friends, and Alida had rather closely observed the irreproachable events of the Ansleys’ lives for a number of years before her very successful lawyer husband made a big coup in Wall Street and the Slades moved to a more fashionable Park Avenue address. She prided herself on the lively social life that she and Delphin enjoyed, and especially on her own skills as a hostess and a brilliant personality. Both women were widowed only a few months before the time of the story and have renewed their friendship in the common bond of bereavement.

Alida’s envy of Grace, despite her disparaging assessment of her, emerges in her thoughts at this time. She wonders how the Ansleys could have produced such a vivid and charming daughter, when her own Jenny seems by comparison so dull. She recalls that Grace was exquisitely lovely in her youth as well as charming in a fragile, quiet way. She reflects that she herself would probably be much more active and concerned if she had Barbara for a daughter.

Grace, for her part, has a mental image of Alida as a brilliant woman, but one who is overimpressed by her own qualities. She remembers Alida as a vivid, dashing girl, much different from her pretty but somewhat mousy daughter. She views Alida’s life as sad, full of failures and mistakes, and feels rather sorry for her. Thus, in part 1 of the story, the setting, the situation, and the attitudes of the two women are presented in a manner that suggests a placid, if...

(The entire section is 1,924 words.)