Discussion Topic

The evolving relationship and underlying tensions between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever."

Summary:

In "Roman Fever," the evolving relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley is marked by underlying tensions stemming from past rivalries and secrets. Their polite exchanges mask deep-seated jealousy and resentment, which culminate in the revelation of Mrs. Ansley's affair with Mrs. Slade's late husband, ultimately transforming their seemingly cordial relationship into one of betrayal and bitterness.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

As "Roman Fever" opens, Mrs. Slade considers herself superior to her old friend—or frenemy—Grace Ansley. She thinks of Mrs. Ansley and her late husband as "two nullities." She condescendingly considers Grace as "old-fashioned." She feels she has "won" in the game of life over this rival.

Mrs. Slade is taller and more commanding than Grace, and her late husband, Delphin, was more successful than Mr. Ansley. Yet, while Mrs. Slade consciously acknowledges only that Grace's vibrant daughter, Barbara, is more vibrant than her own daughter, it is clear that Grace still makes Mrs. Slade feel insecure. This becomes evident when she goes out of her way to tell Grace about the hoax she pulled years ago of writing a letter pretending to be Delphin, asking Grace to meet him at the Coliseum. As Mrs. Slade recalls, she knew Grace was in love with Delphin and hoped she would get Roman fever while waiting in vain for Delphin's arrival. She wants to rub in that she knows all about Grace's humiliation. She is still jealous of Grace's former beauty.

But Grace turns the tables. She says she wrote back to Delphin after getting the note, and he did meet her. They experienced the "Roman fever" of lust and had sex. Mrs. Slade says:

Yes, I was beaten there. But I oughtn't to begrudge it to you, I suppose. At the end of all these years. After all, I had everything; I had him for twenty-five years. And you had nothing but that one letter that he didn't write.

But Mrs. Ansley gets in the final blow. At the end of the story, she is the one who has won, and Mrs. Slade can no longer feel superior:

Mrs. Ansley was again silent. At length she took a step toward the door of the terrace, and turned back, facing her companion.

"I had Barbara," she said, and began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway.

In other words, the affair Grace had with Mr. Slade produced the wonderful daughter Mrs. Slade envies. The story shows a smug, superior woman taken down by the friend she was always sure she had bested.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

During their second trip to Rome, Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley sit on the terrace overlooking "the outspread glories of the Palatine and the Forum" and reveal to each other the treacheries of long ago that belong to their shared past. This revelation exposes the falseness of any friendship they may have had.

In Rome, away from New York City, the two women relax on the parapet after bidding good-bye to their daughters who have dates with two Italian men. There they reflect upon how little they really know of each other. Then, when a reference to the full moon causes Mrs. Slade to react "as though references to the moon were out of place" the tension builds as Mrs. Ansley remarks further that she and Mrs. Slade really did not know each other well when they were young. Still, each woman has "a label ready to attach to each other's name," not to mention unkind thoughts about each other, such as those about the other's beauty and the personalities of their daughters--that is, they "visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope."

As both women sit on the parapet and Grace Ansley knits, they have their private interior monologues. In truth, they only associated while they were young because they were neighbors. As they speak of their daughters, Mrs. Slade reveals her envy of Grace Ansley: "I always wanted a brilliant daughter...and never quite understood why I got an angel instead." Memories arise from the shadows as she leans upon the parapet. As one memory ignites another, Mrs. Slade reveals having tricked Mrs. Ansley into a rendezvous with Delphin Slade so that Grace would contract Roman Fever because she knew Grace was in love with Delphin, who was engaged to the young Mrs. Slade.

   "...I hated you, hated you. I knew you were in love with Delphin--and I was afraid of you...your sweetness....Well, I wanted you out of the way....I don't know why I'm telling you now."
   "I suppose," said Mrs. Ansley slowly, "it's because you've gone on hating me."

Then Mrs. Slade accuses Mrs. Ansley of trying to take Delphin away from her:

"I kept him. That's all."
"Yes. That's all."

Further, as they sit in the dark, Mrs. Slade reveals that she wrote the letter as a "sort of joke." This remark perplexes Mrs. Ansley who tells her old friend that in fact she did not wait because Delphin made all the arrangements, and he came because she answered the letter. At this news, Mrs. Slade is shocked. Mrs. Ansley tells her that she is sorry for her, but Mrs. Slade replies that she does not know why Mrs. Ansley should feel sorry for her when she had Delphin for twenty-five years, and she had nothing.

"I had Barbara," she quietly replies and moves ahead of Mrs. Sloan.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

Mrs. Shade and Mrs. Ansley share a similar social background. They're both part of the gilded upper-class world that Edith Wharton wrote about so often. More importantly, Alida and Grace are linked by Delphin. Alida Slade is Delphin's widow, and Grace Ansley was once his lover.

Of course, Mrs. Slade is blissfully unaware of any of this until right at the end of the story. She'd never have thought in a million years that Delphin, her Delphin, would've been involved in a sexual relationship with Grace, especially after Alida sent her that false letter as a joke. But he most certainly did get involved, and the proof can be seen in the features of Grace's daughter, Barbara, who bears a striking resemblance to her father.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

In Edith Wharton's short story "Roman Fever," Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley have a couple of things in common. It takes a while for the reader to figure out what these things are, though. The story starts out with two women sitting together in Rome having a light conversation. As the story progresses, however, the reader learns that both women have secrets. This is revealed as the narrator shows each woman's inner thoughts, and later when the women tell their secrets.

Eventually, Mrs. Slade tells Mrs. Ansley that she has known all along that Mrs. Ansley had a crush on the man who would be her husband. Her secret is that she, and not Delphin, wrote the letter to Mrs. Ansley all those years ago. Then Mrs. Ansley reveals her own secret. She really did go to meet Delphin at the Colosseum and he, too, went there. Furthermore, she had his child.

Both women had secrets they'd been keeping for years. They also had feelings for the same man, Delphin. Although Mrs. Slade would go on to marry him and have a daughter with him, Mrs. Ansley had a secret tryst with and a child by him.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley have never had a close relationship. They lived across the street from one another, but there has always been animosity between them, although unspoken, so in a way, the tense, unhealthy relationship between the two was only brought to the forefront by the revelations by both women in the last few paragraphs.

The two women are very different from one another, obviously, so although the revelations by both women will, no doubt, change the relationship, it was never a healthy or close one to begin with. The two seemed to be bonded primarily through their daughters, who are close friends. The underlying tension between the two is evident throughout the story, so the friendship, already being on shaky ground and most likely headed to its demise after their daughters move away, will certainly only now implode.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

The relationship appears to be quite stiff and formal at the outset. But at the same time, we can detect that, beneath the conversational niceties, the relationship between the two women is profoundly unequal. Mrs. Slade is by far the more forceful character of the two. She is assertive and dominant as she lets rip with all the resentment that she has kept contained for so long. Mrs. Slade knows full well that Mrs. Ansley is likely to be hurt by what she says, but she really does not care. All that matters is putting Mrs. Ansley in her place.

But by the end of the story, the worm has well and truly turned. However, Mrs. Ansley, unlike Mrs. Slade, does not need to be aggressively unpleasant to gain the upper hand. All she needs to do is calmly inform the astonished Mrs. Slade of what really happened in Rome all those years ago. Mrs. Slade was foolish enough to rake over old coals, and Mrs. Ansley made her pay for it. It is now the timid, mousy Mrs. Ansley who is firmly on top in this relationship.

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How has the relationship between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley evolved in "Roman Fever"?

The relationship of the two women in Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever" changes drastically by the end of the story. While Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade are distant and polite at the start, they both seem to be hiding something. As the story progresses, Mrs. Slade goes on the attack because she can't stand it any longer and must tell Mrs. Ansley that she knows what happened many years ago. Mrs. Slade feels she has the upper hand because she wrote the letter that was supposedly from her then fiancé all the while Mrs. Ansley thought it was from him and treasured that memory.

The last six paragraphs of the story, however, change the power dynamic when Mrs. Ansley reveals that she did in fact meet Mr. Slade in secret at the Colosseum in Rome. More than that, though, she had his daughter. The conversation, which has been like a game of chess, comes to a close with Mrs. Ansley the clear winner because her secrets far exceed the superior Mrs. Slade's.

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When do you first notice the tension between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever"?

In the first part of the story, we learn about the setting, the situation, and the attitudes of the two women. Their superficial friendship seems friendly enough on the surface, but each of them thinks to herself how she pities the other's past life.

In Part Two, Alida tells Grace she's jealous of the latter woman's daughter, Barbara, because Alida's own daughter, Jenny, is so quiet and shy. This comment begins the walk down memory lane that sets off the hateful exchange between the two women, and we learn the whole story behind their relationship, including the surprise admission of Grace. Alida's cruelty to Grace backfires on her, just as it did years before when Alida tried to keep Grace and Alida's husband apart before they were married.

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Analyze the motivation behind Mrs. Slade's and Mrs. Ansley's actions in "Roman Fever."

Mrs. Slade has always been jealous of the beautiful and quietly composed Mrs. Ansley. She knew, when they were both young, that Mrs. Ansley, then single, was in love with her fiancé, Delphin. Now both women are widows. They are traveling in Rome with their young adult daughters, who are off together. Mrs. Slade is envious of Barbara, Mrs. Ansley's spirited daughter, who is much more dashing and beautiful than her own daughter, Jenny.

Envy and hatred of her rival motivate Mrs. Slade to reveal a cruel and long-held secret. As Mrs. Slade says,

I simply can't bear it [keeping the secret] any longer.

Mrs. Slade wants somehow, whatever it takes, to triumph over Mrs. Ansley. Therefore, she reminds her of a letter that Delphin sent to Mrs. Ansley long ago, asking her to meet him in the Colosseum. Mrs. Slade reveals that she, not Delphin, wrote the letter. She wanted to humiliate Mrs. Ansley by having her stood up, waiting hopelessly for Delphin to arrive. She still wants to humiliate Mrs. Ansley any way she can.

As Mrs. Ansley says to Mrs. Slade,

you've always gone on hating me.

However, it is Mrs. Ansley who has the final word and the final triumph. She tells Mrs. Slade that she wrote back to Delphin, saying she would meet him. He showed up, and the end result was Barbara. Mrs. Slade wants to hurt Mrs. Ansley, but she is the one who ends up hurt the most.

Mrs. Ansley's motivations are a bit more hidden. She tries not to speak—we are told she "had not moved for a long time," as if she is struggling over what to do or say when Mrs. Slade reveals her spitefulness. Before Mrs. Ansley responds that she did meet Delphin, she "hesitated, as though reflecting." Finally, before she says that Barbara is Delphin's daughter, she

was again silent. At length she took a step toward the door of the terrace, and turned back, facing her companion.

We can see from all the ways Wharton reveals Mrs. Ansley's inner struggles that her better self wants to keep silent. However, we can surmise that she is hurt and angered by what Mrs. Slade did years ago in writing the false letter. She is finally wearied of her rival's spite and pays her back with painful revelations.

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What are the initial hints of conflict between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever"?

The discrepancy between what is spoken and what is privately thought represents the first hints of submerged conflict between the two women. Mrs. Slade unceremoniously thinks that Mrs. Ansley is "old-fashioned" but never divulges her thoughts to her. 

Later, when the waiter mentions dinner under full moonlight, Mrs. Slade becomes visibly uncomfortable. Her "black brows drew together, as though references to the moon were out of place and even unwelcome." Atypical reactions to the ordinary (such as moonlight) are often significant in fiction. The moon, however, is an important symbol in the story. In Part One, it is mentioned five times. 

Notice that Mrs. Slade smiles away her frown as soon as it appears. In conversation, she makes no mention of her unease but will only address the superficial, mysterious significance of the celestial object: "Moonlight—moonlight! What a part it still plays. Do you suppose they're as sentimental as we were?" Meanwhile, Mrs. Ansley's reaction to Mrs. Slade's comment is telling:

"I've come to the conclusion that I don't in the least know what they are," said Mrs. Ansley. "And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other."

Mrs. Ansley's reply is cryptic, but above all, it is ominous in tone. The revelation that she and Mrs. Slade know little about each other completely destroys the illusion of an easy friendship between the two.

The latent conflict between the two is further exposed when Mrs. Slade questions her friend about their daughters' itinerary. In answer to the question, Mrs. Ansley blushes and then carefully tells Mrs. Slade that their daughters have gone to meet their Italian beaus. The discrepancy between what is said and how the women emote constitute the first hints of submerged conflict between the two. It is apparent that both are hiding great secrets from each other, and this fact is confirmed by the author in Part Two of the story.

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What are the initial hints of conflict between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever"?

In "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton,  two matrons sit on the terrace, much as they did many years ago in their youth when they may have thought themselves friends. When Mrs. Slade comments that she feels it is still "the most beautiful view in the world," Mrs. Ansley replies, "It always will be, to me," with emphasis on me, but Mrs. Slade makes no comment.  

Grace Ansley was always old-fashioned," she thought; and added aloud,..."It's a view we've both been familiar with for a good many years. when we first met here we were younger than our girls are now. You remember?"

Then, when an allusion to the full moon causes Mrs. Slade to frown "as though references to the moon were out of place" the tension builds as Mrs. Ansley remarks further that she and Mrs. Slade did not know much about each other when they were young. Nevertheless, each woman has "a label ready to attach to each other's name," not to mention many uncharitable thoughts about each other such as those about how pretty they were, and the personalities of their daughters. In other words, they "visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope."

In truth, they only socialize with each other because they are neighbors and were friends in their youth. They now feel mainly resentment, disrespect, and envy. Obviously, something has occurred in the past for which each harbors a certain antipathy for the other.

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How does the setting foreshadow the conversation between Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley in "Roman Fever"?

This is an excellent question as it identifies how closely the setting is tied in with the action of this wonderful short story. Repeated references are made to the view in front of these two old ladies, and how stunning this view actually is. But I think it is important to remember that the view that they are focusing on is made up of the ruins of a former dead civilisation:

From the table at which they had beeen lunching two American ladies of ripe but well-cared-for middle age moved across the lofty terrace of the Roman restaurant and, leaning on its parapet, looked first at each other and then down on the outspread glories of the Palatine and the Forum, with the same expression of vague but benevolent approval.

Glorious this view may be, but we cannot escape the fact that they are looking at the wreckage of a dead civilisation. Of course, in a sense, the view is symbolic of what the women do. As they look at the past in front of them they also consider their own past, picking through the wreckage and bring to light verious secrets or relics. Reference to the Colliseum later on in the story likewise seems to add a gladiatorial element to the conversation between these two women. Thus the setting definitely serves to foreshadow what happens in this story.

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