Interpreting Edith Whartons roman Fever Essay

This essay has a total of 1181 words and 5 pages.

Interpreting Edith Whartons "roman Fever"

Interpreting Edith Wharton's "Roman Fever"


Definitive criteria for judging the success or failure of a work of
fiction are not easily agreed upon; individuals almost necessarily introduce
bias into any such attempt. Only those who affect an exorbitantly refined
artistic taste, however, would deny the importance of poignancy in literary
pieces. To be sure, writings of dubious and fleeting merit frequently enchant
the public, but there is too the occasional author who garners widespread
acclaim and whose works remain deeply affecting despite the passage of time.
The continued eminence of the fiction of Edith Wharton attests to her placement
into such a category of authors: it is a recognition of her propensity to create
poignant and, indeed, successful literature. The brevity of her "Roman Fever"
allows for a brilliant display of this talent¾in it we find many of her highly
celebrated qualities in the space of just a few pages. "Roman Fever" is truly
outstanding: a work that exposes the gender stereotypes of its day (1936) but
that moves beyond documentary to reveal something of the perennial antagonisms
of human nature.
From the story's first sentence, upon the introduction of two women of
"ripe but well-cared-for middle age," it becomes clear that stereotypes are at
issue (Wharton 1116). This mild description evokes immediate images of demure
and supportive wives, their husbands' wards. Neither woman is without her
"handsomely mounted black handbag," and it is not until several paragraphs into
the piece that Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansley even acquire first names (1117). Thus,
without even disclosing any of the ladies' thoughts to the reader, Wharton has
already revealed a great deal of their personal worlds. They live in a society
which expects women to act largely as background figures, thoroughly engaged
with furthering their husbands' careers and the constant struggle to remain
pretty. Indeed, little else is desired or even tolerated¾and Grace Ansley and
Alida Slade appear, at first glance, to conform to this image perfectly.
As the workings of the characters' minds are revealed, the extent to
which they have internalized these values becomes apparent. Each, in their
brief description of the other, mentions that her acquaintance was quite
beautiful in her youth. Alida recalls how much she enjoyed having been married
to a famous lawyer; she misses being "the Slade's wife" (1119). Startlingly,
now that their husbands are dead, we find that the women consider themselves to
be in a state of "unemployment" (1118)!
But just as it begins to seem as if these women have wholly adopted
their societally prescribed personas, one begins to see deviations from the
stereotype. "Alida Slade's awfully brilliant; but not as brilliant as she
thinks," decides Mrs. Ansley (1119). One had begun to expect these "ripe but
well-cared-for" women capable only of suitably "feminine" mediocrities, but this
comment reveals an insightful intellect hidden beneath the personality's surface.
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