Course 8—Reading

Roman Fever
by Edith Wharton (1862-1937)


In Brief
course8-book This story is almost diabolically clever! Two women and their daughters meet unexpectedly in Rome on holiday. We learn that the two older women had been childhood friends and spent time together in Rome as young women before their marriages.

The story is told from the point-of-view of Mrs. Slade, the more vivacious of the two, and along with her we feel a little sorry for the colorless Mrs. Ansley. On the surface, nothing much happens in terms of action—the women never move from their chairs on the terrace of the restaurant. But below that calm exterior a Roman fever rages. Read the selection (at About.com).

About the Author
Remarkable by any standards, Wharton is the first woman to receive both the Pulitzer Prize (1921, for The Age of Innocence) and an honorary doctorate from Yale (1923). All told, she wrote 40 volumes — novels, short stories, poems, and non-fiction. After World War I, she was awarded the Legion of Honor in France for her astonishing philanthropic work on behalf of refugees, the unemployed, poor, and sick of French society.

Wharton was born into a wealthy New York family but eventually turned her critical eye and barbed wit on the rigid and exclusive social conventions of her class. She is best known as a writer of realist fiction in the tradition of her good friend Henry James. In addition to The Age of Innocence, her best known works are Ethan Frome, The House of Mirth, and The Custom of the Country. Surprisingly, Wharton was also a well-known interior designer, and her book, The Decoration of Houses was widely read. Today, it's considered the first modern manual of interior design.

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