Roman Fever Summary

Roman Fever by Edith Wharton

The short story "Roman Fever" by Edith Wharton takes place in Italy. Two older American ladies decide to sit and chat because their grown-up daughters with whom they were traveling left together with some young Italian men. These two women used to be good friends in their youth, but they have not seen each other in many years. They begin by reminiscing about their time in Italy when they were young. After living in Italy, they had coincidentally moved in across the street from one another in New York after they were married. They didn't talk much then, but they were able to keep an eye on one another and their children. Recently, both of their husbands had passed away.

Alida Slade had given birth to two children, her daughter Jenny and a son who had died when he was young. Grace Ansley had one daughter, Barbara. When the girls were young, their mothers had warned them about going out after dark and catching a cold. Their grandmothers had worried that their children would catch Roman fever. From where they sat, they could see the Colosseum. Mrs. Slade remembered that the gates to the Colosseum were locked at night, but sometimes lovers would secretly meet there even though it was so cold and damp.

Suddenly, Mrs. Slade decides she needs to confess something. She tells Mrs. Ansley that she knows she went to the Colosseum one night to meet up with the man that Mrs. Slade was engaged to. She recites the letter that Mrs. Ansley received that led her there. Mrs. Ansley, although shocked that Mrs. Slade would somehow know about this very private letter, remains calm. She wonders how Mrs. Slade would know what it said since she burned it after reading it. Mrs. Slade confesses that she wrote the letter to lure Mrs. Ansley into the horrible conditions hoping she would become ill as punishment for lusting after her fiance Delphin. Mrs. Ansley did, in fact, go to the Colosseum that night, and she is hurt to know that Delphin didn't write the letter to her.

Soon after that night, Mrs. Ansley had run off and married her husband Horace within a few months. Mrs. Slade says she thought of it as a joke, picturing Mrs. Ansley alone trying to get into the Colosseum in the middle of the night. Mrs. Ansley replies that she wasn't alone. Delphin was there waiting for her. Mrs. Slade is confused as to why Delphin would be there when he didn't write the letter, but Mrs. Ansley tells her that she had responded to the fake note and told Delphin she would meet with him, so he showed up. Mrs. Slade is upset that she never knew her husband had met up with Mrs. Ansley; however, she still feels like she got the better deal. After all, Delphin married her while Mrs. Ansley just had that one night with him. Mrs. Ansley replies that she also had Barbara, her daughter, because of that night. This surprise revelation concludes the story.

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