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The Custom of the Country

Edith Wharton

Book Overview: 

Edith Wharton was a novelist of manners of late 19th Century New York “Society”, who spent much of her life in France. In this novel she tells the story of Undine Sprague, the thrice- (or more) married, upwardly mobile beauty from “Apex City”, transplanted to New York, and finally to France, leaving the dead and wounded in the wake of her “experiments in happiness”.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . .And the rest—why shouldn't the rest be sent over to Europe after us? I want to go straight off with you, away from everything—ever so far away, where there'll be nobody but you and me alone!" She had a flash of illumination which made her turn her lips to his.

"Oh, my darling—my darling!" Marvell whispered.


Mr. and Mrs. Spragg were both given to such long periods of ruminating apathy that the student of inheritance might have wondered whence Undine derived her overflowing activity. The answer would have been obtained by observing her father's business life. From the moment he set foot in Wall Street Mr. Spragg became another man. Physically the change revealed itself only by the subtlest signs. As he steered his way to his office through the jostling crowd of William Street his relaxed muscles did not grow more taut or his lounging gait less desultory. His shoulders were hollowed by the usual droop, and hi. . . Read More

Community Reviews

Is Undine Spragg the most odious fictional character ever?

I know The Custom of the Country is more than a century old, but Undine Spragg is certainly one of the most despicable characters in all of literature. She uses people. She’s vain. She lies. She’s horribly superficial. She treats her child li

This book is amazing. No one writes like this anymore -- in fact, after I finished this, I had a hard time getting into a more contemporary novel, because the newer book felt so spare and empty compared to Wharton's thoughtful and lovely prose. Certain paragraphs of Custom of the Country made me sto

Edith Wharton has fixed Henry James, whose essential problem is that he's a pain in the ass. He's smart and all, if that's what you're into, but he's never been known to end a sentence and he has this perverse refusal to write the interesting parts of stories. It's weird, right? It's like if the Dea


Social gold does not always glitter

Edith Wharton did not have a happy life. Nor do her characters. What is happiness anyway, if not merely a part of our lives, something we all pursue, but rarely, if ever, possess in a clean, full form? We are destined to fail. We are imperfect by design. An

Think Edith Wharton only wrote novels about nice people who fall victim to society's uncongenial mores? Then The Custom of the Country may come as a bit of a surprise to you. Far from a dignified, morally superior character, the book's heroine, the beautiful but vulgar Undine Spragg, is a selfish mo

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