Envy, Fear, and Destruction in Roman Fever
Sara Levine, Yahoo! Contributor Network
Aug 12, 2009 "Share your voice on Yahoo! websites. Start Here."
FlagPost a comment
Although it lacks the bloodshed and violence of Medea, Hecuba, and Titus Andronicus, Edith Wharton's Roman Fever is an ironic example of a female avenger piece. One needs only to examine one of the main characters, Mrs. Slade, to classify it in the genre. Mrs. Slade suffers from the deadly disease of jealously, a cliché hardly neglected in female avenger literature. She harbors an unending resentment for Mrs. Ansley, her childhood friend, because of a romantic rivalry that occurred years prior. When they by chance meet each other in Rome, she feigns friendship, all the while knowing the terrible (yet ironic) deed that she carried out against Mrs. Ansley years earlier. Yet she feels her revenge-the falsifying of a love letter from her husband to Mrs. Ansley-is incomplete until Mrs. Ansley understands it was she that wrote it. Only then will Mrs. Ansley truly suffer, for, as Mrs. Slade puts it, "all these years the woman had been living on that letter" (89). This work, primarily a satire on the childishness of the upper-class, holds strong associations with darker revenge literature like Titus Andronicus and Medea, because of the unnecessary vendetta Mrs. Ansley peruses.
To classify Roman Fever in the revenge genre, it is necessary to rely heavily on Mrs. Slade's characterization. Her motive for hurting Mrs. Ansley is directly related to revenge. Aside harboring envy in the past because of Mrs. Ansley's love for Delphin and her "quiet ways" and "sweetness" (89), in the present Slade shares equal resentment over Mrs. Ansley's daughter, Barbara. Her daughter Jenny, as Slade describes her, "was that rare accident, an extremely pretty girl who somehow made youth and prettiness seem as safe as their absence" (81). Yet Slade...