Edith Wharton’s “Roman Fever” and “Charm Incorporated”
People will do whatever they can to secure what they want. This includes engaging in deception, and using others to their advantage. They will deceive even those they claim to love if they perceive that doing so will benefit them. They will cheat and manipulate them with the attempt of getting their desires. In the same way, they will capitalize on the weaknesses of others for their own benefits. They do not feel immediate remorse for what they have done, even if their actions end up causing harm to the other person. Some people may become remorseful at some point in their lives, but others do not realize the extent of their actions. Edith Wharton illustrates such incidences in “Roman Fever” and “Charm Incorporated”. In Roman Fever, Grace receives a letter, which is supposedly from Delphi, asking her to meet him at the Colosseum. Both girls love Delphi, although Alida is engaged to him. There is the risk of getting the fever and falling sick when one goes to the Colesseum. Unfortunately, Grace ends up going, thinking that she will meet Delphi, but she does not realize that the letter is from Alida, and she ends up falling sick. In “Charm Incorporated”, Jim cannot understand how she came to marry Nadeja, despite her beauty. Nadeja ends up using her husband to help her parasitic siblings, and however, much Jim tries, he cannot seem to get rid of them. Both stories share some similarities showing the way people deceive and take advantage of others, and they have some differences as well, showing the manner in which the characters react to the situations they are facing.
In “Roman Fever”, Wharton tells the story of two women who meet in Rome. The women are accompanied by their daughters. As the woman sit watching the view, they remember events of their youth, and during this time, one of the women reveals a secret that she has kept for long. The women have been intimate since they were young. They live in the same neighborhoods, but in actual sense, they do not know each other. As the story progresses, the reader becomes aware of the deception, envy, jealousy, and extreme competitiveness that the women display. Mrs. Slade is envious of Mrs. Ansley’s daughter, Barbara, although she has a good daughter by her side. Through the revelation of their private thoughts, it is clear that women do not understand each other. They each hold misconceptions about each other, and this has contributed to them leading the life they lead now. In “Charm Incorporated”, Wharton describes how a businessperson from New York has had a chance to change for the better, when he meets and marries a bride from Russia, who is not of the same status as he. The man has to result to using deceptions at times, to secure an intimate moment with his wife.
There are similarities in the way the characters deceive, manipulate, and take advantage of each other. Nadeja is aware of her beauty and charm, and she uses this to her benefit. It is obvious that were it not for the two elements, Jim would not have married her. Jim tries to remember his reasons for marrying his wife, but he only says that, “perhaps he had been knocked on the head-sandbaggedl a regular holdup” (Charm Incorporated 655). She takes advantage of the fact that her husband is well meaning, and she uses this as a way for her family to benefit. Most of her siblings end up living with her and her husband. Jim tries to help Boris by sending him to Hollywood, but that does not work, since Boris ends up quitting. Nadeja and her family use their charm against Jim, who has to provide for all of them. Boris ends up living with Jim and his wife after divorcing his rich wife, and he only leaves the family after having taken advantage of his wife. The divorce benefits him in that he gets enough money to enable him leave for Europe.
Jim takes the time to observe his new family, and he learns a few tricks from them. He ends up using the same charm they had used against him to get what he wants, which includes some sense of financial freedom and privacy in his marriage. Alida deceives Grace into thinking that Delphi has written her a letter with the aim of having more time with him. She is aware that Delphi does not consider the two girls any different, and that the only way she can have time with him is if Grace is not available. She does not seem to care of the consequences that her actions bring. Grace ends up falling sick and she holds the idea that Delphi had led her on by writing the letter requesting for their meeting.
Then characters do not think of the immediate consequences of their actions, and they proceed to do whatever it takes to ensure that they get what they want irrespective of how this will affect different people. Alida wants to justify the anger and jealousy she feels towards Grace, and she tells her the truth concerning the letter she had written. She knows that this will cause Grace a lot of pain. The characters actions compel them to reflect upon their actions, and to consider the consequences of their actions. The characters are able to come to terms with what they have done, and they are able to admit it. Jim experiences a sense of pride and achievement, having managed to secure some privacy and some sense of stability for him and his wife. However, this also gives him a chance to reflect on what he has done by marrying Najeda. The more he reflects upon it, the more he realizes that he does not understand the reasons that compelled him to marry his wife. He ends up realizing that he has contaminated his life and that his marriage is not pure. Alida’s ends up confessing to Grace what she had done many years after the incident happened. She reveals that she was jealous of Grace, and she is even jealous of her daughter. “She wondered why she had ever thought there would be any satisfaction in inflicting so purposeless a wound on her friend” (Roman Fever 20).
There are differences in the way the characters react to their deceptions. Alida never recovers from what she had done to Grace, and she ends up admitting it in the end, claiming that she cannot hold the secret any longer. Alida’s actions do not lead to her satisfaction. Even after securing her marriage to Delphi, she keeps on observing Grace’s lifestyle. Alida was aware of all the moves that Grace made, and even of all the developments that she made to her home. “When the drawing room curtains in No.20 East Seventy-third Street were renewed, No.23, across the way, was always aware of it, all of all the movings, buyings, travels, anniversaries, illnesses…little of it escaped Mrs. Slade” (Roman Fever 18). She leaves in oppression as she is always aware of Grace, and she remembers what she did to her. Jim has different experiences after learning his in laws tricks, and after using these tricks against them. He had always acted according to his principles, and according to what he thought was the right thing to do. “Targatt had never once swayed from his purpose. And slowly but surely he was beginning to reap his reward” (Charm Incorporated 666). This has portrayed him as a naive and soft willed person, especially in the eyes of his in laws. After tricking and charming his in laws into marrying rich people, he realizes that he has used the same tricks that they had used. This does not make him nervous, and he does not feel any worry. Instead, he feels a sense of recklessness, pride, and power, and he enjoys these feelings.
Wharton shows how self-interests do not always benefit a person, despite what the person does. Many people do not think of the consequences of their actions, and this leads them to do things that harm others. They only reflect on the things they have done after their actions disturb their conscience, and after realizing that they have done the wrong thing.
Bauer, M. Dale. Edith Wharton’s Brave New Politics. Madison, WI: Univ of Wisconsin Press. 1995. Print.
Boswell P. Ann. Edith Wharton on Film. Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 2007. Print.
Wharton, Edith and Wolff, G. Cynthia. Roman Fever and other Stories. Scribner. 1997. Print.
Wharton, Edith. The Collected Stories of Edith Wharton. Carroll & Graf. 2002. Print.