During the nineteenth century, Rome was considered the crowning destination of the “Grand Tour,” a European voyage undertaken by Britons and Americans. Its many monuments and crumbling ruins made it a quintessential place of Romanticism for these travelers. But Rome was also considered to be dangerous and beset by malaria (which literally means “bad air”), which was thought to travel through the air to infect people, particularly delicate women.
Throughout the novella, Daisy’s actions seem to remain in the relatively benign sphere of social relations. However, the threat of catching the Roman fever, also known as the perniciosa—a disease that is warned of throughout the book, before Daisy finally contracts it herself—raises the stakes of Daisy’s stubborn desire to wander outside alone or late at night. Roman fever thus represents Daisy’s uncouth behavior, suggesting its relation with a kind of ominous female sexuality. Roman fever, especially with respect to the prevalent theory of aerial transmission, also symbolizes the insidious ways that rumors and gossip seep through the air, infecting Daisy and isolating her from the social set of Americans abroad in Rome. Rome is the source of excitement, thrills, and novelty for Daisy, but it also will ultimately contribute to her downfall, as her feverish pursuit of Roman beauty becomes literal and she succumbs to the city’s pernicious effects.