Study Guide

The Glimpses of the Moon

by Edith Wharton

The Glimpses of the Moon Summary

Chapter Summaries

Chapter 1 Summary

Edith Wharton was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize. Two years later, in 1922, she published her thirteenth novel, The Glimpses of the Moon. The book enjoyed great success and became an international bestseller. However, some critics believe that by the time Wharton wrote this novel, her writing style was becoming outdated, especially in comparison to the new generation of modern writers such as Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald. Other critics, such as Helen Killoran, argue that The Glimpses of the Moon was a great influence on Firtzgerald’s novel The Great Gatsby (1923).

The story begins as the newlywed protagonists, Nick and Susy Lansing, are on their honeymoon. They are staying at a private villa, referred to as Como, on a beautiful lake. This is not the only place to which they might have gone in celebrating their wedding. Susy has a lot of rich friends, many of whom also offered honeymoon getaways. They chose this villa over one that was in Versailles and another in Monte Carlo. They are pleased with their decision. If they had gone to Versailles, all their friends in Paris would have intruded on their privacy. Monte Carlo was also out of the question, according to Nick, because that was exactly where everyone expected they would go. Although Nick is pleased with their decision now that he has seen the villa, he had not originally wanted to come here. Susy reminds him of this fact and emphasizes it by stating that he is going to miss Como once they leave. Nick asks that they not talk about the future. He wants to remain in this timeless space they are enjoying, where they do not have to think about the future or the past.

As they sit outside enjoying their environment, they hear a nightingale singing. It is late in the season for bird songs and mating, and Nick comments that the birds are ending just as he and Susy are beginning. Susy hopes that when their turn comes to say good-bye to...

(The entire section is 574 words.)

Chapter 2 Summary

Nick reflects on where he was a year ago and how much his life has changed. He had been committed to never marrying, having told his friends that if ever got close to doing so, they should lock him up. Now he refers to his marriage as an adventure, “a mad one.” For all his thoughts against marriage, here he is, not only married but living in a fabulous villa, at least for now. As Susy sleeps with her head on his knee, he thinks back on how he managed to get to this position.

Nick had graduated from Harvard planned to see the world and experience everything in it. He was blessed with a great imagination, which powered his life more than money did. He had thought himself satisfied with his paltry living conditions until Susy entered his life. She was very pretty and also very amusing, two qualities that Nick found irresistible. As he got to know Susy better, he saw the way she had to do things she did not like in order to get what she wanted. It was a precarious way to live and at first he thought he did not want to be a part of it. He even actually let her go. However, while she was away from him, Nick realized how boring his life was without her.

A chance meeting brought Susy and Nick back together. They attempted to compose themselves upon seeing each other again, but they could not contain their joy. They met at a small house owned by a married couple. The cramped quarters, which included several children, should have cured Nick of all thoughts of marriage, or so he thought. The Fulmers were still young but Nick thought his friends had “lost their heads.” Nat Fulmer was a painter and his wife a musician. However, having married so young and had children so early, their artistic careers were going nowhere and their responsibilities were eating up their small finances. The strange thing, though, was that Nat and his wife appeared happier than Nick had ever seen them. They seemed free of cares in spite of the disorderly...

(The entire section is 577 words.)

Chapter 3 Summary

Nick and Susy have been staying at Como for almost a month. This has marked the beginning of their honeymoon. With new guests arriving at the villa the next day, they must now leave. Susy has made plans for the next residence at which they will stay, and they are packing. As Nick goes for his last swim in the lake, he reflects on their time spent here. He hates leaving this place but senses that the next house they stay in will be as elegant. This makes him conclude that Susy is magical. She makes things happen without much effort. People have “showered” houses on them. Their choices seem unlimited. After Como, they will be heading for Venice. They had been offered a place in upstate New York, but they do not want to pay for the air travel just yet. They will save that money for the winter, so they can spend a few months in the States and increase their chances for more offers.

The more he gets to know her, the more Nick wants to protect Susy, though he senses that she would not approve of this sentiment. Susy’s spirit, Nick believes, should never have to be diminished by compromises. He hopes he can improve her circumstances, though he is not clear on how he might do this. He knows Susy always wants the “best and rarest” of everything. His greatest worry is wondering if Susy has any limit to what she might do to get what she wants.

When Nick returns to the house, he finds that Susy has made a change of plans. She has spoken to the chauffeur of the incoming guests. The driver is willing to take them to Milan in his car. Nick is concerned about the cost, but Susy confirms that it is a lot cheaper than taking the train to their next destination. Susy learned that the chauffeur has a girlfriend in Milan, so he is willing to give them a deal on the ride because he planned to go there anyway.

While they pack, Nick becomes annoyed when he sees that Susy has included in her trunk four boxes of expensive cigars their host had left behind in the villa. Whereas Susy believes the cigars are meant for them, Nick sees her actions as being greedy. The cigars do not belong to them, Nick tells her. Susy’s only argument is that if they leave the cigars behind, the servants will smoke them. This incident marks the first disagreement between them. It also makes Nick evaluate Susy in a slightly different light. As they leave the villa, Nick notices the gardener kiss Susy’s hand. The gardener’s eyes are filled with tears. Nick secretly questions what Susy has given the man to make him feel so grateful to her.

Chapter 4 Summary

The next house Nick and Susy borrow belongs to Nelson and Ellie Vanderlyn, and Nick refers to it as a palace. The spaciousness, though, is somewhat depressing, especially after the cozy villa on the lake. This new place is cold and shadowy. The large rooms make Susy feel insignificant. She does not remember any other time in her life when evidence of wealth oppressed her.

Upon reflection, Susy wonders if her mood has been caused by the incident with the cigars. Nick should know that she was not taking them for herself. She thought Nick deserved them. She prides herself on her scruples and would never have taken anything for herself. She does not know how to present this concept to Nick in a way he might understand. There is tension between them now, and she does not know how to resolve it.

As she begins to unpack, Susy notices five letters her friend Ellie left for her on the dressing table. One letter is addressed to Susy and the four others are addressed to Ellie’s husband, Nelson. Immediately upon seeing them, Susy senses a scandal. The letters are numbered. Ellie requests that Susy mail these one at a time over the four-week period of her stay. Ellie has gone away, leaving her young daughter behind. She has told her child she is going away for a month-long cure because she is ill. However, the child is not to tell her father because Ellie does not want her husband to worry. The letters will cover her absence.

Susy feels torn. She wants to stay at the Vanderlyns’ estate. However, she finds that Ellie has taken advantage of her. Not only is Susy to take part in Ellie’s lie but she is also to look after the woman’s daughter. Susy is on her honeymoon; this request is not only rude but inappropriate.

In the letter, Ellie has asked that Susy not tell anyone, not even Nick, about the other four letters. She writes that if Susy has any sense of gratitude for favors Ellie has provided, she will keep her...

(The entire section is 504 words.)

Chapter 5 Summary

Nick leaves the house by himself without telling Susy why or where he is going. Susy does not expect him to tell her everything he is doing because their arrangement leaves them as free spirits, but this does not stop her from thinking about it. She wonders why he did not come into her room and tell her. She questions if Nick is still upset about the cigars she attempted to take from the villa. On top of this, she had gone into his room the night before and found him absorbed in reading a letter. He did not tell her who wrote it. Susy wonders if the letter could be the reason he has gone out by himself this morning. She does not find an answer to this question; he comes home in the morning in a good mood but does not offer any...

(The entire section is 509 words.)

Chapter 6 Summary

The longer Streffy stays in the Vanderlyn home, the more Susy enjoys him. She has always known that he could be empathetic, but he is even more sensitive than usual, especially around Clarissa. Streffy normally would tolerate children but would just as often tire of them. With Clarissa, though, he appears to have endless patience and understanding. He even derides Clarissa’s mother for leaving the child for so long. Ellie was supposed to have returned a few days ago, but no one has heard from her yet.

Streffy says that it is so like Ellie to expect Susy to stand in for the child’s governess and to believe that Susy owed her the favor in exchange for the privilege of staying at the Vanderlyn estate. Streffy adds that...

(The entire section is 555 words.)

Chapter 7 Summary

Nick thinks about his writing and concludes that he knows his ability as a potential author better than Susy or Strefford do. He recognizes his weaknesses and is fully aware of how the concept of the story sometimes slips through his grasp just when he thinks he has command of it. There are times, too, when he is depressed and thinks his story is a failure, but then the underlying meaning of the story returns to him and he gets lost again in a sense of victory.

Nick has named his book The Pageant of Alexander. The protagonist is the young Alexander the Great. The focus of the story is on the landscape of Asia, a topic in which Nick is well informed. Nick hopes to develop a storyline through which he can discuss...

(The entire section is 486 words.)

Chapter 8 Summary

Just as they are adjusting to Ellie’s unexplained extended absence, Susy and Nick receive a telegram from Ellie; she is due to come home the next day. Ellie arrives in such a good mood that Susy is more willing than she had anticipated to forgive the woman for having left her child at home, expecting Susy to take care of her. The allusion to the letters that Ellie asked Susy to mail, however, is another matter. Susy cannot get over the distasteful feelings of being dragged into the deceitful arrangement. Susy’s concerns go beyond her involvement; she is also frightened of how Nick will react if he should discover the price Susy was willing to pay to accept the free lodging at Ellie’s estate.

As Ellie alludes to...

(The entire section is 508 words.)

Chapter 9 Summary

Time has slipped forward by a week. Nelson Vanderlyn has come home, and his wife, Ellie, who has decided to stay at the estate and wait for his arrival, is also present. Everyone is sitting at the dining table, including Susy and Nick along with Charlie Strefford.

It has been quite a few years since Nick has seen Nelson, who is now the London representative of a worldwide bank. Nelson has aged and grown fatter. His attitude, though, remains optimistic. Since Nelson has just made his appearance known, the others at the table watch as Ellie greets her husband. Nelson believes that his wife seems very happy to see him. The others, though, understand Ellie’s excitement to demonstrate pleasure in knowing that her new...

(The entire section is 602 words.)

Chapter 10 Summary

Susy relaxes after she sees both Mr. and Mrs. Vanderlyn leave. Strefford is standing next to Susy and reflects her feelings by stating that they have “been through it.” At this point, both Susy and Strefford believe that the Vanderlyns have gone without exposing to Nick the issue of the letters.

Later, alone in her room, Susy admires the bracelet Ellie gave her. She evaluates the sapphire and emerald jewelry, smiling when she calculates how many “domestic necessities” it will buy. As she is doing this, Nick walks into her room. Without thinking of the consequences, Susy rushes to Nick, proud to show off her new jewels. In response, Nick shows Susy the gift Ellie gave to him. This surprises Susy.

Nick...

(The entire section is 623 words.)

Chapter 11 Summary

At dinner, Susy lies about Nick’s whereabouts and why he is not present at dinner. She has no idea where Nick is, though she guesses he might have gone to see the Hicks family. At first this bothers Susy, but the more she thinks about it, she decides it is funny. Nick thinks the same as she does—that the Hickses are boring. She will call him on the phone after dinner and tease him about being there. He will share the laugh and then come home, or so Susy hopes.

The more Susy considers Nick’s absence, the more it irritates her. She questions if Nick thinks he is better than she is. Does he think he has better principles and standards? The two of them are the same. They had agreed to play by a certain set of rules,...

(The entire section is 481 words.)

Chapter 12 Summary

Nick is on a train to Milan when he changes his mind and decides to continue on to Genoa. The extension of his travels on the train gives him more time in which to not make any immediate decisions about his future.

When he reaches Genoa, Nick runs into Mr. Buttles, Mr. Hicks’s personal secretary. At first Nick feels irritated because he must make conversation with someone. Then he feels relieved; he can again postpone his own “broodings.” Nick’s first question to Buttles is about the whereabouts of the Hickses. Nick wonders if the Hickses’ yacht is at the port in Genoa. Mr. Buttles informs Nick that the boat is due to arrive the next day. Buttles is in Genoa alone because he has left his employment with Mr....

(The entire section is 629 words.)

Chapter 13 Summary

Susy has left Venice to go to Versailles, France. Her friend, Violet Melrose, had invited Susy and Nick to spend some time there on their honeymoon. Violet was supposed to be traveling, thus leaving her Versailles home vacant. Susy had been looking forward to some time by herself. After spending so much time in Ellie’s mansion in Venice, Violet’s small house would be the appropriate place for Susy to get her priorities straight. She has been thinking of dropping away from the usual rich crowd of her acquaintance and coming up with a new way of making a living. However, when she reaches the Versailles home, she finds Violet is there.

Nat Fulmer is also staying at the house. Nat is a friend of both Susy and Nick’s....

(The entire section is 491 words.)

Chapter 14 Summary

When old friends turn up the next day at Violet’s house, Susy comes up with a story to explain Nick’s absence. Although no one truly listens to what she says, she tells them Nick is on a cruise to do research for his book. Susy is not completely happy about having so many people around her, but she has come to realize that the company keeps her mind off her troubles. Gradually she even finds herself in the force of her old habits, able to join in conversations, gossip about old friends who are not present, and talk about all the newest scandals and lover’s quarrels. After a while, Susy even begins to consider that this is the world for which she was meant. She fells that she has no other choice. The world in which love is the...

(The entire section is 502 words.)

Chapter 15 Summary

After meeting with Strefford, Suzy feels more relaxed. She can see a path that will take her directly to three things she has always wanted in life—freedom, power, and dignity. Strefford, now one of the richest men in England, can give it all to her. The only obstacle is the possibility that Nick might come back, having found that he cannot live without her, as she cannot live without him. If Nick did come back, she would stop worrying about the future. She would only live in the present moment. Nothing but their love would matter to her. She would do anything, she thinks, to be back in Nick’s arms.

There are challenges that interfere with Susy’s dream. Nick’s letter might be proof that Nick has tired of her....

(The entire section is 468 words.)

Chapter 16 Summary

Nick is sailing on the Ibis, the Hickses’ yacht. He has been spending all his time either reading or daydreaming as he watches landscapes drift past and then disappear. The books and the scenery act as anesthetics as Nick seeks to deaden the pain of his memories.

Nick realizes that he promised another letter to Susy, but he has not yet written because he has found enough reasons to not do so. He knows she is not in need of money because she controlled the money they had collected as wedding gifts; therefore, there is no critical business to take care of. Although their marriage needs to be discussed, Nick justifies his lack of communication on this topic by the idea that they should put some time between...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Chapter 17 Summary

Susy is waiting for Strefford in London, but she finds the city oppressive. The weather is wet and she is staying in a shabby hotel, which is all she can afford. However, she reminds herself that her independence is the most important thing, so she must learn to sacrifice. But when she finds that she can no longer tolerate the dank smells and the sounds surrounding her room, she goes into the part of the city where her rich acquaintances usually dine.

As Susy had expected, she runs into one of her friends—Ursula Gillow, who is spending a few days in London on her way to her Scotland retreat. Ursula is very happy to see Susy because she never likes to be alone. Ursula invites Susy to join her for lunch.

...

(The entire section is 452 words.)

Chapter 18 Summary

Susy next runs into Ellie Vanderlyn. Ellie is the last person Suzy wanted to see. The women come across one another at one of Paris’s fashion shows, where models parade while the women of society consider their new wardrobes. Susy is looking at a floor-length fur coat. Ellie assumes Susy is helping another woman chose clothes, insinuating that there is no way Susy could afford the coat. To Ellie’s surprise, Susy announces that she is considering the coat for herself. Although she has not yet accepted Strefford’s proposal, Susy has been spending her time daydreaming about the wardrobe she would purchase if she did consent to marry him. Her visiting all the fashion designers’ events has provided her with a diversion in her...

(The entire section is 494 words.)

Chapter 19 Summary

After spending the day with Ellie Vanderlyn, Susy again reflects on what she is doing with her life. Ellie epitomizes everything Susy despises about the moneyed class—except the money. She questions how she can even consider becoming involved with her rich acquaintances again. Susy has been so mortified by Ellie that she almost cancels her appointment with Strefford the next day. She knows he is expecting an answer from her as to whether she will accept his proposal. So far, Susy still feels unresolved. She continues to hope to hear from Nick.

Upon reflection, Susy decides to keep her appointment with Strefford. They go to a small, out-of-the-way restaurant, ask for a private room, and enjoy their lunch. Susy is...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Chapter 20 Summary

Nick Lansing is still with the Hickses, but he has noticed a change in the older couple. Once the Hickses believed that the arts and knowledge were superior to money. Although they had money, they lived without the luxuries money could buy. They thought that luxuries and an artistic way of life could not coexist. However, something recently has transformed these views.

It all began, Nick recalls to himself, the day the Hickses’ path intersected with a “Reigning Prince on his travels.” The Hickses’ “undoing” was that the prince is an archaeologist. This is what attracted the Hickses to the man. Due to poor health, the prince had been forced to leave his northern territory and wander along the Mediterranean...

(The entire section is 505 words.)

Chapter 21 Summary

After dinner with Strefford, things proceed exactly as Susy had expected them to. She is able to promise to begin divorce proceedings. She finds this promise easier to make than she had guessed, and the kiss Strefford gives her is less difficult to receive than the last.

Some of Susy’s ease is due to the newspaper story she read that reported Nick’s still being with the Hickses. It is no wonder Nick has not written to her, Susy tells herself. In these modern times, husbands have no need to write because the newspapers recount their whereabouts and their doings to the world. The story had dragged Susy’s spirits down at first, but she has since decided that she is tired of sadness and anguish. She is young and...

(The entire section is 437 words.)

Chapter 22 Summary

Strefford is feeling more at ease now that Susy has begun her divorce proceedings. He and Susy are even able to tease one another about their intended marriage. Susy tells Strefford that marrying her is “the easiest way of not marrying all the others.” This is a reference to all the women whose families are pressuring them to present themselves to him, the richest bachelor in England. After Susy says this to Strefford, he looks at her in a way that implies that she is using him in the same way.

Strefford suggests that he buy a small house for Susy in London. This will provide her with a home until they are married so she will not have to stay in hotels or at some of their friends’ houses. Then he says Susy has to...

(The entire section is 493 words.)

Chapter 23 Summary

As Susy walks away from Strefford, she feels a sense of freedom. All the hypocrisies of the past few months have dropped away. She is herself once again. She is the Susy whom Nick knows and she will never be anyone else.

As she passes a hat shop, she watches the girls who work there leave the store. She could be one of them, she thinks, and earn her own living. When she passes some nuns, she thinks she could do that too. She could give up everything. She imagines having a conversation with a nun, telling the woman about all the money she had thought she needed to buy clothes, cigarettes, cab fare and tips, and all the other extravagant things that belong to the lives of the rich. They would laugh at her. She sees how...

(The entire section is 495 words.)

Chapter 24 Summary

Nick adjusts his schedule so he can have time to think, but when he is on his own, he does not know what he is supposed to think about. He does question one thing: he wonders what future he could possibly have without Susy. The letter he received from her was a shock. She wants to be released from their marriage, so in a responding letter he told her that he would not stand in her way. He has not heard from Susy or either of their lawyers since then. He is not in hurry to be free, so he has not pursued the divorce or made any attempts to find out what has delayed the proceedings. In some ways, since receiving Susy’s letter, Nick has considered himself a free man. However, this has not helped him define his future in any way....

(The entire section is 462 words.)

Chapter 25 Summary

Susy is living at the Fulmers’ house, taking care of their five children while Mrs. and Mr. Fulmer spend three months in Italy. She had previously turned down the job of watching the Fulmer children and, upon accepting the position this time, worried that watching over five children would be “dull or depressing.” But Susy is discovering that the Fulmer children are a joy to be with. Susy feels the challenge of caring for so then—sometimes she feels that there are not five children but rather a whole army of little ones. Most of the time Susy is excited about being with them. They are very intelligent children with wide and varied interests. Their parents have raised them by encouraging their imaginations as well as their...

(The entire section is 496 words.)

Chapter 26 Summary

Nick has not yet committed himself to Coral, but he told her he was going to France to obtain his divorce from Susy. His emotions have been stirred by Coral’s having confessed her love for him, which makes him think that maybe they could enjoy a good marriage, albeit a temperate one. Intellectually they are well matched, and their marriage would increase their opportunities. As he travels, Nick expects to propose to Coral when he returns to Rome. Nick concludes that it seems inevitable that he and Coral will be together.

However, once in Paris, Nick discovers that the idea of marrying Coral has no basis. Everything about Paris reminds him of Susy. Although he has not made contact with her, he senses her in every...

(The entire section is 545 words.)

Chapter 27 Summary

Susy is at the Fulmers’ home, visiting with Strefford. The first thing Strefford asks is why Susy is there. The inside of the house looks shabby and messy, with children’s articles and toys spread everywhere. Susy cannot answer honestly because she does not believe Strefford can understand. She dares not mention Nick and the feelings that are surging inside of her for her husband—hoping that some miracle will occur and Nick will want her back. Instead, Susy tells Strefford that the divorce is proceeding and until it is complete, she prefers to keep busy and to herself.

At the mention of the divorce, Strefford brings up Ellie and Nelson Vanderlyn and their marital breakup. As Susy listens, she hears more than...

(The entire section is 415 words.)

Chapter 28 Summary

When Susy receives Nick’s telegram, she, too, scrutinizes every detail of his words. The message is brief. She wonders why he signed it “N.L.” rather than spelling out his name; she had signed her note “Susy.” She feels that the initials place a personal “abyss” between them. She anxiously awaits his arrival but she dares not stand in front of the window and look out. She does not want to appear anxious. Then finally he is there.

Susy looks at Nick and has trouble seeing the man she married. He feels like a stranger. Then she realizes that it is the sound of his voice that makes him feel unfamiliar. He is talking to her in a tone that he usually reserves for people he does not know very well. He has never...

(The entire section is 553 words.)

Chapter 29 Summary

Susy rises the next morning well before the normal time to wake the children. She enters Junie’s room. Junie is twelve and old enough and capable enough to care for her siblings at least for a few hours. Susy tells Junie that there is something she must do. Junie sees tears on Susy’s face and becomes quite concerned. Susy says she must go away for the day even though she promised the children’s mother that she would never leave the children alone. However, she has “got to.” Junie not only agrees to undertake the care of her siblings but encourages Susy to go. Although she has no understanding of what is bothering Susy, Junie tells her that getting away for a few hours will do her some good. Susy wakes and dresses the...

(The entire section is 484 words.)

Chapter 30 Summary

Nick insists that Susy go away with him, but Susy tells him she cannot leave the children. If they are to go somewhere, the children must come with them. This seems absurd to Nick because he feels he and Susy are about to go on a new honeymoon, but Susy will have it no other way. She has grown to care for the children, and she is serious about her responsibility to them.

As Nick is busy taking care of details before they leave, Susy runs an errand of her own, but readers are not yet told what she is doing. When everything is packed, Nick, Susy, the five children, their cook, a cage of birds, and a small kitten all depart for a short holiday. When evening falls, Susy puts the children to bed and leaves the cook in charge...

(The entire section is 514 words.)

Ed. Scott Locklear