Roman Fever

Knitting Symbol Analysis

Knitting Symbol Icon

One of Mrs. Ansley’s first actions in “Roman Fever” is to withdraw from her bag “a twist of crimson silk run through by two fine knitting needles.” She takes out the knitting in response to an overheard comment from her daughter, Barbara, which suggests that she and Mrs. Slade—both middle-aged, and no longer available for the romantic adventures that Rome offers foreign tourists—have little to do with themselves except knit. Mrs. Ansley seems content to confirm this stereotype of middle-aged women, and even seems to embrace it, telling Mrs. Slade, in reference to the splendors of Rome, “sometimes I get tired just looking—even at this.” Throughout much of the rest of the conversation, Mrs. Ansley holds her knitting on her lap. At certain uncomfortable points in the conversation—when Mrs. Slade begins to reminisce about their visit to Rome as young women, for example—the knitting gives Mrs. Ansley a preoccupation to hide behind, allowing her to avoid the kind of direct engagement that might give away her long-held secrets. Mrs. Ansley’s knitting frustrates Mrs. Slade, particularly as she attempts to draw Mrs. Ansley into more intimate conversation. She even sees it as a sign of emotional and intellectual shallowness, marveling as she admires the splendid view from that terrace at the fact that Mrs. Ansley “can knit—in the face of this!”

Mrs. Ansley’s knitting represents the repression, indirectness, and deceit that are the heart of Wharton’s portrayal of high society life. Knitting gives her a veneer of civility and respectability, thereby preventing Mrs. Slade from recognizing that Mrs. Ansley is immersed in deep memories of her own, including memories of romantic and sexual betrayals that have shaped the lives of both women. The appearance of dull conventionality protects Mrs. Ansley from suspicion. When Mrs. Slade finally raises the subject of the love letter Mrs. Ansley received from Delphin—and of her subsequent late-night visit to the Colosseum to meet him—Mrs. Ansley allows her knitting to fall to the ground. Its displacement from her lap marks a dramatic shift in the characters’ dynamic: in this moment, Mrs. Ansley’s polite mask slips, and she reveals her true self—filled with passion, pity, and fear.

Knitting Quotes in Roman Fever

The Roman Fever quotes below all refer to the symbol of Knitting. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Competition in Female Relationships Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Scribner edition of Roman Fever published in 1997.
Section 1 Quotes

As they leaned there a girlish voice echoed up gaily from the stairs leading to the court below. “Well, come along, then,” it cried, not to them but to an invisible companion, “and let’s leave the young things to their knitting … After all, we haven’t left our poor parents much else to do.”

Related Characters: Barbara Ansley (speaker), Alida Slade, Grace Ansley, Jenny Slade
Related Symbols: Knitting
Page Number: 3
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Unlock explanations and citation info for this and every other Roman Fever quote.

Plus so much more...

Get LitCharts A+
Already a LitCharts A+ member? Sign in!
Section 2 Quotes

Mrs. Ansley had resumed her knitting. One might almost have imagined (if one had known her less well, Mrs. Slade reflected) that, for her also, too many memories rose from the lengthening shadows of those august ruins. But no; she was simply absorbed in her work.

Related Characters: Alida Slade (speaker), Grace Ansley
Related Symbols: Knitting
Page Number: 12
Explanation and Analysis:

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua. Ut enim ad minim veniam, quis nostrud exercitation ullamco laboris nisi ut aliquip ex ea commodo consequat. Duis aute irure dolor in reprehenderit in voluptate velit esse cillum dolore eu fugiat nulla pariatur. Excepteur sint occaecat cupidatat non proident, sunt in culpa qui officia deserunt mollit anim id est laborum.

Get the entire Roman Fever LitChart as a printable PDF.
Roman fever.pdf.medium

Knitting Symbol Timeline in Roman Fever

The timeline below shows where the symbol Knitting appears in Roman Fever. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Section 1
Nostalgia Theme Icon
The Artifice of High Society Life Theme Icon
...to their mothers, saying to Jenny that they should “leave the young things to their knitting.” Jenny gently reprimands her, insisting that the two older women are not literally knitting. Barbara... (full context)
Section 2
Knowledge and Denial Theme Icon
The Artifice of High Society Life Theme Icon
...insists that she does not want to leave the terrace either, and takes out her knitting. As her friend becomes engaged in activity, Mrs. Slade remains sitting motionless in her chair. (full context)
Knowledge and Denial Theme Icon
Nostalgia Theme Icon
The Artifice of High Society Life Theme Icon
...relished the danger inherent in doing so, and readily disobeyed their parents. Mrs. Ansley continues knitting as her friend speaks, barely acknowledging Mrs. Slade’s comments. Mrs. Slade notes silently that it... (full context)
Competition in Female Relationships Theme Icon
Knowledge and Denial Theme Icon
...a child as “dynamic” as Barbara. This comment causes Mrs. Ansley to set down her knitting and remark, without looking at her friend, that Mrs. Slade seems to “overrate” Barbara. Mrs.... (full context)
Competition in Female Relationships Theme Icon
Knowledge and Denial Theme Icon
The Artifice of High Society Life Theme Icon
...to meet him there in secret. Mrs. Ansley stands up from her chair, and her knitting falls to the ground as Mrs. Slade begins to recite from the letter. (full context)