Discussion Topic

Dramatic irony and the revelations between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever"

Summary:

Dramatic irony in "Roman Fever" is evident as the audience understands more about the true nature of Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley's relationship before they do. Key revelations include Mrs. Slade's admission of writing a fake letter to lure Mrs. Ansley into a nighttime meeting, and Mrs. Ansley's surprising revelation that she had a romantic encounter with Delphin and bore his child.

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How does dramatic irony unfold in "Roman Fever", and what unknown story do Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley reveal?

Dramatic irony occurs when the audience knows what characters in a work of literature do not. "Roman Fever" does not precisely show dramatic irony, as the audience learns surprising pieces of news at the same time as the characters do (although there is foreshadowing), but the story does hinge on each character's missing information.

Grace Ansley and Alida Slade have been superficial friends (or what we might call frenemies) for many years. Grace learns from Alida that Alida long ago penned her a letter, supposedly from Delphin, the man Alida married, to Grace. Alida knew Grace was attracted to her boyfriend Delphin (later her husband) and wanted her to experience a disappointment, so that she would stay away from Delphin. Therefore, Alida, posing as Delphin in the letter, set up a meeting with Grace in the Coliseum. Alida also hoped Grace might get Roman fever while waiting in vain at the Coliseum.

Grace had never known before that Alida was the one who wrote the letter. However, Grace reveals her own secret surprise. She had written back to Delphin about meeting. Therefore, he had arrived and they did meet. Moreover, Barbara, the lovely and dashing daughter Alida envies, is the product of their romantic encounter.

One prompt for the revelations is that both women have recently been widowed. But more to the point, Alida, who has always been jealous of Grace, is now jealous about how much more vibrant Barbara is than her own daughter. Alida seems to act from a desire to even the score, assert her superiority, and bring Grace down. As we see, this plan backfires, just as her plan did years ago. In this story, malice doesn't pay.

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How does dramatic irony unfold in "Roman Fever", and what unknown story do Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley reveal?

Dramatic irony unfolds in Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” as Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade discuss their past. Visiting Rome with their daughters, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade look out on the scenery and begin to reflect individually on their lives. Dramatic irony occurs as the reader becomes aware of their personal thoughts, learning that Mrs. Slade is very jealous of Mrs. Ansley, while Mrs. Ansley does not think highly of Mrs. Slade. The reader also learns that Mrs. Slade wishes that her daughter, Jenny, was more like Mrs. Ansley’s daughter, Babs.

Prompted by the scenery of Rome and thoughts of their daughters, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade begin to reflect on their own experiences in Rome as young women, and it is due to this reflection that the women reveal what they know to each other. Mrs. Slade states that she knew at that time that Mrs. Ansley was in love with her beau, Delphin. She further divulges that she wrote a letter to Mrs. Ansley in Delphin’s name, claiming that Delphin wanted a secret rendezvous at the Colosseum. Shocked by this revelation, Mrs. Ansley in turn tells Mrs. Slade that she was not disappointed, that Delphin did meet her there after all. Mrs. Slade claims victory because she was the one Delphin married, but Mrs. Ansley counters, stating that her daughter, Babs, is Delphin’s child. Ironically, then, both women were keeping a secret from each other, each thinking that she was the only one with a secret and knowledge of the full truth, but both women were deceived.

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How does dramatic irony unfold in "Roman Fever", and what unknown story do Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley reveal?

In Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," the two women have secrets they've kept from each other for years. The dramatic irony is that the reader has access to each woman's inner thoughts, so we know that they are keeping secrets before the characters reveal it to each other. This dramatic irony amplifies the story's tension and makes the ending much more powerful.

The full story the women don't know is that Delphin did not write the letter Mrs. Ansley has held so dear all of those years; also, Mrs. Slade didn't know that her husband (then fiancé) actually met Mrs. Ansley at the Colosseum and she became pregnant with his child.

The women reveal this information to each other because they have kept it secret for so long and can't keep it in anymore. They are dying to say what they know and put the other in her place. So, the urge to tell comes from a place of pettiness and revenge.

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What unknown story do neither Mrs. Slade nor Mrs. Ansley know in "Roman Fever"?

Questions arise in our minds as the last line of this astonishing story sinks into our consciousness. I believe no one would blame us for wondering how much Delphin Slade really hid from his widow and former mistress.

Despite the women's confessions, it can be argued that neither Mrs. Alida Slade or Mrs. Grace Ansley know the full story of their past. In the story, Alida exults over the fact that she was the woman Delphin chose to share his wealth and sexual energy with. Unbeknownst to Mrs. Slade, Grace has cherished her own dark secret for two decades: her daughter, Barbara, is actually Delphin Slade's progeny.

Delphin Slade had an affair with Mrs. Ansley while engaged to Mrs. Slade decades ago. The story does not reveal Delphin's past thoughts or motives at all. In fact, when the story begins, Delphin has been deceased for a time. His ghost, however, hovers menacingly over the plot.

We learn that Mrs. Slade set a trap for Mrs. Ansley decades ago. She wrote a letter inviting Mrs. Ansley to meet at the Coliseum and signed it in Delphin's name. Alida's motive was to be rid of Grace. Knowing that her rival had delicate health, Mrs. Slade arranged for an evening rendezvous in the dank Coliseum. She hoped that Grace would succumb to the Roman fever, an often fatal illness. For her part, Grace answered the letter and met with Delphin. The result of the encounter was Barbara.

Interestingly, Wharton does not tell us whether Delphin knew about the letter writer's identity. It is unclear whether he harbored any suspicions at all, and there is no evidence that he revealed his theories to either woman. It is conceivable that Delphin not only knew the letter writer's identity but that he also chose to hide his suspicions from Alida and Grace. Additionally, although the story does not indicate it, Delphin may have also known that Barbara was his child.

We can reasonably conclude that Delphin never acknowledged Barbara as his own during his lifetime. Why? The last line of the story tells us that Grace kept her secret well. However, the text strongly hints that Delphin took his own secrets to his grave. It is apparent that neither Grace nor Alida know the full story of their past.

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What unknown story do neither Mrs. Slade nor Mrs. Ansley know in "Roman Fever"?

In Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," both Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley have incomplete information of the events that took place years ago in Rome that one moonlit night. Mrs. Slade feels she has the upper hand because she knows that she and not Delphin, her fiancé, wrote the letter to Mrs. Ansley. However, Mrs. Ansley knows the bigger secret--that she did actually go to meet Delphin and had his daughter. The full story is the combination of both women's stories and secrets. Wharton masterfully uses the symbol of knitting to show how the stop threads or details are woven together to make a complete story. The irony is that each woman feels as if she has the upper hand because she knows the story, but they later find out that each only knows part of the story.

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