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The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

The Custom of the Country (1913)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,470375,076 (4.03)1 / 262
  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 37 (next | show all)
This is, perhaps, Edith Wharton's most scathing satire of haute bourgeoisie society of all the novels she wrote. I have seen it compared to The House of Mirth but while Lily Barth was bad (but probably not bad enough), Undine Spragg is just plain awful: shallow, uneducated, vulgar and totally narcissistic. She lives in her own selfish world that must unceasingly revolve around herself.

Unfortunately, like many beautiful women she has a string of enablers - starting with her parents who bend to her every whim. The novel chronicles her rise from a midwestern city (Chicago? Cleveland?) to New York where she marries into an old New York family (Think the Welland family from The Age of Innocence only with a whole lot less money). She quickly becomes disillusioned with him, and moves onto greener pastures with a French aristocrat, only to see that his expectations of domestic life do not meet her expectations of how she wants to live.

Finally we find her with husband number three - a vulgar Donald rump-like character - who is very rich and understands that he will only hold onto her as long as his money holds out. Along the way, Undine leaves a trail of destruction in her wake: suicide, bankruptcy,a neglected child and ruined parents. Up to the very end, she is neither satisfied, nor is she sorry for anything that she does.

In today's age of income inequality and narcissistic culture, this book, written 100 years ago is just as relevant to day as when it was written in 1912. ( )
  etxgardener | Aug 23, 2015 |
Edith Wharton paints a fascinating anti-heroine in Udine. Ambitious, totally selfish and self-deceiving Udine sets out to conquer Society in both America and turn-of-the-century France. Divorcing her husbands and neglecting her child to achieve superficial supremacy if not personal satisfaction. ( )
  LARA335 | Jun 21, 2015 |
** spoiler alert ** The story of Undine Spragg, possibly the most self-centred heroine I have ever encountered, who forces her long-suffering parents to move to New York so that she can meet "the best people". She marries Ralph, from an "old family" and has a son with him, but divorces him because he is too poor. She plans to marry her lover, Peter, but he drops her and so, after much strategizing on her part she marries a French nobleman, Raymond. Raymond too fails to keep her in the style she had expected, so she ditches him for the dubious Elmer Moffatt, to whom, it is revealed towards the end, she was briefly married as a teenager. Even with his riches, she is dissatisfied and the final page sees her furious that as a divorcee she can never be the wife of an ambassador.

Things I liked about this novel:

Undine's realisation that Raymond and his friends are bored by her because she is ignorant and has no interests or conversation.

The fact that Peter ditches her (or at least says he does) because of her heartless disregard for her husband when he is so ill.

The comments that: Undine regards money as something the men in her life must provide for her and she is wholly uninterested in how it is earned/obtained; American men keep their women ignorant about money and thus value them and their intelligence less than Europeans do their wives.

On the other hand:

Ralph's suicide came out of nowhere and seemed precipitate - surely he knew Undine didn't really want Paul?

Presumably Undine's divorce from Elmer meant that her marriage to Raymond in the RC church was unlawful. This doesn't affect the plot because the divorce was kept secret, but were we supposed to note this? ( )
  pgchuis | Apr 28, 2015 |
about a horrible, selfish social climber--main character is so annoying that I could barely force myself to finish the book--proves that women today are lucky to be educated with careers so they can divert their energy toward better things than parties clothes and status ( )
  jaysbooks | Feb 13, 2015 |
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 |
Showing 1-5 of 37 (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.
"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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:18:57 -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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