Friendships are not often without imperfection, and intentionally or unintentionally, they can often be tainted with dark secrecy. This holds especially true between two lifelong “friends” after they discover each other’s actual feelings in an unfortunate evening on a balcony in Rome in Edith Wharton’s short story, “Roman Fever.” Grace Ansley and Alida Slade are two upper-class women that consistently lather up their comments with social niceties, so as to mask their true feelings towards each other. Once these niceties are stripped away, it is clear to them that their views of each other are distant and ideological. Wharton emphasizes the importance of “social” with respect to “self” in this story by showing the assumptions that these two women make about each other in order to help their own self images. Through their skewed opinions of each other, their present unhappiness as widows, and the truth behind an old love letter, the women realize that they were not the dearest of friends that they initially thought, rather competitors in love, class, and parenthood.
The women’s lack of intimacy that should be present as “lifelong friends” is noted by the speaker early on: “For a few moments the two ladies, who had been intimate since childhood, reflected how little they knew each other” (514). While they had known each other since adolescence, they did not interact or cross paths often. The speaker clearly portrays Alida’s life as the sadder of the two, because her self-worth was solely based off of her husband Delphin’s successes. Without her husband she lost much of her purpose; thus, she grieved being a widow much more than Grace. Grace concurs with the narrator that Alida "on the whole she had had a sad life. Full of failure...
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...title itself is not just an explicit allusion to the rampant illness a generation prior, it is also symbolic of the feverishness and extremity of the interactions between the two as sophisticated women. By showing that the superficiality in Alida and Grace’s friendship was rooted in their commitment to aristocratic etiquette that forced them to sugar coat their feelings towards each other, the audience can easily draw the conclusion that façade friendships are more present in the upper social class. Social norms and the unspoken rules imposed on Alida and Grace by their peers, the social elite, certainly influenced their treatment of each other and how they developed their relationship. “Roman Fever” gestures towards a grander claim that there is a correlation between social class and the respective expectation of how to interact with others within your social class.
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