Discussion Topic

The moral implications and lessons in "Roman Fever."


The moral implications and lessons in "Roman Fever" revolve around the consequences of jealousy, deception, and the complexity of female friendships. The story highlights how past actions and hidden rivalries can shape relationships and lead to unforeseen outcomes. Additionally, it underscores the importance of honesty and the potential destructiveness of harboring secrets and grudges.

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What is the moral lesson of "Roman Fever"?

The moral lesson of "Roman Fever" is that often one misjudges a person who is close.  In the exposition of Wharton's story, Mrs. Slade, with dramatic irony, remarks, "Grace Ansley was always old-fashioned."  And, while Mrs. slade notices that Mrs. Ansley says, "[Rome] it's still the most beautiful view in the world" with an emphasis on me, she does not understand why.

As the two friends talk, they wonder about their girls.This time with knowing iirony, Mrs. Ansley remarks to her companion,

...I don't in the least know what they are...And perhaps we didn't know much more about each other.

Mrs. Ansley does not know as Mrs. Slade thinks, "Would she never cure herself of envying her?"  Mrs. Slade has always been jealous that her husband was once in love with Mrs. Ansley.  In a vengeful moment when Mrs. Slade reveals that it was she who wrote the letter inviting Mrs. Ansley to the Coliseum, Mrs. Slade believes there is a "slow struggle  behind the voluntarily controlled mask of her small quiet face."  With dramatic irony, she calls Mrs. Ansley "prudent."

Of course, Mrs. Ansley was anything but prudent as she met Delphin Slade and became pregnant from their personal Roman fever.  But, having been told that Mrs. Slade had written the letter that she has so long cherished, Mrs. Ansley realizes that Mrs. Slade has told her about the letter because she has continued to hate her.  But, it is the final truth that sets Mrs. Slade back to her bitter envy:  Barbara, whom she has always wished were her daughter, is actually the daughter of her husband and her old friend.  Mrs. Slade has known so little of her "intimate friend" because she has always remained her rival.

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What type of morality is presented in "Roman Fever"?

A Victorian morality exists in the older women who vacation in Rome.  Both have their "little secrets" that they have kept all these years of their "intimate" friendship in which they have "visualized each other, each through the wrong end of her little telescope.

Ironically, in Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever," Mrs. Spade finds Mrs. Ansley "old-fashioned" as she knits calmly during the Roman sunset.  Yet, it is Mrs. Ansley who commits the sin of adultery with the fiance of Mrs. Spade, but, with Victorian morality, Mrs. Ansley has covered her shame by having married the man who is now her husband, she has hidden her shame from her daughter Barbara who has the last name of Ansley, and she has kept her indiscretion in Rome to herself.

Nonetheless, even Mrs. Ansley is not cleansed of her iniquities.  For, although she has atoned for her indiscretions, she harbors resentment for her old rival who caused her to contract the Roman fever by forging the letter inviting her to the Forum at night, the night that Barbara was conceived.  This rival, in turn, is envious of Mrs. Ansley's for having more vivacious children than she and is still jealous of her for spending that one night with her husband. In the old location of their sins, the two women finally reveal themselves to each other. Mrs. Spade admits,

I found out--and I hated you, hated you.  So in a blind fury I wrote that letter....I don't know why I'm telling you now.

Mrs. Ansley knows.  She responds, "I suppose...it's because you've gone on hating me."  She, then, admits to the importance that the letter has held for her throughout her life.  But, she tells Mrs. Spade, "I'm sorry for you" and she delivers the coup de grace to the wrath of Mrs. Spade:  "I had Barbara."

In the setting of Rome away from Victorian England, the two women recall the passions of their first Roman holiday, and in the warmth of a foreign land, they drop the veneer of their English primness and speak truths to each other.

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