Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Glimpses of the Moon

The Glimpses of the Moon / Edith Wharton
NY: Scribner, 1996, c1922.
297 p.
This is a later Wharton, and one I wasn't familiar with before finding it by chance. It's a light story, a comedy of manners, really, and I kept having to remind myself I was reading Edith Wharton! It felt more like one of the moral romances of Myrtle Reed in places! 

Nick Lansing and Susy Branch are a young impecunious couple who decide that by getting married they can receive some monetary wedding gifts and then honeymoon on the charity of their rich acquaintances for at least a year. This idea benefits them both, as they are both without any resources at all, and as they agree, after a year, if either one of them meets someone who can advance them socially, they're each free to dissolve the marriage and take advantage of the opportunity. 

Unfortunately for them both, they fall in love. Real love, the kind so rare and unusual in their circles -- but they don't tell the other, as they don't want to compromise their agreement. But the deceptions they engage in to maintain their lifestyle begin to appear ugly to them both, and when Nick finds out that to live in the beautiful Venetian villa for the summer, Susy has been aiding her friend, the owner's wife, in an affair, it's too much for him and he leaves. 

This kind of miscommunication, and the huge misunderstandings that would be easily remedied if they only talked to one another, is a bit of a tired trope, though. Not only that, Nick was a real hypocrite in my eyes. He was perfectly happy to write his book in Venetian comfort, leaving Susy to do all the work of finding them places to go next, and a social circle to keep them entertained and provided for, but then disapproves of the way she "manages". Well, what the heck else was she supposed to do? It's not like he was doing any of the work to keep them solvent and with a place to live! 

So it was hard to believe in their love story, at least for me. Of course, after they leave Venice, they both find good social opportunities for advantageous marriages, but throw them over in the end to run off together once again. This is not a spoiler, it's telegraphed from very early on indeed. 

Wharton's sly humour and caricature of the vapid lives of rich Europeans in the 20s is spot on. The shallow and soulless lives of Nick and Susy's social milieu are highlighted in every way possible. And the role of money as the arbiter of moral decisions is also made clear over and over. This mix of money, ethics and society is very Wharton, but this book does not reach a level of brilliance that her other books do.

This was published just after The Age of Innocence, one of her other works that I wasn't as thrilled with even if it is her most admired generally. To my mind, The Custom of the Country has a much stronger similar theme, and much more compelling characters. It reaches the heights of social satire and great writing where this one doesn't. 

Still, this wasn't a bad read; it was clever and entertaining overall. If you're looking for a lighter 20s setting and a cast of Bright Young Things, you might want to pick this one up. 


  1. Nice to see a little love for Edith Wharton - even if the review is kind of a mixed one.

    1. Yeah, this isn't her best work, but it's still a good read. I think after reading some of her other books this just doesn't reach the same heights. Custom of the Country, for example, is much stronger and direct. But I'm glad I've been reading some Wharton lately, and am finding her work to be so absorbing, clever and pointed.


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