Roman Fever


Edith Wharton

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Themes and Colors
Competition in Female Relationships Theme Icon
Knowledge and Denial Theme Icon
Nostalgia Theme Icon
The Artifice of High Society Life Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Roman Fever, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.

Competition in Female Relationships

Though Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley are lifelong friends, their relationship is constrained by mutual feelings of intense jealousy. They see one another as opponents, competing for power and stature—both within their friendship and in society more broadly. Mrs. Slade wishes her daughter, Jenny, were as vivacious as Mrs. Ansley’s daughter, Barbara, and she reveals her insecurity through snide comments that disparage both Barbara and her parents. Reflecting on her past, she remembers…

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Knowledge and Denial

On the surface, it seems as though Mrs. Ansley’s revelation at the end of the afternoon—that she had an affair with Delphin and became pregnant with Barbara as a result—upends everything Mrs. Slade believes about her marriage, her friendship with Mrs. Ansley, and herself. However, closer investigation suggests that hearing Mrs. Ansley’s version of events does not change Mrs. Slade’s fundamental understanding of her friend as a threat; rather, it strips away a fiction…

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Even before their conversation turns to the romantic dramas of their youth, Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade are each concerned with the past. The symbols of ancient Rome that provide the backdrop for their afternoon—the Forum, the Colosseum, and the Palatine Hill—evoke an atmosphere of faded splendor, and Mrs. Slade’s rapturous comments about the view reveal her longing to exchange her difficult present for a simpler and more satisfying past.

Mrs. Slade’s longing for the…

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The Artifice of High Society Life

Mrs. Ansley and Mrs. Slade belong to the upper echelons of society. Both women are beneficiaries of exceptional wealth and privilege, with Mrs. Slade even describing her husband as a “celebrity.” Although jealousy and betrayal are hardly exclusive to the upper class, the petty and indirect ways in which the two women manifest their barely-repressed resentment of one another reveal a culture that not only permits but encourages artificiality and duplicity. Mrs. Slade, for instance…

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