Once an event occurs in history, most often it occurs again. This vicious cycle is frequently inevitable and it may apply to both the history of countries as well as to the history of family occurrences. In the short story “Roman Fever” by Edith Wharton, the history of past family members are reflected in the lives of the newer generations. Through analyzing this, the reader is able to discover the true symbolism behind the title “Roman Fever”, which affects all generations equally. In the story, the character, Mrs.
Slade says Rome stand for different things to each generation of travelers. To [their] grandmothers, Roman fever; to [their] mothers, sentimental dangers- how [she and Ms. Ansely] used to be guarded! – to [their] daughters, no more dangers than the middle of Main Street. They don’t know it- but how much they’re missing (Wharton 29). This idea explains how each generation is similar in which they all suffered from the Roman fever. However, they are different because each generation suffered from it, in a different way.
Like a newly introduced disease with no cure the Roman fever attacked the first generation with full force, therefore, they experienced it harshly. After a generation, the disease was still strong and therefore they “use to be guarded”(29). Though as technology progressed as well as medical knowledge, the Roman fever is not as big of a threat to the current generation anymore. This idea of the Roman fever parallels to the standards of behaviors, which have changed from one generation to the next. In the older generations they took care of their problems in a more wicked way than the earlier generations.
For example, “Great- aunt Harriet… who was supposed to have sent her young sister out to the Forum after sunset to gather… flowers…But she really sent her because they were in love with the same man” (50-55). As a result, Harriet killed her sister. This parallels to the Roman Fever when it was severe. When it comes to Mrs. Slade and Mrs. Ansely’s they differ in how they take action to their jealousy. Unlike, Harriet who killed her enemy, Mrs. Slade just causes Mrs. Ansely to get a less severe sickness.
Nevertheless, this does not exclude the fact that both generations take a similar approach in which they hurt their enemy’s, a clear instance of how history is repeating. Both generations continue to be very similar in a number of ways. First of all, is Grace Ansley’s daughter, Barbara Ansley, who resembles Alida Slande. Mrs. Slade was “more effective- [and] had more edge” (22), just as Barbara does. Jenny Slade on the other had is more like Grace Ansley who “was [an] extremely pretty girl who somehow made youth and prettiness seem as safe as their absence” (22).
Both young women held a similarity to the women of the older generation, in which all women from both generations were “sentimental” (15). Therefore, by making both generations so parallel Wharton is suggesting that the daughter’s life will be a rewrite their mother’s lives. Overall, the idea that history will be repeated in subsequent generations further expands the meaning of the title “Roman Fever”. Through the realization that all generation have something in common, the reader is able to note, the role the Roman fever has throughout the plot.
First, the Roman fever allowed Aunt Harriet to get rid of her sister, who loved the same man as she did. In the next generation, Mrs. Slade took advantage of the Roman fever, in her attempt to get Mrs. Ansley sick so she would not get in the way of her marriage. The fever continues into the next generation with Mrs. Slande’s burning feverous jealousy towards Barbara’s free spirit, which Jenny does not hold. Therefore, the Roman fever will continue to create the story, and follow future generations, as they play back history.