Tuesday, November 17, 2009

281. The Glimpses of the Moon - Edith Wharton

History: This book was published in 1922, a year after Wharton won the Pulitzer Prize.
Plot: The novel tells the story of Susy Branch and Nick Lansing, both of whom have no money but have found ways of living comfortably in high society -- they have been sponging off of friends in order to support the lifestyles to which they have been accustomed. When they meet and hit it off, they decide to marry and live as long as they can off the wedding presents they receive and the offers of houses to visit that come from their rich friends. The catch, though, is that they have agreed to end the marriage if one or the other finds someone rich who will marry them.
Susy and Nick are fond of each other, but have diferent ideas about what manipulation and deception, what management is acceptable when it comes to securing money or a house to live in. They quarrel about whether Susy should take a box of cigars left by their friend, and this quarrel causes a rift that won't soon heal and that hints at the even greater struggles the two of them will soon face. They quarrel again because Susy covers for an aquaintance to have an extramarital affair, and Nick leaves her.
Susy is upset, but ends up promising to marry her friend, Stratford, who has just inherited a fortune. When she kisses him, though, she is repulsed, but it gets better over time. Nick is traveling with friends and is charmed by their daughter, but not romantically. Stratford pressures Suzy to divorce Nick, so she begins proceedings, thinking this is what Nick wants her to do. But it becomes more difficult than that, and things are stalled. Spending more time with Stratford, Susy learns that he also helped the friend have an extramarital affair, actually leasing the villa to the elicit couple. This is the last straw, and Susy goes to live with her poor artsy friends, who have five children. She loves the children, and cares for them when the parents go on a trip for the summer. Nick comes to Paris, and sees the poverty she lives in, but thinks she is still with Stratford. But in the end they get back together.
Review: The Glimpses of the Moon was written with a much lighter touch and has a happy ending, something you don't often see in a Wharton novel. She turns a keen eye on high society and brings to light their foibles and follies. Money may buy Venetian palazzos, but the inhabitants seem to be morally bankrupt. Are any of them really happy? She very deftly writes about marriage and money and contrasts what value marriage has with or without the jewelry, homes and bank accounts. She very cleverly leaves it up to the reader to contrast wealthy characters, or those that come into wealth, with those that must work to get by. Susy and Nick may be friends to these Society people, but at times they're treated as little more than servants. Even the children in the novel reflect their upbringing and the values of their parents and having material wealth doesn't necessarily buy happiness as we all know. The Lansings seem to learn the most valuable lessons from the poorest characters in the story.
Opening Line: "It rose for them - their honey-moon - over the waters of a lake so famed as the scene of romatic raptures that they were rather proud of not having been afraid to choose it as the setting of their own."
Closing Line: "They leaned on the sill in the darkness, and through the clouds, from which a few drops were already falling, the moon, labouring upward, swam into a space o sky, cast her troubled glory on them, and was again hidden."
Quotes: "'You're very cruel, Susy--so cruel and dreadful that I hardly know how to answer you,' she stammered. 'But you simply don't know what you're talking about. As if anybody ever had all the money they wanted!' She wiped her dark-rimmed eyes with a cautious handkerchief, glanced at herself in the mirror, and added magnanimously: 'But I shall try to forget what you said'."
Rating: Mediocre.

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