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The Custom of the Country (1913)

by Edith Wharton

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingConversations / Mentions
2,259656,272 (4.03)1 / 330
Can't get enough of the Gilded Age fast talkers, débutantes, and social climbers who populate Edith Wharton's exquisitely wrought novels? Fans of The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence will love The Custom of the Country, which details country girl Undine Spragg's attempt to take a bite out of Big Apple high society.… (more)
  1. 40
    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. 40
    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. 30
    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. 20
    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. 10
    Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray (aprille)
  6. 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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» See also 330 mentions

English (64)  Spanish (1)  All languages (65)
Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
Edith Wharton was did not like the "new rich" who were taking over New York around the turn of the century, and in "The Custom of the Country" she makes it very clear why. The heroine, Undine Spagg, a midwestern beauty who comes to New York in search of the social advancement she has always craved, is not likeable, but she is VERY compelling. The story traces the ups and downs of her quest for the level of social advancement that will finally make her happy. Along the way, the novel pillories the new rich, and holds the old rich up to a regretful examination. The book is a great read -- you may not like Undine, but you do want to find out what she does next -- and extremely witty. Wharton's ability to turn a phrase was unparalleled. I wish someone would -- could -- write a book like this about today's 1%. ( )
  annbury | Apr 9, 2023 |
Firstly: how can you fail to love a novel whose main character is UNDINE SPAGG? This story of manners and morals in Gilded Age Manhattan and Paris centers on a shallow woman whose beauty entraps the men who strive to install her in their trophy cases. Out of all her suitors, only the point of view of her first husband, Ralph, is heard. In his mundane upper class life, he seeks in Undine a purpose and a direction for himself, realizing too late, and tragically, that she sees nothing beyond improving her social standing and acquiring clothing and jewels. As she continues on her upward trajectory, Undine leaves behind the parents who funded her voyage and her young son. Obstacles in the form of her own transparency and the unforgiving social strictures trip her up, but never for long. The author sees her and the hypocrisy that surrounds her, especially in regards to the place of women of that time, all-powerful at evening soirees but with nothing to do but depend upon the business success of their husbands. A cruel world for sure, but most others are starving in unheated tenements, so it's hard to muster up much sympathy for Undine and her cohort. ( )
  froxgirl | Nov 27, 2022 |
For some, the pursuit of the object you desire never leads to peace, but only emptiness. ( )
  bobunwired | Nov 19, 2022 |
Meet the character Undine Spraggs, nickname Undie (lol). She's a spoiled rotten young woman who thinks that to succeed in this life, you only have to be beautiful. On the outside. Due to her parents inability to put down a firm foot on her constant "wants," she goes through her shallow, materialistic life using people. Parents are for giving you money, also husbands. If you don't give her enough, she will get rid of you and find a richer one. Her parents move to succeedingly downgraded hotels because of the money drain that is Undine Spraggs.

This is a deliciously-written novel, seriously hard to put down until the bitter end. Edith Wharton is a superb storyteller and observer of humans and their ridiculous foibles. ( )
  burritapal | Oct 23, 2022 |
Excellent writing but I didn't really like or connect with the characters. The protagonist, Undine, is one of the most self-centered, materialistic fictional characters I've ever encountered on the written page. I do still plan to try reading The Age of Innocence, which is Wharton's Pulitzer Prize winning novel. Otherwise, I'm generally not a big fan of stories set during the Gilded Age. ( )
  Ann_R | Sep 18, 2022 |
Showing 1-5 of 64 (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
Bordwin, GabrielleCover designersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Conlin, GraceNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dreyer, BenjaminNotessecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johnson, DianeIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Orgel, StephenEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Raver, LornaNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Showalter, ElaineIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Stevens, A.Cover artistsecondary 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.
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)
"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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Can't get enough of the Gilded Age fast talkers, débutantes, and social climbers who populate Edith Wharton's exquisitely wrought novels? Fans of The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence will love The Custom of the Country, which details country girl Undine Spragg's attempt to take a bite out of Big Apple high society.

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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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