On the official list we're working from, Wharton’s story is erroneously referred to as “Roman Holiday,” which is an Audrey Hepburn movie. “Roman Fever” is the name of Wharton’s short story about two high society New York matrons vacationing in Rome.
When the story opens, the two women are sitting together on a balcony overlooking Rome. While their daughters gallivant about the city, the ladies reminisce about their younger days doing the same. It seems somewhat civilized from the outside, though each is thinking snarky thoughts about the other and throwing shade in the subtlest ways possible. Basically, it’s the Gilded Age in miniature: It looks shiny and attractive on the surface, but when you dig deep, you see the rust.
The story rolls along in this polite but cutting manner until … a shocking secret is revealed in the very last sentence. I actually gasped audibly reading it.
If you’ve watched even a handful of Gilmore Girls episodes, you can see how the series relates to the story: Emily Gilmore is the kind of well-mannered strategizer we meet in “Roman Fever” and who crops up again and again in Wharton’s stories. Her novel The Age of Innocence is invoked by Lorelai in episode six of season one. It’s Rory’s birthday, and Emily goes (predictably) overboard throwing a Gilded Age-worthy birthday party (complete with corrosive underbelly).
Though I’ve not read The Age of Innocence, I’m currently reading The House of Mirth. It’s bursting with Gilmore Girls themes of resisting high society’s stifling requirements and caustic effects in favor of freedom, passion, and pursing individual dreams and interests. Though Wharton’s protagonists strike me as more damaged and flawed than our beloved Gilmore Girls.
I couldn’t find the specific Gilmore Girls episode in which “Roman Fever” is referenced. If anyone knows, please let us know in the comments!