Edith Wharton’s story Roman Fever packs a punch, but not until readers are floating quietly in the midst of a character study and the interior dialogue of one individual. The entire short story is woven together in such a way that when the last line arrives it is like suddenly seeing the design after all the rows of dominoes fall down. I love the plot structure, where the climax is at the end and blows the story out the window. It offers shadows of Flannery O’Connor without the in-your-face brutality.
Roman Fever is a tale of ruins and ruination, where two well-preserved women spend an afternoon at a restaurant overlooking the Forum. Our travel group also spent an afternoon at the Forum, roasting in the hot sun as we hiked around acres of remnants of a world power. In ancient times, it was the center of Roman life but now is a well-preserved archaeological site. A shadow of its younger self.
Alida Slade emanates energy and misplaced ambition while Grace Ansley is quieter and more traditional. Or is she? Alida seems to encircle Grace with her interior thoughts and judges her inferior. That’s the trouble with ego-driven thinking – it blinds the egoist to truth. Together yet orbits apart, the two women sit with the shadows of their past and the ruins of their dreams. It is not until the conclusion that I understand who is more at peace with her choices.
It seems no mistake that Wharton chose this particular setting for her story and I love it all the more because I’ve been to the Forum and understand the metaphors experientially.