HomeGroupsTalkMoreZeitgeist
This site uses cookies to deliver our services, improve performance, for analytics, and (if not signed in) for advertising. By using LibraryThing you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy. Your use of the site and services is subject to these policies and terms.
Hide this

Results from Google Books

Click on a thumbnail to go to Google Books.

Loading...

The Custom of the Country (1913)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
1,954546,069 (4)1 / 297
First published in 1913 and regarded by many critics as her most substantial novel, "The Custom of the Country" is Edith Wharton's powerful saga about the beautiful, ruthless Undine Spragg. A woman of extraordinary ambition and exuberant vitality, Undine is consigned by virtue of her sex to the shadow world of the drawing room and boudoir. Marriage remains the one institution through which she can exercise her will as she entrances man after man, marrying one after the other with protean facility and almost monstrous avidity. A novel that ranges from New York to Paris, from Apex City, Kansas, to Reno, Nevada, "The Custom of the Country" stands as a dark satire of American business, society, and the nouveaux riches, and as Edith Wharton's contribution to the tradition of the American epic.… (more)
  1. 30
    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.
  2. 20
    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.
  3. 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.
  4. 10
    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
Loading...

Sign up for LibraryThing to find out whether you'll like this book.

» See also 297 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
A young girl, trying to get in with the right crowd, worrying about her clothes, exasperated with her parents who refused to give her money for going out, gossiping with and about the latest scandals — sounds like a typical teen novel, right? Now consider that this novel was written and published nearly a century ago, and then consider whether teens today have really changed all that much.

Undine Spragg and her parents have come to New York City from the small town of Apex; Undine intends to have as much fun as possible heedless of expense, while her parents are hoping more conservatively for their daughter to make a good match. As the novel opens, Undine is fretting over a note from the sister of a “little fellow” in whom she has no interest — until she discovers that Ralph Marvell is a member of one of the first families of New York society. This seemingly insignificant young man will eventually become Undine’s husband, and is one of the most sympathetic characters in the entire novel, along with Mr. and Mrs. Spragg, for Undine does not mature gracefully, or perhaps at all throughout.

Despite its age, readers will find timeless characters in this novel. For instance, anyone who has dealt with strong-willed children or teens will recognize this right away: Undine had “two ways of getting things out of [her father] against his principles; the tender wheedling way, and the harsh-lipped and cold… as a child [her parents] had admired her assertiveness, had made Apex ring with their boasts of it; but it had long since cowed Mrs. Spragg, and it was beginning to frighten her husband.” Though originally published in 1913, Edith Wharton’s novel about the spoiled daughter of well-meaning parents hoping to make a foray into New York Society will still ring true amongst those who work with adolescents and young adults, who despite all the years between, still often long for glamor and adventure regardless of society and financial barriers. ( )
  resoundingjoy | Jan 1, 2021 |
A drag and a disappointment, considering how much I love her other books. Wharton stacks the deck to ensure that we hate Undine: she's shallow and vain and grasping and selfish and petulant and cruel and an insatiable money pit of a wife. Also, needless to say, a terrible mother. But the real *reason* she is all these things is because she is a small town girl from an insignificant family, who has the temerity to believe she's the equal of Wharton's beloved New York "society". I think, in Wharton's better-known books, her snobbery certainly comes through, but it is mixed with an incisive critique of the very society that produced her. Here, her critique is mostly directed at the nouveau riche rubes and bumpkins who dare to infiltrate Fifth Avenue, and it just makes Wharton look petty and mean.

https://donut-donut.dreamwidth.org/803915.html ( )
  amydross | Dec 28, 2020 |
I enjoyed Undine’s self-absorption and social climbing, she’s consistently awful to anyone who loves her, manipulative and unapologetic which doesn’t make her likable but I didn’t mind that, there were moments I was eager for her plans to come to fruition and other times where I very much wanted them to blow up in her face so she made for an entertaining read.

However, as much as it entertained me to anticipate ups and downs in Undine’s life, in actuality, I wanted a bit more of an arc to the story. I don’t mean a growth arc for Undine, plenty of people in real life don’t change over time, I didn’t need her to change, but I did need the plot to change more than it did. With the exception of a life-changing decision made by one male character, for the most part the story followed the same pattern over and over. As mentioned, it wasn’t without entertainment value, I just felt like the plot could have used a few more sharp turns, a few more unexpected challenges for a character as formidable as Undine to bump up against. I wish the tides hadn’t always turned quite so easily for her, even a character made to seem from the start like they’re going to throw a wrench in the works for Undine, ultimately doesn’t prove to be much of a foe.

While the plot didn’t twist quite as regularly as I might have hoped, I’d still recommend reading this, at this point in time pop culture is overflowing with anti-heroes but there still aren’t that many anti-heroines out there and even the ones that do come to mind like Scarlet O’Hara, have the occasional redeeming moment, the same cannot be said of Undine, so in that respect her character is a fairly unique reading experience. ( )
  SJGirl | Nov 15, 2020 |
There's something likeably unlikeable about Undine. The ending is perfect. ( )
  beautifulshell | Aug 27, 2020 |
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.”
( )
  tshrope | Jan 13, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 53 (next | show all)
The first time I read Edith Wharton’s novel “The Custom of the Country,” which was published in 1913, I felt at once that I had always known its protagonist and also that I had never before met anyone like her. The values of Undine Spragg—who, in the course of the novel, makes a circuitous and sinister journey from Midwestern rube to ruby-drenched new-money empress—are repulsive, and her attempts to manipulate public attention are mesmerizing. For my money, no literary antiheroine can best Undine—a dazzling monster with rose-gold hair, creamy skin, and a gaping spiritual maw that could swallow New York City. People like her have been abundant in American culture for some time, but I never feel invested in their success; more often, I idly hope for their failure. With Undine, however—thanks to the alchemical mix of sympathy and disdain that animates Wharton’s language in the novel and allows her to match Undine’s savagery with plenty of her own—I find myself wanting her to get everything she desires.
 
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.
added by danielx | editThe Wall Street Journal, Leonard Cassuto (pay site) (Dec 13, 2013)
 

» Add other authors (17 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Edith Whartonprimary authorall editionscalculated
Conlin, GraceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgel, StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Showalter, ElaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Wagner-Martin, LindaIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
You must log in to edit Common Knowledge data.
For more help see the Common Knowledge help page.
Canonical title
Original title
Alternative titles
Original publication date
People/Characters
Important places
Important events
Related movies
Awards and honors
Epigraph
Dedication
First words
"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.
Edith Wharton's The Custom of the Country (1913), takes its title from a Jacobean play by Fletcher and Massinger about the buying and selling of women's bodies, but the country whose customs she mercilessly satirizes in the novel is her native America. (Introduction)
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."
Last words
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
Disambiguation notice
Publisher's editors
Blurbers
Original language
Canonical DDC/MDS

References to this work on external resources.

Wikipedia in English

None

First published in 1913 and regarded by many critics as her most substantial novel, "The Custom of the Country" is Edith Wharton's powerful saga about the beautiful, ruthless Undine Spragg. A woman of extraordinary ambition and exuberant vitality, Undine is consigned by virtue of her sex to the shadow world of the drawing room and boudoir. Marriage remains the one institution through which she can exercise her will as she entrances man after man, marrying one after the other with protean facility and almost monstrous avidity. A novel that ranges from New York to Paris, from Apex City, Kansas, to Reno, Nevada, "The Custom of the Country" stands as a dark satire of American business, society, and the nouveaux riches, and as Edith Wharton's contribution to the tradition of the American epic.

No library descriptions found.

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.
Haiku summary

Quick Links

Popular covers

Rating

Average: (4)
0.5
1
1.5 1
2 14
2.5 7
3 65
3.5 22
4 137
4.5 29
5 104

Tantor Media

An edition of this book was published by Tantor Media.

» Publisher information page

Recorded Books

An edition of this book was published by Recorded Books.

» Publisher information page

Is this you?

Become a LibraryThing Author.

 

About | Contact | Privacy/Terms | Help/FAQs | Blog | Store | APIs | TinyCat | Legacy Libraries | Early Reviewers | Common Knowledge | 154,442,116 books! | Top bar: Always visible