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Roman Fever and Other Stories by Edith…
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Roman Fever and Other Stories (original 1964; edition 1997)

by Edith Wharton

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378728,549 (4.07)50
Member:Chatterbox
Title:Roman Fever and Other Stories
Authors:Edith Wharton
Info:Scribner (1997), Edition: Reprint, Paperback
Collections:Your library
Rating:***
Tags:Short Stories

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Roman Fever and Other Stories by Edith Wharton (1964)

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Showing 1-5 of 6 (next | show all)
This book was a wonderful smorgasbord of delicious tidbits. I'm a fan of Edith Wharton, but I loved this collection of her short stories even more than I do the novels of hers I've read. Every story was a gem, and sparkled and shown in its own way.

My favorites were the title story, Roman Fever, Xingu, and Autre Temps. The thread through several of the stories is societal mores - what are the boundaries, and what happens when those boundaries are crossed.

Xingu was a jab at social and intellectual pretentions, and was almost told like a joke with a punchline. I saw the punchline coming a mile off, but I didn't mind, because it was such a great ride to get there.

Anyone looking for an introduction to Edith Wharton could not do better than this. Neither could anyone looking for an outstanding short story collection.

I loved this, and have added it to my always-growing list of favorites. ( )
  bookwoman247 | Nov 19, 2011 |
Everything about Edith Wharton's work is stately, like an antique fainting couch in a museum, its frame hand-carved, its fabric delicately embroidered. But somehow, the stories are not stifling. Some are sly and humorous, like "Roman Fever" and "Xingu," which both make fools of people who think they know more than they do.

What I really love about Wharton, though—and The Age of Innocence, arguably her most famous work, is a great example of this, too—is the way she lays out her characters' conflicts quite transparently, all so readers can admire how inevitably people misunderstand and unwittingly abuse one another. You want to take her characters by the shoulders and translate for them.

I especially love how she dissects marriage, the roles that couples play for each other and how restrictive they can be. "Souls Belated" is an amazing story about how you build a new relationship out of an affair--if you flouted the convention of marriage once, do you just jump back into it? Do you invite the same people to your dinner parties and pretend things haven't changed? "The Other Two" is about a man trying to feel disaffected about doing business with his current wife's last husband. In a way it's all very old-fashioned, but it's also incredibly relatable.

Wharton also never fails to comment on the way people and habits evolve over time. In "Autres Temps..." ("Other Times...") a woman who left her husband twenty years ago, and regretted the social isolation that followed, overhears two young women talking. Through their conversation she discovers that in the ensuing decades, behavior has become so much freer that leaving one's husband for another man has become the thing to do:

"All of their friends seem to be divorced; some of them seem to announce their engagements before they get their decree. One of them—her name was Mabel—as far as I could make out, her husband found out that she meant to divorce him by noticing that she wore a new engagement ring."

The only legitimate criticism I've ever heard of Edith Wharton is that her work is exclusively rich and white. I once read a Marxist critic who complained that "the worker" wasn't present in Wharton's work, that the servants toiled behind the scenes. This is really not to be denied. (Well, I think one of the ladies in The House of Mirth works in a hat shop, but, you know.) Still, I don't find that a valid reason to discount the work she did. She had a narrow lens, sure. But can't we admire the depth of focus? ( )
2 vote ErinWolverton | Feb 22, 2011 |
This made me love Wharton all over again after a couple of disappointing novels. The standout here is "Xingu", which is a scathingly brilliant, utterly wonderful take-down of pretentious society matrons whose literary club is giving a luncheon for a famous author. I also especially liked "After Holbein", a rather creepy tale of two elderly socialites, and "The Angel at the Grave", about a woman who has devoted her whole life to the care of her dead grandfather's house, papers, and reputation. ( )
  gwyneira | Mar 25, 2010 |
After the blood and guts of Blood Meridian, I needed to add a little civilization back into my reading life - and nobody does over-civilization like Edith Wharton. Whether they meet the challenge by laughing, crying, or overdosing on exhaustion and sleeping pills, her characters are beset on all sides by the constrictions of unimaginative convention - a force with which McCarthy's cowboys are entirely untroubled.

I have a mixed history with Wharton; I found The House of Mirth overwrought, and wouldn't have been inspired to read The Age of Innocence except that I ran across a pristine Norton edition of it for under ten dollars. (Would I read anything if given a free Norton edition of it? Probably anything but Walden.) When I finally got around to cracking it open, I was surprised at my hearty enjoyment: it's a later, more mature novel, and Wharton displays her delightful satiric edge to a far greater advantage. With more distance from her subjects, I felt she could both enjoy them more herself, and allow her reader a bit of breathing room. I felt the same way about the short story collection Roman Fever and Other Stories: Wharton is most enjoyable, to me, when she is in rollicking satirical mode, or at least writing drama with a satirical edge, rather than giving in to full-blown melodrama. One of my favorite stories, "Xingu," is a famous example of Wharton at her cutting, cackling best: a clique of haughty New York society matrons are looking forward to giving a luncheon for a famous female author, and lamenting the necessity of inviting their least fashionable member, as she's bound to spoil the atmosphere. She simply doesn't know how to behave, the ladies tell each other. Why, just the other day she was so outré as to ask Mrs. Plinth her personal opinion of the book they were discussing:


It was the kind of question that might be termed out of order, and the ladies glanced at each other as though disclaiming any share in such a breach of discipline. They all knew there was nothing Mrs. Plinth so much disliked as being asked her opinion of a book. Books were written to be read; if one read them what more could be expected? To be questioned in detail regarding the contents of a volume seemed to her as great an outrage as being searched for smuggled laces at the Custom House. The club had always respected this idiosyncrasy of Mrs. Plinth's. Such opinions as she had were imposing and substantial: her mind, like her house, was furnished with monumental "pieces" that were not meant to be disarranged; and it was one of the unwritten rules of the Lunch Club that, within her own province, each member's habits of thought should be respected. The meeting therefore closed with an increased sense, on the part of the other ladies, of Mrs. Roby's hopeless unfitness to be one of them."

When the author in question turns out to be even more of a pill than her Lunch Club companions, Mrs. Roby manages to get her own by introducing "Xingu" as a topic of conversation: nobody knows what it is, but they're not willing to admit their ignorance, and hilarity ensues.

On a darker satirical note, I also loved "After Holbein," which is almost a ghost story but written about a still-living people. According to Hermione Lee's biography, Wharton loved ghost stories and wrote a number of them throughout her life, and "After Holbein" has many of the tell-tale conventions: huge mansions that used to be grand centers of entertainment, now mostly sheeted and run with a skeleton staff; a dark night; a past estrangement; the impression of a whole world that has slipped into the past. But rather than ghosts, this setting is populated by two ancient denizens of Old New York: Mrs. Jaspar, stroke victim and erstwhile society hostess, and the decrepit Anson Warley (based on Ward McAllister, the super-elite arbiter of Old New York Society and author of the list designating the members of "The 400" who would be invited to Mrs. Astor's yearly ball and therefore be "received"). While Mrs. Jaspar badgers her maid into preparing her, night after night, for the same dinner party she was to give on the eve of her stroke, Mr. Warley engages in an interior monologue about how many invitations he still receives, and how young he still feels. He's planning to go out this very night, despite the disapproval of his valet. He gloats to himself that he's still "in the running" - not like that fossilized Mrs. Jaspar, whom he remembers snubbing wittily in his youth to the delight of all his many society friends. He spares a moment to hope that his barbed witticism didn't get back to the lady herself, but can't be too bothered about it. He shakes off his valet and steps outside - only to forget which of his friends invited him to dine. The outcome of the night for both Mrs. Jaspar and Mr. Warley is deliciously creepy - much more so than if the two friends and rivals were actually coming back from the dead to haunt the dinner tables and ballrooms of their pasts. Their lives as living fossils also allows Wharton, writing from her home in Paris after having forsworn everything her characters stand for, to comment on the few remaining New Yorkers still yearning after the old ways, the old society - and more than that, to comment on people, like Anson Warley, who become so entrenched in their routines of pandering to others, that they are left with little or no inner life of their own. As a character in the final story implies, the only rational cure for over-civilization is to promote a rich inner life, and these relics of Old New York certainly don't have it:


We're all imprisoned, of course - all of us middling people, who don't carry our freedom in our brains.

There was another story in the collection that interested me for more personal reasons, although it was in Wharton's dramatic, rather than satirical, mode: "Souls Belated" tells of a woman, recently divorced, who wants to continue living with her lover unmarried, rather than attempt to rejoin their former stuffy, hypocritical society by accepting the state sanction of marriage a second time. I don't write about it much here, but I live in a long-term, committed relationship in which both I and my partner have chosen, for personal and political reasons, not to get married but to safeguard our legal rights in other ways. I've always felt uncomfortable with the cultural baggage around marriage, and it was fascinating to read a story featuring a character who had a related set of feelings. As you might imagine, it doesn't happen very often: there are scads of happy and unhappy marriages in literature, plenty of illicit love affairs and passionate flings, lots of unrequited love, and a few portraits of people who find themselves happier leading a single life, but not a lot of stories about the attempt to live in a caring, committed way outside the bounds of matrimony - especially when those attempts are chosen, rather than forced. (If you know of any, I would love to check them out.) Unfortunately for Wharton's characters, their particular attempt doesn't end very well: the woman's lover doesn't understand her unwillingness to marry him, and she finds, to her disgust, that they both care more about the opinion of Society than they imagined. Wharton's own attitude toward her protagonist, while sympathetic, seems to me slightly rueful at the woman's idealism. Still, it was an interesting and perceptive read, and made me think about how my own situation would have differed had I been born a century earlier - and, it goes without saying, wealthy.

Overall, this slim volume of shorts was just what the doctor ordered as an antidote to Cormac McCarthy - subtle and thoughtful, often melancholy, sometimes deliciously sardonic.
1 vote emily_morine | Oct 4, 2009 |
I don't often read short fiction; however, when I do I usually don't regret it. Such is the case with Roman Fever and Other Stories. The 8 stories in this book all take place in the early 20th century, and primarily in locations the author called home: New York City and Paris. The first two stories were my favorites:
- Roman Fever is about two adult women who were both friends and rivals in their youth. Visiting Rome with their daughters (who are carrying forward the friend/rival dynamic), the older women fall into conversation about old times, around the time period they were each married. A painful situation is resurrected, and Wharton masterfully close the story with a surprising "slam-dunk."
- Xingu is a highly amusing satire of a ladies' book club. This group of society women consider themselves intellectuals, and their "lunch club" is layered with social protocol and expectations. A visiting author is reluctant to discuss her work, and exposes the members' shallow intellect by asking probing questions to which they are unable to respond. One member "rescues" the event, and the consequences are very funny.

The remaining stories are generally more poignant, and deal with difficult issues such as the impact of divorce on women. But each is well-written, exposing societal issues and making Wharton's position on these issues crystal clear. Recommended reading. ( )
  lauralkeet | Mar 26, 2009 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
French, MarilynIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wolff, Cynthia GriffinIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Edith Wharton has often been seen as a sort of grande dame of American writing, as the wealthy aristocratic lady who supplemented her full social life by dipping into literature, and thus, as a gifted and lucky amateur. (Introduction)
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These elegant, finely-wrought stories by one of America's greatest writers are here published in Britain for the first time. Set in Italy, France and America they are powerful portraits of women who live in "the world of propriety" at the turn of the century. They tell of the emotions women feel: in love, in jealousy, when they long for children or seek independence - and when their passions lead them to overstep the bounds laid down by exacting conventions. We see, too, what happens to those strong enough to break the rules, but rarely strong enough to live forever outside the pale of the society that has banished them. First published in America in 1964, this collection of beautifully-crafted stories contains some of Edith Wharton's finest writing.

Contains the following stories:

Roman Fever
Xingu
The Other Two
Souls Belated
The Angels at the Grave
The Last Asset
After Holbein
Autres Temps...
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0684829908, Paperback)

A side from her Pulitzer Prize-winning talent as a novel writer, Edith Wharton also distinguished herself as a short story writer, publishing more than seventy-two stories in ten volumes during her lifetime. The best of her short fiction is collected here in Roman Fever and Other Stories. From her picture of erotic love and illegitimacy in the title story to her exploration of the aftermath of divorce detailed in "Souls Belated" and "The Last Asset," Wharton shows her usual skill "in dissecting the elements of emotional subtleties, moral ambiguities, and the implications of social restrictions," as Cynthia Griffin Wolff writes in her introduction. Roman Fever and Other Stories is a surprisingly contemporary volume of stories by one of our most enduring writers.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:50:50 -0400)

(see all 5 descriptions)

Contents:Roman Fever-Xingu-The other two-Souls belated- The Angelat the grave- The last asset- After Holbern- Autres temps

(summary from another edition)

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