In the short story, “Roman Fever,” Edith Wharton portrays a daily life situation between two wealthy middle-aged women talking in Rome. The morals and struggle of upper-class women to succeed and stand out at that time period are revealed in the story. This story fits with the literary movement of Realism due to the realistic portrayal of common everyday life for women in society. It demonstrates hypocritical friendship, the rivalry between high-class women, betrayal among “friends”, and the superficial ideas of middle-aged women.
Realism’s primary concern is championing the “small” lives of unexceptional human beings and representing the necessity for socioeconomic reforms outside the text in the “real” world (Hirsch 676). “Roman Fever,” an example of realism, reflects the real lives of high-class women in the eighteen hundreds. It starts with two American ladies who had known each other for a very long time, sitting at a restaurant table. Grace Ansley and Alida Slade were both widows. They had married Horace Ansley and Delphin Slade respectively. From the beginning of the story, it is shown that their friendship is not very sincere. Mrs. Slade thought Mrs. Ansley was old-fashioned (Wharton 874). Mrs. Ansley, on the other hand, thought that Mrs. Slade had an overall sad life. She considered it to be filled with failures and many mistakes to the point that she pitied her (Wharton 875). Most of her life, Mrs. Slade had envied Mrs. Ansley for her sweetness. She truly hated her, and their friendship was nothing more than a mask. They had both fallen in love with the same man. Delphin Slade was an example of a successful man in society. He was a famous cooperate lawyer and probably desired by many women at the time so it is very probable that these two friends would fall in love with him. It was not morally correct but can happen in a real-life situation. People can pretend to be friends with one another and be the complete opposite as much as they could love the same person. Human error is natural.
Another thing that is noticeable in “Roman Fever” is how these two women competed against each other like most humans do. They each wanted the perfect man, the perfect children, and the perfect life. They judged their success based on the person they married and the children they had. Since Mrs. Slade had married Delphin, she considered herself to be the winner of the competition. She was proud of the false letter she sent to Mrs. Ansley in order to get her out of the way. However, she was disappointed at the fact that her daughter was not brilliant like Barbara. She described her daughter as an angel, but Barbara was an angel with rainbow wings (Wharton 877). Mrs. Slade’s feeling of triumph had finally collapsed when she found out that her groom to be had not only met with Ms. Ansley that night but that he had also given Ms. Ansley a child (Wharton 881). Even with these terrible revelations, none of them really won. It does not have a happy ending, which is a more realistic point of view. Life is full of surprises, and not all of them are good.
Betrayal, for example, is a terrible thing to find out yet can happen to any individual anytime if they are not careful with whom they trust. Mrs. Slade was betrayed by two people in the story. She was betrayed by Delphin and Grace. Ideally, it would have been better for Mrs. Slade to leave Delphin and find a man who truly loves her and respects her. Realistically though, divorce was not well looked at and she had more than one motive to stay with him besides love. It was greed and envy that led her to marry him. She wanted to keep Delphin and defeat Grace no matter what happened. Even though it may be sad, people do marry others because of economic interests and social status. Mrs. Ansley was not innocent either. She had betrayed Mrs. Slade regardless of the connection they had. She had fallen in love with him passionately enough that she did not care to lose a friend in order to have a night with him. People usually think about their own benefits before thinking of others.
One last detail reflected in the story is the idea that women did not serve for much more than “knitting” at an older age. Women were suppressed to marry young and have children. They were not encouraged to follow a profession such as writing. They were supposed to stay home and dedicate themselves to their children or keep themselves occupied by cooking, laundry, cleaning, knitting, and any other house activity. In other words, “Of all the crossroads in the life of a woman, becoming a mother is one of the most powerful and most political. Raising a daughter in a society that has been largely constructed by white men and is still, for the most part, run by them and their desires is a political act” (Jones 218). Men had a lot of control over their wives, and Edith Wharton also portrayed this in some of her writing.
Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” described many aspects of day-to-day life not limited to wealthy women, but can also be found in every human being. Realism tries to show the most truthful representation of the world and “Roman Fever,” does this very well. It demonstrates how humans are not morally perfect and how we can make mistakes that harm ourselves and other people as well.