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The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
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The Custom of the Country (1913)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,410335,365 (4.02)1 / 238
  1. 20
    Daniel Deronda by George Eliot (davidcla)
    davidcla: Wharton's 1913 novel is excellent, and very interesting to read as a companion to George Eliot's Daniel Deronda. Wharton's Undine casts Eliot's Gwendolen in a new light. And vice versa.
  2. 10
    The House of Mirth by Edith Wharton (jennybhatt)
    jennybhatt: While the heroine of this novel is also a social climber, she's a more sympathetic portrait that contrasts well.
  3. 00
    Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (Limelite)
    Limelite: This social climbing, greedy, French counterpart of Undine doesn't get the same ending. Her story does, however, benefit from Flaubert's trenchant satire of the bourgoisie.
  4. 00
    Gone With the Wind by Margaret Mitchell (jennybhatt)
    jennybhatt: As social climbers go, Scarlett O'Hara ranks among the top ones. The similarities (marrying or attaching to various men as a way to get ahead) and evolutionary differences (the self-determination to make it solo if needed and feasible) between Undine Spragg and Scarlett O'Hara provide interesting juxtaposition.… (more)
  5. 00
    Pink and White Tyranny by Harriet Beecher Stowe (espertus)
    espertus: A lighter account of the marriage of a selfish social climber to an upstanding man
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Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton tells the story of Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl who attempts to scale the heights of New York City society. Undine is one of the most unique characters I have come across. Beautiful, selfish, and ignorant. She is terribly spoiled and seems incapable of understanding the consequences of her actions. She has no empathy and leaves a wake of damaged lives behind her. She repulsed me with her nastiness, yet I had to read on and find out what she was going to do next.

As we follow Undine through first one husband and then another, I kept waiting for her to learn a life lesson or two, but instead she always seems to think that her wishes must come first, that money should always be available to her and that her beauty entitled her to anything she wanted. Undine always seems to get what she wanted, but she also was quickly dissatisfied. Motherhood did nothing to mature her and I felt very sorry for her son, Paul. Wharton never wavered in keeping Undine true to her vision, even at the end of the book, the reader is given a glimpse of Undine that allows us to know that she will never be satisfied with the status quo.

Wharton delivers her story beautifully and uses her wit and insight to give us a sharp look at upper crust society as the nouveau riche come up against the old guard. I enjoyed this book immensely and will keep Undine Spragg on the memory shelf alongside of Scarlett O’Hara and Becky Sharp. ( )
6 vote DeltaQueen50 | Oct 15, 2014 |
Vanity Fair meets Downton Abbey!!! I do love my Edith Wharton and her snarky observations of civilized society. ( )
  FutureMrsJoshGroban | Aug 4, 2014 |
How does Wharton do it? In Undine Spregg she has created a very unsympathetic character - selfish, spoiled, cruel, materialistic, heartless – who turns over husbands much as she does dresses and discards her child – and yet Wharton’s Undine is fascinating and unforgettable.

Though Undine is a ruthless social climber the quality of the prose, the exquisite characterisations, the vivid scenes and exchanges, the variety of viewpoints are all so good one can only continue. And Undine is never indecisive – the story never wavers or palls because she never takes her eye from the next prize.

But Wharton loves to throw the cat among the pigeons. She is also using Undine to comment on the social mores of the time. She shows how the nature of business is shifting, and the nouveau riche are pushing aside the stuffy old guard. She also draws some interesting comparisons between American and Europe society. Wharton combines superb prose with an acute understanding of human character. ( )
  RobinDawson | Feb 9, 2014 |
Edith Wharton is truly a woman of letters. I cannot think of a contemporary writer who even comes close to matching her style and use of language. It is a pleasure to read her prose, and not difficult or archaic as some may think “Classic Novels” to be. Along with her beautiful prose is her keen insights into human nature, and her ability to skewer and satirize every social class with knowing intimacy.

Wharton daringly takes a wholly unlikeable and unsympathetic character, Undine Sprague, and makes her the main character of this novel. Undine is one of the most spoiled characters I have ever read about in a novel; she and Becky Sharp from Vanity Fair seem to be tied for this title. While Undine has brief flashes of insight and understanding of her world, her ambitions and those around her, they are very brief and she dismisses them quickly so as not to lose sight of the next rung up on the Social ladder in which she is ascending.

While this is not my favorite Wharton book, (Undine is just too unsympathetic for that) I would absolutely recommend it, if for no other reason than to read beautiful prose, something that seems to be a lost art today in “literary fiction.”
( )
  trishrope | Feb 7, 2014 |
I like Edith Wharton's writing very much, and this novel has many of her strengths, but I struggled with it because of Edith Wharton's relentless snobbery towards her main character, Undine Spragg, a loathsome and predatory specimen of the "nouveau riche" who preys on and ingratiates herself into classy but faded old-money New York society.

Edith Wharton directs (or at least strongly nudges) the reader to hate Unidine and take the side of her victims, but the old rich of New York are no better than the nouveau riche in my view: their old money ultimately derives from expropriating Native American land, so why should I sympathise with them?

Thus, although Undine is most certainly far from likable, I found myself with a sneaking admiration for her, and felt that, portrayed by another author with a broader range of human sympathies, she could have emerged as a heroic, or at least anti-heroic, character. I'll fight you for her, Edith! ( )
  timjones | Dec 24, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 33 (next | show all)
Edith Wharton's "The Custom of the Country" turned 100 this year, and the adventures of its heroine, Undine Spragg, remain as brazen today as when she first advanced upon the American scene.
 

» Add other authors (18 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Conlin, GraceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Showalter, ElaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagner-Martin, LindaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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"Undine Spragg – how can you?’ her mother wailed, raising a prematurely-wrinkled hand heavy with rings to defend the note which a languid ‘bell-boy’ had just brought in.
Quotations
"Just so; she'd even feel aggrieved. But why? Because
it's against the custom of the country. And whose fault
is that? The man's again—I don't mean Ralph I mean
the genus he belongs to: homo sapiens, Americanus.
Why haven't we taught our women to take an interest
in our work? Simply because we don't take enough
interest in THEM."
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Book description
With the intention of making a suitable match, Undine Spragg and her parents move to New York where her youthful, radiant beauty and ruthless ambition prove an irresistible force. Here Edith Wharton dissects the traditions, pretensions and prohibitions of American and
European society - both the ostentatious glitter of the nouveau riche and the faded grandeur of the upper classes - with an eye all the more exacting for its dispassionate gaze. And in Undine Spragg she has created an unforgettable heroine - a woman taught to dazzle and enslacv, but to know nothing of the financial and social cost of the status she so passionately craves.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0143039709, Paperback)

Considered by many to be her masterpiece, Edith Wharton's second full-length work is a scathing yet personal examination of the exploits and follies of the modern upper class. As she unfolds the story of Undine Spragg, from New York to Europe, Wharton affords us a detailed glimpse of what might be called the interior décor of this America and its nouveau riche fringes. Through a heroine who is as vain, spoiled, and selfish as she is irresistibly fascinating, and through a most intricate and satisfying plot that follows Undine's marriages and affairs, she conveys a vision of social behavior that is both supremely informed and supremely disenchanted.
This new edition features a new introduction and explanatory notes and reset text

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:49:32 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

Edith Wharton's novels of manners seem to grow in stature as time passes. Here, she draws a beautiful social climber, Undine Sprague, who is a monster of selfishness and honestly doesn't know it. Although the worlds she wants to conquer have vanished, Undine herself is amazingly recognizable. She marries well above herself twice and both times fails to recognize her husbands' strengths of character or the weakness of her own, and it is they, not she, who pay the price.… (more)

» see all 8 descriptions

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