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The Custom of the Country- Edith Wharton

 
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Posted August 11, 2016 by

The Custom of the Country – Edith Wharton – 1913

Reviewed by: Steven          Date: 25 August 2005

The principal character of The Custom of the Country bears the unlikely name of Undine Spragg, but the initials “U.S.,” which fix her role as a symbol for what Edith Wharton finds objectionable in American society of her day. Undine is beautiful, ambitious, and utterly without any finer feelings or moral scruples. She means to make her way to the top of society, counting on her beauty and her father’s modest fortune to get her there.

Compared to Wharton’s other well-known and similar works, The Age of Innocence and The House of Mirth, The Custom of the Country is a more direct attack on the superficiality of American high society at the turn of the century. It is also a broader attack, as the title implies, addressing unrestrained greed and the trivialization of marriage as a national problem rather than confining itself to the Manhattan elite.

 What’s lacking, in contrast to the two Wharton novels mentioned, are the complex relationships and subtleties that go with a character’s development under the strain of conflicting desires. Undine Spragg never changes, never doubts herself. She expects the world to change to suit her, and, all too often, it does. But this makes for a story that is less rewarding than the other two Wharton novels, either of which I would recommend over Custom of the Country.

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Edith Wharton: The Custom of the Country
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