Glimpses of the Moon: A Review

Spent a good part of 2013, catching up on Wharton’s works. Glimpses of the Moon is a short story centered on social hangers-on, Nick and Susy. Almost on a whim, they decided to get married and see how far they can go living off of their wealthy friends. Expect the typical Wharton commentary on the rich New York society she was born into but more lighthearted, almost hopeful in its belief that “Love can conquer all.” Here’s my review:

“She knew all these by heart, had always known it. It all belonged to the make-up of the life of elegance: there was nothing new about it. What had been new to her was that short interval with Nick – a life unreal indeed in its setting, but so real in its essentials: the one reality she had ever known. As she looked back on it she saw how much it had given her besides the golden flush of her happiness, the sudden flowering of sensuous joy in heart and body. “

By “these” here refers to the unspoken expectations of a hanger-on – to be a distraction, to be an entertainment and to be a co-conspirator, and finally, to “manage”. And before she met Nick, Susy welcomed the little luxuries that a social climber like herself was afforded with. (After all, what else could someone sitting along the fringes of high society aspire to.)

Social climbers Susy and Nick found a loophole in the unspoken laws of the society they so desperately want to become a part of by marrying each other (despite not having any money or property or means for earning) and live off of their friends and their wedding cheques for a year (or until those cheques run out or they overstay their welcome in friends’ villas or chateaus.) When either or both find other partners who can advance them in society, they will part and divorce. Good – until the couple actually truly fall in love with each other that they contemplate living “the simple yet happy life”. But in an uncharacteristic (for Wharton that is) rom-com fashion, hi-jinx ensue, before our hero and heroine get back together.

Before the happily ever after though, let’s back up a bit and talk about Nick. When he found out how Susy “managed” their stay at Ellie’s by aiding her in covering up for her affairs, Nick freaked out and ran away. So melodramatic and on some level, arrogant! He can’t admit that social parasites “managed” no matter how much bitter taste it leaves on the mouth.

The House of Mirth: A Review


**Spoiler Alert**
My 2012 literary journey can be highlighted with the discovery of two authors. Dabbling into sci-fi (I haven’t been much of a fan) by way of HG Wells via Margaret Atwood and this ongoing love affair with Edith Wharton. I picked up a copy of Age of Innocence years ago – it survived my move to Singapore 9 years ago but has stayed forgotten in my bookshelf until late last year. I was blown away by that book and once again, Wharton doesn’t disappoint in The House of Mirth. I daresay this is my favorite work of hers.

A novel once again set at the turn of the 20thc New York upper class, Wharton explores the role of the female in an unforgiving society (“Isn’t marriage your vocation? Isn’t it what you’re all brought up for?”) and the societal maneuverings that chews up its victims. The shunning of Lily Bart by a society that was all too quick to believe the worst, left her with no prospects, no friends and without any useful skills that she was so completely stripped of confidence. She refused Rosedale’s help (I am convinced it was without any dark motives.) and she didn’t even think herself deserving of Selden’s love. But ahh Lily, if only you were a little bit more cunning!

And Lawrence Selden – can you think of any male character more vile? He was quick to judge Lily for her aspirations and scoffs (and call bullshit) at the society he pretends to be outside of. He ran away from Lily when he thought she was having an affair with Trenor (when he himself was tapping Bertha Dorset!) and was ready to believe the worst in her. He acts like he’s Lily’s savior yet never had the courage to offer any real, tangible help. Spineless!

Edith Wharton’s writing is so deft, her characters so fleshed out that I have often forgotten throughout reading this novel that this is written in the third person.

On a lighter note, I am no smoker and hate cigarettes but damn you Edith Wharton, you make them sound so delicious.

*Note this review was originally written in January 2013.