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Thursday, February 06, 2014

The Glimpses of the Moon (1922) by Edith Wharton

Book Review
The Glimpses of the Moon (1922)
 by Edith Wharton

  Published two years after her Pulitzer Prize winning novel The Age of Innocence, The Glimpses of the Moon is best seen as a refinement of her well received approach to fiction, though the maudlin, forced happy ending hints at an attempt to move books.  Up until that forced happy ending, Glimpses is a winning tale about a poor couple with rich tastes, who decide to get married as a way to fund their extravagant lifestyles without having to work.

The idea of being someone with "rich tastes" but without money to match, who none the less simply can not conceive of working for a living seems to be something endemic to Wharton novels, though perhaps that is more a reflection of the early 20th century than Wharton herself.  The first two decades of the 20th century were marked by a huge leap in college attendance and graduation, and presumably it was from these ranks that the figure of the lower middle class educated gent/gal with upper class tastes and habits emerged.

 In The Glimpses of the Moon the main couple is Nick Lansing and Suzy Branch.  He, a would be writer who simply can't bring himself to write on commercial subjects, she the luxe offspring of a degenerate aristocratic pair who have squandered her birthright.  Her idea, hatched at the ever-so-disgusting artist cottage of their mutual friends, is that they get married but remain open to the idea of divorce should a "real prospect" come along.   Ideas such as this rarely work out in fiction or real life, and The Glimpses of the Moon is no exception.

 After a brief honeymoon in the Italian chateau of a mutual friend, Suzy lands them a huge Venetian villa with but a single proviso: that she abet the adulterous behavior of the wife/co-owner of the villa by posting occasional, pre-written letters to the husband/owner of the villa (who is himself in London.)  Sensing that this behavior would not be kosher with husband Nick, Suzy conceals the act from him, only to be undone by the adulteress herself, who, assuming that Nick is in the know, gifts him a bracelet at the end of their stay "for all his help."

 The confrontation between Nick and Suzy ends up with him embarking on a Mediterranean cruise as the paid Major Domo for a wealthy American couple, and she decamping for a Parisian villa outside Versailles where she is (horrors) asked to serve as a nanny.  She escapes the terrible fate of a working human being by accepting the marriage proposal of the suddenly wealth friend whose Italian chateau initially provided shelter for she and Nick, while Nick begins to draw the attention of the wealthy daughter of his employers.

 Seemingly in the last five pages their plan for a care free and whimsical divorce is abandoned so that they can remain together happy with their uncertain financial future.  The ending cuts against everything else in the Novel, and it actually seems like a situation where her publisher either "suggested" a happy resolution OR she made the decision herself.  Certainly, the ending moves The Glimpses of the Moon towards the shallow end of the Wharton canon, a minor classic if ever there was one.

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