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Wharton, Edith. "Roman Fever".


Two wealthy middle-aged American widows, Mrs Grace Ansley and Mrs Alida Slade, sit on a terrace of a Roman hotel and contemplate the Palatine. They reminisce. For their mothers the dangers of Rome were sentimental, for themselves it was Roman fever, and for their daughters there are no more dangers now. The young girls do not know how much they are missing.

The ladies are in Rome together with their daughters. Barbara Ansley, aka Babs, is energetic and naughty, the very opposite of her old-fashioned and prudent mother. Jenny Slade is calm and kind. In all her perfection, Jenny is a disappointment for her mother who would rather have the wild Babs for her daughter.

Mrs Ansley and Mrs Slade are intimate friends, but at the same time a sort of competitors. Mrs Ansley recalls how she got a terrible cold at the Colosseum when they were visiting Rome many years ago. The Colosseum was deathly cold after dark and hardly any visitor dared to go there in night for fear of catching Roman fever. It was however also a meeting place for lovers who had nowhere else to go.

Mrs Slade shocks Mrs Ansley by revealing that she knows what Mrs Ansley did at the Colosseum at such an hour. Mrs Ansley went there to meet Mrs Slade's husband-to-be. Mrs Slade reveals that it was not her fiancé, but herself who wrote the letter inviting Mrs Ansley to the Colosseum. Mrs Slade had found out that Mrs Ansley was in love with the same man as she herself and wanted to clear Mrs Ansley out of way. That is why she sent Mrs Ansley to the dangerous place.

Mrs Ansley however shocks her friend by revealing that she had answered the letter and Mr Slade was really waiting for her at the place. Mrs Ansley is sorry for Mrs Slade. The latter boasts that she had the man for twenty-five years, while Mrs Ansley had only the fake letter. Mrs Ansley opposes and concludes the story by saying: "I had Barbara."


- a short story based on dialogue

- subject: Americans in Europe

- tension between appearance and reality (the virtuous Mrs Ansley turns out to have an illegitimate daughter)

- corrupted and dangerous Europe (the Colosseum as a site of secret dating; the danger of Roman Fever)


  • Author

    Wharton, Edith. (1862 - 1937).
  • Full Title

    "Roman Fever".
  • First Published

    In: Liberty Magazine. Chicago: 1934.
  • Form

    Short story.

Works Cited

Wharton, Edith. "Roman Fever". (1934). Collected Stories 1911 - 1937. Ed. Maureen Howard. NY: The Library of America, 2001.


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