|Questions for “Roman Fever”|
Prompt for writing: Considering the example of “Mrs. Midas” and/or any other dramatic monologue or Shakespearean soliloquy you know, write a monologue, in prose, from the point of view of one of the characters in this story. You can also invent a character not mentioned in the original story, such as the mother of the Italian aviator, Campolieri. Aim for half a page or so, double-spaced (typed if you can).
Ideally, this monologue should reveal something about the character that Edith Wharton hasn’t shown us explicitly in her version of the story. I would particularly encourage you to speak for a character who says little or nothing in the original story, as there’s more room for invention.
You can choose any point in that character’s life, and you can invent incidents that don’t occur in the story itself, as long as you don’t directly contradict anything in Wharton’s version of events. It can be a straight monologue with no clear audience specified, as with “Mrs. Midas,” or it can be a letter to someone.
Barbara, Jenny, Mrs. Ansley’s great-aunt Harriet, her sister, the man they both wanted, Grace’s mother, Delphin Slade, Horace Ansley, Campolieri, the waiter, and, if you think you can add something to our understanding of the two main characters, Grace Ansley or Alida Slade.
^ : You DON’T need to write the answers to these, just consider them as you read, and we’ll discuss them.
Alida Slade reflects ruefully that her daughter, Jenny, operates as a “foil” for Grace Ansley’s daughter, Barbara. What does she mean by that? How does it contribute to our understanding of the social environment of the time, and Mrs. Slade’s way of looking at things?
Consider the pattern of young women who are juxtaposed in the story as friends, “frenemies,” or sisters: great-aunt Harriet and her sister, Grace and Alida, Barbara and Jenny. How do their stories combine to shape our understanding of the main story here: Grace and Alida’s long-standing relationship.
Like Mr. Midas in Carol Ann Duffy’s poem, Delphin and Horace are depicted second-hand, through their wives’ point of view, and from what we learn of their actions. From this ambiguous source, what do we know about them? What are some mysteries (particularly about their motivations)?
The setting in this story is carefully drawn, both by the narrator’s descriptions and the character’s meditations. What does it add to the story? How would the story be different if it were set in some other great city—Paris, London, Jerusalem, Carthage, Cairo, Beijing, Bagdad ? Could it work in an obscure town or a village in the country?
The narrative voice is slippery in this story. Although most of it is told from an omniscient point of view—giving us the characters’ thoughts and histories, as well as their words and actions—occasionally it slips into a sort of ventriloquism, describing a character in the voice of another character. What does this add?
If this story were to be expanded into a full-length novel (or a film), what additional scenes would you want to see? More from the time when Grace and Alida were young, maybe more on the young men’s point of view? More about the previous generation (evil great-aunt Harriet’s), or about what happens to Jenny and Babs?