"It was almost -wondrously enough! -as if Leila's folly had been the mean of vindicating hers."
In this quote, Mrs. Lidcote is ruminating on how her daughter's divorce and remarriage may make it possible for her to salvage her own reputation. Prior to this line of thinking, she had been pragmatic and resigned to her fate as a victim of scandal. Unfortunately, even though times have changed, Mrs. Lidcote's wishes are not going to come to fruition. As soon as she arrives at Leila's country home, everyone (including her own family) ostracizes her, reminding her that her position in society will never change. This passage feels cruel in retrospect because Wharton gives Mrs. Lidcote hope and then forces her to face the vicissitudes of social standing and the lasting impact of a social scandal.
"Then he took a step forward, to where a moment before the pavement had been -and where now there was nothing."
There are many disconcerting lines in this short story, especially surrounding Mrs. Jaspar's delusions of ghostly dinner parties and her conversations with the deceased, but this final line is eerie in its ambiguity. Anson Warley's dementia seems relatively minor until the end of the story, when he becomes a full participant in Evelina Jaspar's delusion of a dinner party. This last line cements his descent into dementia (also known as "the softening of the brain"). He may be experiencing a potent bout of the disease, but Wharton is also alluding to his eventual death. The blackness that Warley experiences here is an allusion to the finality of death - especially because it serves as an abrupt ending to the story.
"...and her husband, finally, as the last stake in her game, the last asset on which she could draw to rebuild her fallen fortunes."
In this story, the manipulative Mrs. Newell always gets what she wants; she devours friends, credit, and even her own family. Her husband has escaped her conniving grasp but is inextricably linked to her because of their daughter, Hermione. The central plot of the story (Hermione's marriage to a French count) is entirely Mrs. Newell's brainchild. She cares less about her daughter's connubial bliss thank she does about her own social rehabilitation. Mr. Newell is is the titular last asset. He is like a piece of property that Mrs. Newell keeps hidden away until she needs him. Mr. Newell, like many others, is aware that Mrs. Newell is using him, but there is nothing he can do about it.
"There was a dreary parallel between her grandfather's fruitless toil and her own unprofitable sacrifice. Each in turn had kept vigil by a corpse."
At the beginning of this story, Paulina seems content with her choice to dedicate her life to maintaining her grandfather's reputation. However, she makes a lot of sacrifices in order to stay focused on her pursuit. She rejects a marriage proposal and pours her life into writing Dr. Anson's biography, only to have a publisher tell her that her grandfather's work has gone out of vogue. Paulina is one of many lonely and sympathetic characters in Wharton's oeuvre. In this moment of reflection, Paulina ponders whether or not her life's efforts have been for naught. Paulina's vitality and youth has faded, making her feel like a simple guard standing by a dead body. After all, without recognition of his work, Dr. Anson is merely a corpse, not a historical figure.
"These people - the very prototypes of of the bores you took me away from, with the same fenced-in view of life, the same keep-off-the-grass morality, the same little cautious virtues and the same little frightened vices - well, I've clung to them, I've delighted in them, I've done my best to please them."
This quote represents the major conflict that Lydia and Gannett face (more so Lydia). She does not want to conform to society's norms and marry Gannett right away, but she is simultaneously unwilling to remove herself from society and live a completely isolated life. In many of Wharton's short stories, she indicates that society's norms have not quite altered enough to embrace those who choose a divergent path. Therefore, independent-minded characters like Lydia and Gannett face a vital choice between conformity and its concomitant falseness or defiance and the accompanying ostracism.
"Her elasticity was the result of tension in too many different directions. Alice Haskett - Alice Varick - Alice Waythorn - she had been each in turn, and had left hanging to each name a little of her privacy, a little of her personality, a little of the inmost self where the unknown god abides."
Wharton wrote "The Other Two" through the perspective of Alice Waythorn's third husband, leaving the new Mrs. Waythorn cloaked in enigma. When the newlyweds first come into contact with Alice's ex-husbands, Waythorn feels uncomfortable with his new wife's past fungibility, and it takes him some time to come to terms the ever-present symbols of her past. Alice, meanwhile, remains utterly proper and somewhat detached from her husbands, embarrassed and flustered when she must face her past relationships. It is possible to see Alice as a survivalist. As a woman in society, there are many boundaries around her. Therefore, her adaptability to new husbands is what has allowed her to live a secure, comfortable life. This passage, however, bemoans the fact that even though Alice Waythorn has achieved this level of comfort and acceptance in society, she has also sacrificed her individuality.
"Mrs. Ballinger is one of the ladies who pursues culture in a group, as though it were dangerous to discuss these subjects alone. To this end she as founded the Lunch Club and invited some of her society friends to join."
In this particularly satirical line, Wharton mocks these women for thinking too highly of themselves and believing that their provincial literary club represents the height of culture. However, as some critics have noted, Wharton's criticism is layered. The author understood that these women did not have many choices because men structured and controlled their society. To the contemporary reader, their club might seem silly and the women's pretensions obnoxious, but it is important to remember that they cannot have careers or serve any other public role. Their cattiness and jealousy are only products of their circumstances. Mrs. Roby, then, is a positive example of a woman who has a place in society but does not take any of it too seriously. She is a symbol of encouragement for these women to break through social barriers.
"I had Barbara," she said, and began to move ahead of Mrs. Slade toward the stairway.
This simple line contains stunning twist that occurs at the end of "Roman Fever," allowing Wharton to link the past to the present. She unearths the truth that lurks below the surface of Mrs. Slade's and Mrs. Ansley's politeness, nostalgia, and pleasantries. It is there in the half-formed, halting sentences; the quick looks and meaningful gestures and expressions, and the women's scattered thoughts. It is the result of a sensual, vengeful, and callous tale that simmers below the the surface of the seemingly civil conversation between two staid, middle-aged society women. "Roman Fever" is a delicate dance between revelation and obfuscation, and this explosive final line brings the main characters' haunted history to the forefront of their present-day narrative.
"Through the glow of lights and the perfumed haze about the alter, Garnett's eyes rested on the central figures of the group, and gradually the others disappeared from his view and his mind. After all, neither Mrs. Newell's schemes nor his own share in them could unsanctify Hermione's marriage..."
Garnett is conflicted about whether or not to allow Mrs. Newell treat him like a pawn or to stick to his principles and extricate himself from her grasp. At the end of the story, Garnett grudgingly comes to terms with the fact that he has allowed Mrs. Newell to manipulate him but he also realizes that his actions have allowed Hermione to have a happy wedding day. He concludes that sometimes the ends justify the means, and therefore is able to reconcile his actions with his conscience.
"All their friends seem to be divorced; some of them seem to announce their engagement before they get their decree."
In this passage, Mrs. Lidcote marvels at her daughter's situation and her new circle of friends, articulating the social changes that happened rapidly at the turn of the century. Marriage is still the only socially acceptable way a man and a woman to be in a relationship, but the institution is modernizing rapidly. It is easier to get out of a marriage and to get into one, and it is even possible to do both of those things more than once. The younger generation in Wharton's stories navigate a far different world than the older generation, which leads to complications and tensions.
Roman Fever and Other Stories Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Roman Fever and Other Stories is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Marriage is one of the most common themes in Edith Wharton's novels and short stories. The author does not reflect one immutable view on the institution, but rather, she takes care to present marriage in many different permutations with...