For the role of brand names and product placement in Entourage, see Brooke E. Duffy, Tara Liss-Mariño, and Katherine Sender, “Reflexivity In Television Depictions Of Media Industries: Peeking Behind The Gilt Curtain.” Communication, Culture & Critique 4.3 (2011): 296–313.
Edith Wharton Meets Aquaman: The Glimpses of the Moon and Imperiled Male Culture in Entourage
Article first published online: 20 DEC 2012
© 2012, Wiley Periodicals, Inc.
The Journal of Popular Culture
Volume 45, Issue 6, pages 1152–1168, December 2012
How to Cite
Campbell, D. (2012), Edith Wharton Meets Aquaman: The Glimpses of the Moon and Imperiled Male Culture in Entourage. The Journal of Popular Culture, 45: 1152–1168. doi: 10.1111/jpcu.12002
- Issue published online: 20 DEC 2012
- Article first published online: 20 DEC 2012
Of all of the cultural spaces that exist in contemporary media, the television programs aimed at the key advertising demographic of males aged 18–34 seem the least likely spot for a sighting of Edith Wharton and her works. One of the hit shows for this population is the HBO series Entourage, a program loosely based on the experiences of its creator and producer, Mark Wahlberg, and his friends. Entourage follows the career of rising movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) and his entourage, a group of friends from Queens who live with him: his best friend and manager, Eric Murphy (Kevin Connelly); his older half-brother, Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon), a 1990s television star trying to revive his fading career; and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), a high school friend who functions as Vince's driver. The other principal character is Vince's longtime agent, the hyperactive, comically foul-mouthed, and ethically challenged Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven). Ari continually urges Vince to do “popcorn” action movies rather than the independent projects to which Vince is naturally drawn, a state of affairs that leads to clashes of wills as Ari tries to lead Vince to commercial, rather than simply critical, success. Vince's most successful project to date, and Ari's greatest success in convincing Vince to make a commercial movie, has been the blockbuster hit Aquaman, a James Cameron-directed adaptation of the comic book series of the same name.
Neither Entourage's action-star hero, “Aquaman” Vinnie Chace, nor its plots, which focus on partying, encounters with beautiful women, and Vince's film career, obviously evokes Edith Wharton as a key cultural reference. Yet Aquaman does meet Edith Wharton, in the form of a three-episode story arc late in the third season in which Vince considers starring in an adaptation of Wharton's The Glimpses of the Moon, a relatively obscure work in her canon. Despite the seemingly eccentric choice of Wharton as an author and Glimpses as the work to be adapted, Edith Wharton—or, more accurately, the idea of “Edith Wharton” as promoted in contemporary media—plays an important part in the series during her brief appearance. On the surface, the figure of Edith Wharton functions as a cultural shorthand for high-toned movie adaptations like The Age of Innocence, just as the choice of Glimpses of the Moon, seems, as television critic Verne Gay observes, “a cute little literary inside joke referring to Edith Wharton's novel about a pair of penniless flappers from the 1920s who learn to live off of well-heeled friends—just like Vince's posse” (1). On a deeper level, however, the story arc of Wharton and Glimpses of the Moon becomes a thinly veiled indictment of Wharton and what she represents. The specter of “Edith Wharton” and the female audiences that her name evokes are presented as a threat to a male culture that the show presents as unabashedly and happily hedonistic, just as the choice of Glimpses, with its eventual, if ironic, ending of love, marriage, and responsibility, challenges the male fantasy of rootlessness and sexual freedom at the heart of Entourage.
The specter of “Edith Wharton” reflects the popular view of the novelist, whose novels of New York society, considered daring in their time, later came to represent the sexually repressed, socially correct culture of a bygone age. Born to a wealthy New York family in 1862, Edith Newbold Jones was educated at home and abroad with private governesses until her marriage to Edward Wharton in 1885. Fiercely intelligent and bored by her role as a society hostess, Wharton began publishing travel essays, poems, stories, and novels by the end of the nineteenth century. She made her reputation with the bestselling and now classic The House of Mirth (1905), and subsequent novels, including Ethan Frome (1911), The Custom of the Country (1913), and Summer (1917), confirmed her position as one of the foremost American novelists. By the time she won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1921 for The Age of Innocence (1920), Wharton had lived in France for more than a decade, yet except for Glimpses of the Moon, her novels of the 1920s chronicle a Jazz Age America with which she had little contact or look back to the nineteenth-century society of “Old New York.” Although her work still sold well, by the time of Wharton's death in 1937 her reputation was that of a literary dowager writing of a bygone past rather than that of a contemporary novelist.
Indeed, by the early 1920s the rising generation of modernists such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, Virginia Woolf, James Joyce, and T. S. Eliot had supplanted Wharton's novels of manners with new forms of writing. When The Glimpses of the Moon appeared in 1922, it marked Wharton's return to contemporary subject matter after the “Old New York” setting of The Age of Innocence. Yet 1922 is also an annus mirabilis of modernism, since it saw the publication of classics such as T. S. Eliot's The Waste Land, James Joyce's Ulysses, Virginia Woolf's Jacob's Room, and F. Scott Fitzgerald's Tales of the Jazz Age and The Beautiful and Damned. With their evocation of a mythological past in a fragmented post-World War I present, their intricate treatment of technology, modernity, and the distortion of time, and especially with their stylistic and structural innovations, these works announced an abrupt departure from the formal realism that characterized Wharton's work, a shift evident to both generations of writers. As Michael North points out, for Willa Cather 1922 was the year that “the world broke in two,” but for F. Scott Fitzgerald it was “the peak of the young generation” (3–4). Significantly, Fitzgerald set The Great Gatsby in 1922, and Gatsby's doomed romantic attempt to capture the past in a present that inevitably moves its characters through the Valley of Ashes exemplifies the tensions that modernism sought to expose. (In Entourage's world, The Great Gatsby becomes a plot point when, after the disastrous Medellín, Martin Scorsese offers Vincent Chase a leading role in a new version of the novel; the box-office success of the adaptation puts Vince's career back on track.)
Like Glimpses, the Edith Wharton story arc in Entourage is essentially a comedy of remarriage, a movie genre in which a made-for-each-other couple is separated by a misunderstanding and matched with unsuitable partners, only to rediscover their love for each other at the fadeout. In defining the genre in “Pursuits of Happiness: A Reading of The Lady Eve,” Stanley Cavell argues that “the drive of its plot is not to get the central pair together, but to get them back together, together again. Hence the fact of marriage is subordinate to the fact or threat of divorce” (582). But the threatened divorce of Susy and Nick Lansing in Wharton's Glimpses of the Moon is less a plot consideration in Entourage than the threatened divorce and dissolution of the homosocial bond between Vince and Ari. At the conclusion of episode 34, “Sorry, Ari,” which aired some ten months before “Less Than Thirty,” Vince had fired Ari when Ari's gamesmanship had cost Vince a starring role in a movie he badly wanted to do, a biopic about The Ramones. Before Ari's firing, Vince and Ari had shared a friendship as well as the usual agent-client relationship; as Eric explains to Turtle and Johnny Drama, “Besides us and his mother, Ari's the longest relationship Vince has ever had” (“Less Than Thirty”). Although Vince has moved on professionally by signing with another agent, Amanda (Carla Gugino), Ari refuses to accept Vince's departure. The Edith Wharton story arc, which begins with episode 35, “Less Than Thirty,” and concludes with episode 37, “Manic Monday,” traces the aftermath of the breakup and the beginnings of the reconciliation between the two. As Virginia Heffernan explains, “This relationship has been the central romance of the series. And now beautiful Vince is indifferent to Ari's agony. This season is about how men love men, and how they hate themselves for loving men … [and] stand up to women so they can love men” (1).
As is customary in this fast-paced half-hour show, three storylines converge during “Less Than Thirty”: preparations for Vince's thirtieth birthday party, which Turtle and Drama are in charge of organizing; Vince's and Eric's interactions with Amanda about Glimpses of the Moon; and the beginnings of Ari's meltdown over losing Vince. The blurring of professional and personal relationships becomes most apparent in the Vince-Ari plot, for the Hollywood world of Entourage produces characters who not only confuse sex and money but negotiate business relationships in sexual language. For example, Johnny Drama advises Vince to go to lunch rather than dinner with Ari because the latter will signal “that you want to get back in the sack with him” (“Less Than Thirty”). That this sexualized language of relationships has a business component is something they all recognize, as becomes apparent when Vince and Eric meet Ari for lunch. “Wouldn't even have dinner with me, huh?” Ari asks, adding, “Feels weird, kind of like I'm trying to fuck you guys,” to which Eric responds “Are you?” (“Less Than Thirty”). Throughout the episode, “fuck” functions as an auto-antonym, metaphorically signifying both an aggressively pursued intimate relationship and an attack in which one partner triumphs over the other. Ari consistently uses the word in its first meaning of courtship and pursuit, but Eric, wary about Ari's motives, usually responds by suggesting the second meaning of attack, for, as he tells Vince, “I don't think I've ever had a conversation with Ari where he didn't want something” (“Less Than Thirty”). Sex and money are the primary source of power in Entourage, and the principal ethical dilemma in both Glimpses and Entourage is whether characters can retain their principles and maintain honest feeling in a relationship without cashing in on friendship for the sake of profit. In Entourage, intangible social currency generates tangible economic power, just as it does in the 1920s world of Wharton's Glimpses of the Moon.
Two scenes from “Less Than Thirty” illustrate the kind of cultural currency that the figure of Edith Wharton provides. In the first one, Vince and Eric meet with Vince's new agent, Amanda, who, in a possible further in-joke, is, like Wharton, a divorcée and a dog lover: “What kind of man sues for custody of a labradoodle?” she asks (“Less Than Thirty”). As Sara Vilkomerson notes, “Women on Entourage have always fallen into two categories: vapid, sweet, gamine types and tough-talking ball-busters” (1), but Amanda combines both types by being not only beautiful but strong. Although Vince greets her with the compliment “Is that my new agent or America's Next Top Model?” Amanda deflates his flattery by saying, “Don't patronize me. I know I look like shit” (“Less Than Thirty”). Amanda's no-nonsense style is different from Ari's, but she, like Ari, is unquestionably in charge, and her first task is to see if Vince and Eric have done their “assigned reading” by tackling the scripts she has sent home with them. A running joke in the series is that Vince rarely, if ever, reads a script at all, and he confesses to having read only “half of three” scripts. In his defense, Vince protests that the scripts she has sent are too long (“You leave me no time for skin care,” he jokes), unlike the short, action-filled scripts Ari used to send them, but Amanda brooks no excuses:
“Look, I can find you another popcorn movie, no problem, but you asked me to find something you can sink your teeth into.”
“Well, do you have something? Because none of these [scripts] quite got us.”
“This one will. You guys know I don't hard sell, but this is the one. One hundred and twenty-seven pages.”
“It's Edith Wharton's Glimpses of the Moon. The studio's been trying to tackle it for years but nobody could get a handle on it. Steve Zaillian did, and the script is wonderful. Did you guys like Age of Innocence?”
“I don't remember the story, but I do remember after seeing it, I knew how to hold my fork.”
“I liked Age of Innocence. Is Scorsese doing this?”
“No, Sam Mendes is.”
“Oh, Sam Mendes. I love American Beauty.”
“Great! Read at least 90 then. And they need a quick answer.” (“Less Than Thirty”)
Needless to say, fork-holding is not a plot point in The Age of Innocence, but Vince responds to the Wharton brand rather than to the movie itself. His take on Edith Wharton is that of the great American public: the novelist as a chilly arbiter of manners more concerned with form than with substance. Eric, who is portrayed as both smarter and more practical than Vince, asks about the director, thus gently guiding the discussion beyond Vince's limited perspective. His question, and Amanda's response, positions Edith Wharton as not only a fit subject for Martin Scorsese, director of violent spectacles like Goodfellas and The Departed, but also for Sam Mendes, whose American Beauty chronicles a social dysfunction that Wharton would have understood. The next morning, Vince and Eric agree that they like the script—or “what I understood of it,” says Eric, to which Vince replies, “I did run to my dictionary a couple of times.” Wharton's work may be the subject of movies by Scorsese and potentially by Mendes, but Wharton is still too much of a stuffy intellectual for those who call themselves “the boys from Queens.”
The second judgment on Wharton in this episode is that of Vince's former agent, Ari Gold. In offering The Glimpses of the Moon, with its 1920s period ambiance and the high-culture aura provided by Wharton's name, Amanda has given Vince access to a different kind of audience and a different way of reaching female viewers. Ari, by contrast, is trying desperately to lure Vince back to the fold by giving him, as a birthday present, the script for a movie that Vince has longed to make: Medellín, a violent, drug-saturated story about the Columbian drug lord Pablo Escobar. The implicit choice is clear: stay with Amanda and do a high-culture women's picture, or return to Ari and do a real man's picture like Medellín. Wanting to know why Ari would send Medellín to Vince when it is already unavailable and in production with another star, Eric calls him to ask what it means:
“It means that Vince doesn't have to do some paint-drying Edith Wharton novel.”
“How'd you know about that?”
“It is my job to know all, E. Do you know Edith Wharton? Always the same movie: guy can't fuck the girl for five years, because those were the times. Can Vince really relate to that?”
“What's up with Medellín?”
“Why don't you check in with your girl? She should be able to tell you.”
“You fucking with us, Ari?
“Why would I do that, E? We're all friends. This is a gesture of friendship. Now as a friend, I advise you to call your girl and find out why she didn't hand it to you first.” (“Less Than Thirty”; emphasis indicated by voice inflection in the original telecast)
Once again Ari escalates his ongoing pursuit of Vince, and once again Eric parries the attack, expressing his distrust of Ari's motives by using the auto-antonym he had used in the restaurant scene: “You fucking with us, Ari?” (“Less Than Thirty”).
The scenario Ari describes bears no resemblance to the plot of Glimpses of the Moon, where Susy Branch and Nick Lansing, the protagonists, are married at the outset of the novel. Ari, like Vince, is influenced by a stereotypical representation of Wharton and her torturously boring, “paint-drying” novels. (A similar comment occurs in the movie Grosse Point Blank, in which the protagonist, Martin Blank, asks his high school English teacher whether she is still “inflicting that horrible Ethan Frome damage” on students.) That Glimpses of the Moon was seen in its own time as proposing a moral problem “as coarse as one can imagine anything self-consciously concerned with morality possibly being” (West 314) is lost even on the Harvard-educated Ari, because for a contemporary audience, Wharton stands for repressive tradition, not a daring exploration of sexuality and morality. As Pierre Bourdieu explains in The Field of Cultural Production, even “works which are inevitably associated with a moment in the history of art … are condemned to fall into the past and to become classic or outdated, to drop into the ‘dustbin’ of history or become part of history, in the eternal present of culture” (106). Wharton has fallen into this “eternal present of culture” and, as such, her name in popular parlance has come to signify a high-toned women's author whose boring works are designed to torture men.
But Ari's comment contains a grain of truth despite its inaccuracy. How indeed can Vince, or his young male audience, relate to the frustrated love plots and denial of sexuality that characterize novels such as Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence, when any form of self-denial is an alien concept in Vince's, and the young male audience's, fantasy world? Even Eric, presumably alert to the possibilities of the script, does not take the trouble to refute Ari's assessment, showing that he, too, has bought into the Wharton myth. Ari's references in the scene to “friends” and “friendship” underscore his promise to Vince that he will not try to steal Vince back from Amanda, but his repeated belittling references to “your girl” as not knowing as much as he does serves also to drive home the idea that his power, and his masculinity, makes him the right agent for Vince. In Hollywood, however, masculinity is even more socially constructed than it is elsewhere, since it is conferred almost solely by power and vice versa. A bankable action star like Vince is a portable totem of economic and social power: whoever signs him to an agency contract gains not only his star power but also the symbolic masculinity that derives from this status. In a late scene in “Less Than Thirty,” Amanda shows that two can play at the game of symbolic masculinity when power is at stake. During Vince's lavish thirtieth birthday party on the Queen Mary, which the consummate scrounger Turtle has produced at no cost by having Victoria's Secret and a host of other advertisers sponsor the party, Amanda wins the first round when Vince reaffirms his loyalty to her in front of Ari. Ari tries one last appeal, telling Vince, in the language usually used by spurned lovers, that they can't “just be friends,” after which Vince tells him that he needs to let go. Having failed to inveigle Vince into abandoning Amanda, Ari announces to her, with some bravado, “He'll be back, hack.” Amanda responds by affirming her power–her possession of Vince–and casting Ari as feminine and weak. “Want me to walk you to your car, Ari?” she taunts him. “This town's not safe for a bitch” (“Less Than Thirty”).
To restore the equilibrium of the series, Edith Wharton, and her proxy, Amanda, must be vanquished, an event that occurs some three weeks and two episodes later in “Manic Monday.” (The intervening episode, “Dog Day Afternoon,” alludes to Amanda's attempts to get Vince to commit to Glimpses but does not focus on Vince and Ari's relationship.) Vince's and Ari's stories in “Manic Monday” both concern emasculating women who try to force men into actions that they do not want to take and to restrain men from doing what they want to do. As the logic of the comedy of remarriage dictates, without his beloved Vince Ari is only a shadow of his former self; his eyes even fill with tears when he sees a picture of Vince and himself on his office computer. For Ari, signs of emotion are signs of weakness; they signal that he is becoming a “decent human being” instead of an effective agent, two polar opposites in the show's comic perspective on Hollywood. In his new role of someone who has lost his edge and is trying to do the right thing, Ari is becoming feminized, in the show's terms: in “Dog Day Afternoon,” after encouraging his gay assistant, Lloyd (Rex Lee), to “take one for the team” and sleep with a writer whom Ari is trying to sign for the agency, Ari rescues Lloyd from the man's clutches; and in “Manic Monday” he fails to fire an underperforming agent because he sympathizes with the agent, whose wife has left him. His emasculation becomes even more evident when he is pushed to the edge by three women whom he perceives as domineering: his wife, Mrs. Ari, who forces him to attend an appointment for marriage counseling; his business partner, Babs, who has demanded that he fire the underperforming agent; and his therapist, who wants him to embrace his new emotions instead of remaining the “low-life narcissistic grunt” (“Manic Monday”) that he currently is. Ari reasserts his manhood when his therapist angers him by setting boundaries, first telling her off, then firing the unfortunate agent, and finally grabbing a candy bar from a random female employee walking down the hall of his agency, an act that signals that he is literally as well as figuratively taking back his power from the hands of women.
Vince, too, is threatened with emasculation in “Manic Monday.” Although he had initially agreed to do Glimpses of the Moon, he stalls on meeting with Sam Mendes and avoids Amanda's phone calls because he hopes that Medellín will become available. Amanda then demands that Eric and Vince meet her in her office, and she berates them in a way that Johnny and Turtle, wincing as they listen outside the door, say “must be very emasculating” (“Manic Monday”). Eric assures her that they will reread the Glimpses script and give her a response by four o'clock that day. Given copies of the script of Glimpses, however, Vince, Turtle, and Johnny Drama confirm Wharton's “paint-drying” reputation by falling asleep while reading it. The tone and level of the subsequent literary discussion about the script's merits is best summed up in Turtle's assessment: “I didn't get it at all. I mean, why doesn't Vince bang the girl?” (“Manic Monday”). Speaking as an Everyman, Turtle, like Vince and Ari in the previous episode, responds to the script based on the common perception of Edith Wharton rather than from any familiarity with her works. Perhaps recognizing that if Turtle represents more of Vince's target audience than a Wharton-reading public does, Vince and Eric confess that they, too, found the script “totally boring” and were only interested because “Amanda was excited” about the script (“Manic Monday”). They are attracted by her passion and anger, because, as Johnny Drama remarks, “All men love women filled with rage” (“Manic Monday”).
In the last scenes of “Manic Monday,” Vince and Eric receive a little more of Amanda's rage, which she is careful to label “frustration,” when they meet to tell her that Vince won't do Glimpses of the Moon. Pressed for an explanation, the two explain that Vince doesn't want to ride a horse and use a British accent, and the project is declared dead. With Edith Wharton out of the way, Vince makes his intentions clear by telling Amanda that she is “cute,” and Amanda calls him later to suggest that they dispel the sexual tension by sleeping together just once. As his entourage is quick to tell Vince, sex changes everything, and within a few episodes, Amanda is out of the picture after Vince erroneously accuses her of being more interested in him romantically than professionally. By objectifying Amanda, by placing her in the category of “woman” rather than that of “agent,” and by rejecting the high-culture woman's picture that Wharton represents, Vince begins the process of restoring the male equilibrium that had been upset by having a woman in charge. He banishes Edith Wharton, the prestige project of Glimpses, and Amanda's professional relationship with him at one fell swoop, thus reasserting his masculinity once more. Having vanquished the threat that Wharton and Glimpses of the Moon represent to an apparently fragile male culture, Vince is free to return to Ari and the pursuit of Medellín. The comedy of remarriage has succeeded, this time by breaking apart a romantic heterosexual couple and reinstating the true homosocial partnership between Vince and Ari after they have separately regained the masculinity they had lost.
But where does Glimpses of the Moon fit into the equation? Wharton's novel is a far cry from the film described here: it features no plot of romantic pursuit between Susy and Nick, no horses for Nick/Vince to ride, and only one prominent British male character, Strefford, who is not the romantic lead and thus not the part that Vince would play. As its earliest reviewers were quick to observe, The Glimpses of the Moon is essentially a retelling of The House of Mirth that asks what would happen if the penniless but fashionably beautiful Lily Bart and the idealistic lawyer Lawrence Selden decided to marry after all. Its protagonists, Nick Lansing and Susy Branch, have married because they can live on their wedding present money for a year, but they agree to part if either finds a richer partner. Like Vince's entourage, they have no qualms about having their rich friends foot the bills, believing that the charm of having newlyweds as houseguests will more than compensate the hosts whose empty mansions they inhabit. But as in The House of Mirth, and in Entourage, for that matter, what seems free must always be paid for in one currency if not in another. For Nick and Susy, the freedom for Nick to write and to live in their next borrowed honeymoon house is purchased at the price of covering up for the affair of their hostess, Ellie Vanderlyn, when she vacations elsewhere with her lover. Susy keeps this subterfuge to herself, sacrificing her ideals to Nick's comfort, but when Nick finds out, he leaves Susy, declaring that “I've never in all my life done people's dirty work for them—least of all for favours in return” (108). Like Lawrence Selden, and like Vince Chase, Nick fails to see that his idealism is purchased at the price of the dirty work that others will do for him. That Susy can “manage” to find housing for them both is a talent he comes to despise, as he begins to shudder at hearing the word itself.
As is typical in a comedy of remarriage, the couple must be separated by various complications and misunderstandings that force the hero and heroine to reassess their values. It is this pattern that Wharton both follows and ironizes, for she separates her characters far beyond the requirements of the comedy of remarriage. After Nick leaves, each believes that the other has found another partner and somewhat improbably they decide not to write to each other, thus multiplying the chance, essential in romantic comedy, that the two will act at cross-purposes. Seeing a newspaper social note about Nick's trip to Greece, Susy deduces that he wants to hold to their agreement and divorce her so that he can marry the heiress Coral Hicks; and reading that Charles Strefford has inherited a title and immense wealth, Nick infers that Susy wants to marry him. Other comedies of remarriage, such as The Awful Truth or His Girl Friday, typically find plot devices to throw the separated couple together during this separation, but by sending Susy to Paris and London and Nick on a cruise off the Greek isles, Wharton keeps them apart for almost the entire action of the book. She multiplies the difficulties of creating a film script out of her novel and indirectly confirms the truth of Amanda's comment that “the studio's been trying to tackle it for years” (“Less Than Thirty”) without success (although a silent version, now lost, was produced in 1923). Wharton similarly provides an ironic take on the purpose of the comedy of remarriage, the “acquisition in time of self-knowledge…of learning who you are” (Cavell 589–90). Like Lily Bart, whose relationship with Selden teaches her that she has been striving for an unworthy set of goals, Susy gradually realizes that she has been spoiled for the shallow and self-serving life of a society parasite because of her marriage to Nick. When Strefford boasts that he, too, has profited from Ellie Vanderlyn's affair, Susy, recognizing that her social set's idea of “managing” amounts to pandering, renounces Strefford. She instead makes her living taking care of a neglected brood of children, and it is in her new position as a selfless woman, a mother-figure holding a child and silhouetted against a shabby doorway, that Nick at last sees her again, a glimpse that ensures their eventual reunion.
The conclusion of the novel follows the best traditions of romantic comedies of remarriage: the two meet twice more, once in a flurry of misunderstandings and the second time in a gradually dawning mutual understanding. During their first meeting, their stilted conversation serves only to divide, not to unite them, and both feel more than they dare to say. Susy, too proud to tell Nick that she has broken off her engagement to Strefford, assumes that Nick wants to marry Coral Hicks, while he, in turn, assumes that her future happiness depends on their getting a divorce. He obligingly travels to Fountainbleau for an arranged assignation with a paid co-respondent, the only way to secure their divorce on the grounds of adultery. But the second meeting undoes the complications of the first in a scene that, had it appeared at the beginning of the novel, would have been a classic coincidence of romantic comedy. Impulsively deciding to follow Nick to Fontainebleau, Susy rushes out the door into the rain and stops in front of a taxicab, out of which steps Nick, who has returned for her. When Susy asks if there is no other way to get the divorce other than “that horror of your going off with a woman” (347), Nick laughs, telling her that there is “no other way but one. … That you should be the woman” (347), adding, “I swore to myself that I'd go off with a woman by the first train I could catch–and so I mean to, my dear” (348). The serious vow, now ironically and comically fulfilled, casts Susy as wife and as other woman both, a suturing of the two halves of the romantic heroine and her romantic rival into a now-perfect woman.
In the final scenes of Glimpses, the learning process vital to the comedy of remarriage seems to have taken place, for each recognizes that an emotional relation has transformed their earlier vision of a purely material and contractual marriage bond. Despite being the partner most eager to dissolve their relationship, Nick acknowledges that the bond between them transcends the legal fiction that had originally united them: “The point is that we're married…. Married…. Doesn't it mean something to you, something–inexorable? It does to me.... I suppose the people who don't feel it aren't really married–and they'd better separate; much better” (348–9). As Laura Johnson argues, “In order to experience these benefits of marriage, Nick and Susy must relinquish their vision of marriage as a contractual relationship that can be easily sundered” (964). Yet Nick cannot see that, unlike Susy, he has not changed: he is as willing to romanticize Susy, and, presumably, to leave her again if she fails to meet his standards, as he has ever been. As Hildegard Hoeller contends, Wharton's purpose is not to promote sentimentality but to treat it ironically, to show the impossibility of the happy ending that the comedy of remarriage promises: “Glimpses mocks and discards the sentimental hopes that House still carried—and that Wharton had still nourished” (136). In Glimpses, as in other comedies of remarriage, the last scene of the two together is a tacitly ironic acknowledgement that the old conflicts will surface once more after the curtain drops on the happy scene.
The Entourage arc featuring Glimpses follows these conventions even as it ignores the actual plot of the book, a gesture that seems not an accidental misunderstanding but a deliberately ironic wink at its audience. Would most of the show's target demographic really know enough about Wharton's novels, let alone one of her most minor ones, to challenge the writers for deliberately misstating the plot? Or would they, like Turtle, Drama, Vince, Johnny, and even Ari, be content with the emblematic Edith Wharton novel—“always the same movie,” as Ari says— of which the salient point is that it keeps lovers apart? Yet on another level, Entourage's Wharton story arc clearly draws on Glimpses, most obviously in the characters of Nick and Vince. Both men are portrayed as being attractive, although Vince freely admits that his “beautiful eyes” have made his fortune, whereas Nick is unwilling to accept that his physical presence, even more than his knowledge of “Oriental influences in Western art” (63) attracts the wealthy Coral Hicks. In addition, Vince, like Nick, struggles with the desire for male artistic integrity against the crass commercialism and superficiality of the economic culture he must inhabit, even turning down a $14 million salary for Aquaman II at one point because he believes he has been lied to. Both men also have highly unrealistic ideas about the commercial value of the artistic work they prefer to pursue, with Vince claiming not to care about money and Nick believing that the $200 he has received for some travel articles portends a bright future for his novel of ideas, The Pageant of Alexander. Vince's idealism, like Nick's, is bought at the price of others’ scruples, not simply Ari's, who in any case seems to have few scruples in protecting his clients, but those of Eric, whom Vince deputizes as his bearer of bad news. Neither Nick nor Vince learns the lessons of the comedy of remarriage in that both prefer their idealistic visions of themselves to a realistic vision.
In a larger sense, Entourage, like recent films such as The Devil Wears Prada, follows Glimpses of the Moon in satirizing the culture of consumption that surrounds its characters. Viewers, or in Wharton's case readers, can feel superior to the shallowness of the culture portrayed even as both novel and series reinforce that culture's messages through constant adulatory references to products and personalities. In Glimpses, readers are expected to understand immediately, and to feel socially superior and knowledgeable by understanding, the offhand references to “the Lido” (37), “the Giudecca” (25), and other fashionable places in Venice, much as viewers of Entourage are expected to recognize immediately the cultural status of Cristal champagne, Maserati cars, and restaurants and clubs such as The Ivy and Prey.1 Moreover, in Glimpses, as in all Wharton's novels and as in Entourage, superfluous wealth is distributed randomly or bestowed on undeserving characters. In Entourage, the trust-fund heir Nicky Rubenstein can sink millions that he has not earned into a film project, and in Glimpses, the wealthy Vanderlyns and Gillows dabble in adultery just as the nouveau riche Hickses dabble in archaeology, with adultery being the more socially acceptable of the two pursuits. Susy and Nick's decision to exploit this disparity of wealth directly, rather than sinking into the genteel parasitism of becoming unpaid social secretaries and tutors to the rich, has much in common with the ways in which Vince and his crew exploit the complimentary goods and services they enjoy from Burke Williams, Victoria's Secret, and other businesses seeking to capitalize on Vince's celebrity. Viewed in this light, it is no surprise that Vince's birthday party, the triumph of this kind of exchange, occurs in the same episode in which Glimpses of the Moon is introduced, and that Turtle, whose primary job is leveraging Vince's fame for his own purposes, is the grand architect of the party.
Thus although at first glance “Edith Wharton” in Entourage functions as comic shorthand for a sex-denying, high-culture doyenne of manners antithetical to everything that Vince and his friends stand for, Glimpses of the Moon suggests a more complex set of associations. With its themes of social parasitism and its critique of a culture in which people are merely useful tokens easily discarded as expediency dictates, Glimpses shares with Entourage an interest in the true meaning of relationships and the contracts that bind individuals. What Entourage teaches, however, is that there is little room in Vince's world for women who, like Amanda, combine beauty and strength, thus mixing the professional and personal realms in ways that are difficult for Vince and his entourage to negotiate. For the dynamics of Entourage to work, women must be in their proper places as diversions from work, just as Ari and Vince must be in theirs, as the primary dyad of star and agent, antagonist and protagonist. Amanda, and the Edith Wharton-related film project that she brings to Vince, exists as a wedge that the audience suspects will never drive Ari and Vince apart for long, and the sheer improbability of Vince starring in a Wharton film reassures the audience that they are indeed watching a comedy of remarriage that will end happily, with Ari and Vince together again. A Glimpses of the Moon adaptation starring Vince is impossible for another reason as well. To pursue playing such a character as Nick Lansing, and thus to confront the similar culture of exchange that supports Vince and his entourage, would threaten the masculine culture that Vince, and the show, must preserve. In Entourage's terms, Aquaman, it seems, can meet Edith Wharton, but he cannot become part of her world if he wants to remain true to the culture of masculinity that created and continues to support him.
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