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The Custom of the Country

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Book Overview

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... This description may be from another edition of this product.

Customer Reviews

5 ratings

Wharton's beautiful monster

The heroine of Edith Wharton's 1913 novel, Undine Spragg, is a monster of selfishness and ambition, and yet she is hard to despise. Elevated first by the money made by her cowed Midwestern parents and by her startling and all-conquering physical beauty, she comes to New York City determined to have everything she wants, but always aware of the complexities of knowing what that truly is given the multiple standards among the different wealthy communities she moves among. Her first marriage, to a scion of one of the great Old New York families, assures her utter respectability but not the kind of money and liberty she expects to have to assure her constant amusement; in order to get what she wants, there are few sacred social rules she is not willing to bend or break. The genius of the novel is its ability to move from the point of view of the victims Undine leaves behind in her wake back to Undine herself; the novel becomes not only a strong commentary on the rapaciousness and self-centeredness of Gilded Age America, but also a marvelous anthropological study of Old New York society, the nouveaux riches, and the fearsome French aristocracy (with whom Undine seems to find her greatest challenges to her will).

"If only everyone would do as she wished..."

In CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY Edith Wharton created a most unlikable protagonist that is certainly easy to deplore. Undine Spragg is the epitome of a spoiled individual who doesn't bother to care how her financial demands negatively affect those around her. After moving to New York with her parents she has the full intentions of entering the ranks of high society. She studies the society columns in the local newspapers and dreams of residing in a splendid home on Fifth Avenue. Undine is both charming and beautiful and she doesn't hesitate to rely on various schemes and methods to get what she wants.During the course of this book the reader follows Undine as she strives to enter the fashionable social circles of New York at the beginning of the 20th century. She studies the prominent players in the upper classes and desires to join them during their dinner parties in New York and their annual spring trips to Paris. Unfortunately her father doesn't possess the type of financial resources to accommodate Undine's wishes so she seeks to marry a man who can provide. Undine's climb to the top of New York society is not without incident. At times her ascendancy is marked by setbacks and controversies that aim to keep Undine away from the social limelight.Edith Wharton provides insightful commentaries on how Undine Spragg is so self-centered and ignorant and the general superficiality of high society during this time period. Undine completely ignored the concerns of her husband(s) and her child as she strived to join the fashionably conscious social circles. The social and religious sentiments towards divorced woman are also explored during this era of general disapproval of broken marriages. CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY provides a revealing glimpse into the workings of the upper society circles of New York before the Great War. Highly recommended.

She Just Turns Out Masterpieces!

Edith Wharton is certainly one of the most accomplished authors in American history. I don't think there is ONE of her books that I don't completely LOVE. And, "Custom of the Country" is certainly one for the record books. Wharton creates a completely new and different novel in "Custom" than in her previous books. As in the others, you may have found yourself really cheering or rooting for the main characters. You felt affection and fondness for them. But, in this one could you have found more fault with Undine? She's everything a reader should just loath. But, for some strange and heartwarming reason, you don't care. You move past that and just enjoy this wonderfully written American Masterpiece. Wharton's gift for words, story and characterization is fabulous. I just love her. She's one of my top 3 favs.

Wharton's Best

What a marvelous author Edith Wharton is! I like to copy passages from her books just to feel how beautifully she constructs her sentences and paragraphs. I've also read Ethan Frome, Summer, House of Mirth, and Age of Innocence; they are all terrific novels. But The Custom of the Country is her best. Could there be a worse mother, wife, or daughter than Undine? And yet, she is too pathetic to hate; she is so needy and dependent upon material things. She's perhaps the most unliberated woman in literature! Do read this novel; you will love it and learn from it.

a pure masterpiece

I've just finished reading this book and i must say that i found it extremely good. While reading it you build up an absolute hatred for the main character, Undine Spragg. She drives you on to keep reading despite your hatred, to see if anything that deserves to happen to her does happen. Although certainly not one of Wharton's most noted books, it does have a kind of hidden lustre to it that makes you want to tell everyone to read it. If you have read and liked either The House of Mirth or The Buccaneers, I would suggest you try The Custom of the Country.

The Custom of the Country Mentions in Our Blog

The Custom of the Country in The Gilded Age
The Gilded Age
Published by William Shelton • January 23, 2022
One of the most exciting, and prosperous, periods of American history came upon the heels of the most tragic time for our country. The Civil War and Reconstruction gave way to a generation where the amassing of tremendous wealth was the order of the day, conspicuous consumption the only guiding principle, and the gap between the "haves" and the "have nots" was the greatest that the United States would ever see.
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