Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “The Custom of the Country” as Want to Read:
The Custom of the Country
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

The Custom of the Country

4.01  ·  Rating Details ·  7,431 Ratings  ·  702 Reviews
From New York to Europe, the apartments of the nouveau riche to ancient French estates, Edith Wharton tells the story of Undine Spragg, a girl from a Midwestern town with unquenchable social aspirations. Though Undine is narcissistic, pampered, and incredibly selfish, she is a beguiling heroine whose marital initiation into New York high society from its trade-wealthy frin ...more
Audio CD, 0 pages
Published March 16th 2011 by Tantor Media (first published 1913)
More Details... edit details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about The Custom of the Country, please sign up.

Popular Answered Questions

Kamila Forson I wouldn't say it's dry at all. The plot moves along at a good clip, and if you don't read any introductory essays with spoilers, there's a fair…moreI wouldn't say it's dry at all. The plot moves along at a good clip, and if you don't read any introductory essays with spoilers, there's a fair amount of suspense, with a few twists toward the end. I think the character of Undine Spragg will inspire some lively conversation!(less)
This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

(showing 1-30)
filter  |  sort: default (?)  |  Rating Details
Petra Eggs
It was fashionable at one time to send rich American girls who had everything over to Europe in order to acquire a title from an impoverished aristocrat who was none too fussy about his bride so long as she came with a very generous papa. Some of them, like the extremely despicable Lady Rose Astor (view spoiler) really became part of their adoptive country and others, like our heroine, ...more
Jessica
Nov 06, 2007 Jessica rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: mommy's little monsters; unsympathetic heroines; american girls
Recommended to Jessica by: sister rachel; mother dear
So I had totally committed my schedule to having lengthy tea with a brilliant Oxford professor of incredible intelligence, unsurpassed insight, and fabled dry wit. And while I know that my extended afternoon with Dr. George Eliot would have proven to be a fascinating and immensely edifying experience that I would've remembered for the rest of my life, I still did the bad thing and just blew her off. Yes, I ditched the eminent Dr. Eliot to drink ice cream sodas and read celebrity gossip magazines ...more
Vessey
Mar 24, 2017 Vessey rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommended to Vessey by: Candi
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 never, possess in a clean, full form? We are destined to fail. We are imperfect by design. And Undine Spragg is one of the most imperfect characters I have come across. Actually, imperfect is an understatement. She is a walking disaster. A woman almost completely devoid of empathy and self-respect.
...more
Duane
Someone once advised Edith Wharton, I think it was Henry James, to be successful in writing you should focus on subjects that you are familiar with and understand. For Wharton, that was New York, and the privileged upper crust society of which she was a part. Aside from Ethan Frome, her most beloved novels are three that captured the essence of this society and it's people, The House of Mirth (1905), The Custom of the Country (1913), and The Age of Innocence (1920).

The Custom of the Country pr
...more
Fionnuala
May 27, 2011 Fionnuala rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Edith Wharton's gift was her twenty twenty vision of the society she lived in, New York at the beginning of the 20th century. The moral of this complicated but satisfying tale seems to be that without the well established customs to be found in old Europe, people in the new world are adrift and have nothing better to aspire to than wealth and celebrity status. The irony is that her conclusions could apply to the Europe of today.
Beth
Jun 22, 2007 Beth rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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 stop and just admire her craft; she conveys so much depth of thought in so few sentences, with precision and elegance that I've never encountered elsewhere and could never even begin to replicate. It ble ...more
Martine
Mar 10, 2008 Martine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: lovers of elegant early-twentieth-century fiction
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 monster who takes society (or rather, several different societies) head on, suffers a bit for her lack of subtlety but comes out filthy rich. Unless you're a gold-digger yourself, you'll find Undine har ...more
Perry
Jul 07, 2016 Perry rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
" On her side "
Come Again? Pardon? Huh?

March 8, 2017

Open Letter to Baron Fellowes of West Stafford (Lord Julian Fellowes):

After reading the novel The Custom of the Country , I read that you attribute to this novel your success with, among other endeavors, the popular series Downton Abbey, and the part of your speech accepting the 2012 Edith Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award when you said:
"It is quite true that I felt this was my book; that the novel was talking to me in a most extreme and im
...more
Hana
Alas, Undine! What a fatal, restless passion you have--not for men themselves--but for their admiration, and for the money and possessions they might bring you. You do so love your ropes of pearls!



And how utterly miserable you make yourself and everyone around you. Can anyone in this glittering world ever satisfy your insatiable lust for more and still more things? Will you settle for a fine apartment, perhaps on Fifth Avenue--surely the West Side is not enough?



Or perhaps you'd fancy a grand Hô
...more
Gill
Feb 14, 2017 Gill rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: challenge
A very good read, although I didn't find it as moving as The House of Mirth.

What a 'heroine' Edith Wharton has created in Undine. I spent most of the book longing for her to get her comeuppance. You'll have to read the book yourself to find out whether or not she did!

There was a part near the middle where I thought the story was becoming a bit slow moving, but the final third certainly ratcheted things up. I thought the description of the Chateau de Saint Desert was brilliant.

Definitely worth re
...more
[P]
Jun 26, 2015 [P] rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have a saying which is that the greatest trick that man ever pulled was to convince women that they are free. I’m sure many of you are raising your eyebrows at that. I’m serious though. Years ago men tried to control women by keeping them locked up in housework, in children, in piety. Then we realised that by doing so, although we posses them, we aren’t benefitting from it in the way that we would like. No, what we want, what we have always wanted, is for them to look nice, to leave us alone t ...more
David Stone
Feb 18, 2017 David Stone rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Back in 1913, when male chemists and poets still collectively opined that women were composed of “sugar and spice, and everything nice”, novelist Edith Wharton knowingly spoke to her readers of a member of her gender who was baked through with tangy, leaning toward acidic, unsweetened ingredients … this was her famed character creation, Undine Spragg of The Custom of the Country . In the book’s introduction, University of North Carolina scholar, Linda Wagner-Martin states, ”it took Edith Wharto ...more
Sara
Aug 09, 2015 Sara rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: any reader of serious fiction
My new favorite writer is Edith Wharton. I have read four of her wonderful novels this year and I intend to read all of the others in time. She is one of the sharpest observers of mankind that I have ever come across. You could believe that she sat and studied the people around her and then drew them in flesh and blood (that often ran red) on the sheets of paper in front of her. They are real, they breathe, and they make me wish to cry with them, comfort them or slap them with a fervor that is g ...more
Eric
Sep 29, 2007 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: ficciones, americans
I love The Age of Innocence but I wonder if that love is a fluke. I never finished The House of Mirth because of its coincidental encounters and melodramatic confrontations, and I was able to pass over similar faults in The Custom of the Country only because the often clunky dramatic scenes are separated by long stretches of brilliantly measured descriptive prose, acerbic dissections of manners and motivations. Also, I wanted to know how it would end. There’s a page-turning fascination to the ad ...more
Jane
Oh Undine!

I have to address you, but I must confess that I am very nearly lost for words. I have never met anyone quite like you – in fact or in fiction – and you have made such an impression. You really are a force of nature. You had to be, to have lived the life that you have lived.

Looking back it’s hard to believe that you were the daughter of a self-made man, that you came from Apex in North Carolina. But, of course, you were the apple of your parents’ eyes, and they were prepared to invest
...more
Laysee
Oct 28, 2016 Laysee rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Published in 1913, “The Custom of the Country” depicts the lures and dangers of materialism in New York at a time when fashionable people boarded or lived in hotels. The quest for wealth and upward social mobility is a normal human ambition – an ancient drive that never grows old. It is a common enough theme but Wharton’s exploration is epic via an anti-heroine who is vile and yet so irresistible.

This is my fourth Wharton novel and I marvel at her flair for creating beautiful, vain, and self-ser
...more
Faith
May 21, 2016 Faith rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audio
Edith Wharton understood a certain type of woman as well or better than anyone who ever wrote a book. Undine was narcissistic, beautiful, manipulative, clever (but not overly intelligent or curious), and, above all, ambitious. She was more ruthless and eviscerating than a mafia don.

Eventually, one of her captivated followers might notice her complete lack of concern for anyone but herself and her lack of interest in anything other than shopping or dining. Some even began to find her boring, but
...more
Bloodorange
Some quick thoughts:

I think this would make an excellent entry-level Wharton novel for a young reader who does not fully grasp the realities of the Old World and the Old New York, but is ready to learn.

The protagonist, like many people in our time, strives after a certain lifestyle, the details of which become clearer with her apparently fairy-tale social ascent, as she grows aware of what is available, or unavailable, to her.
Even now, however, she was not always happy. She had everything she w
...more
Elizabeth (Alaska)
The custom of the country: money is the driving influence - wives are too busy spending it and husbands are too busy making it and neither cares enough beyond the money to pay attention to the other. Well, that's sort of the premise. It's certainly true for Undine Spragg, our main character. She is irresistibly beautiful, it seems, and men are attracted to her like moths to a flame on a summer evening. Money is essential to Undine - essential to making sure the right people notice her, because b ...more
Kim
Jun 24, 2012 Kim rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
An excellent book. I can see that Edith Wharton and I will be spending a lot more time together.

The heroine of the story, Undine Spragg, is a spoiled, shallow, self-centered, conniving social climber. She is supremely unsympathetic, equally as fascinating as she is repellent. Her goal is to position herself within privileged society and she pursues this end with ruthless determination. But as the saying goes, you should be careful what you wish for. Undine finds that marrying into "the right" fa
...more
Carol Storm
I loved THE HOUSE OF MIRTH, but this Edith Wharton novel just did not work for me. I get the fact that Undine Spragg is supposed to be a cold and heartless social climber. She's the kind of girl you see in books all the time, but rarely in real life. She gets away with murder. She breaks hearts and ruins lives without ever feeling remorse or really getting what she wants.

This is a type that has been done before. Many, many times before. Becky Sharp? Scarlett O'Hara?

Edith Wharton hates Undine S
...more
Dov Zeller
Jul 27, 2015 Dov Zeller rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Now I see that Edith Wharton is a true master of the craft. This novel is not perhaps innovative, but bold it is, and sharp as can be.

This is a long one. A real commitment (which is ironic given the subject matter). But it's worth it!

Basically, it's about the adventures of Undine Spragg, an unscrupulous American beauty who is short on empathy and long on desire for social status and, it seems, innocent fun at dinner parties (though she's happy to harm anyone who gets in the way of this fun. So c
...more
Susan L
Jul 24, 2012 Susan L rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The title, Custom of the Country (1913,) alludes to the different perceptions of marriage in early 20th Century Paris and New York. Undine Spragg, a materialist girl of the Gilded Age, uses her striking Pre-Raphaelite beauty to marry into wealth and social privilege. Casualities of ambition include her American husband and neglected son.

Undine is beautiful, shallow but oddly likeable. Each marriage is a story within the meta-narrative. Her Parisian union to the Marquis de Chelles (a clever pun
...more
Beth
Jul 01, 2015 Beth rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: fiction
Wharton, as usual, skewers the society she knows: the wealthy, the fashionable, the cosmopolitan, and the wannabes, both in New York and abroad. What struck me most profoundly is that even though society has changed a great deal over the past century, certain types of individuals remain remarkably similar.

The main character in this novel is Undine Spragg, a beautiful young narcissist with an unquenchable desire to be admired, adored, and indulged. As she marries and divorces her way across the A
...more
LauraT
Jun 02, 2015 LauraT rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
One of the most terrible female character I've met in literature; compared to her Becky Sharp is a novice!!!!
Lori
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Emily
Dec 30, 2012 Emily rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Vile tale dressed up in Wharton's brilliant prose. Several times, from early on to the last part of the book, I nearly gave up on it. Indeed, I wished I hadn't read it.

Wharton's "Magnum Opus," as she considered this one, is wildly different from her other works. The central character, Undine Spragg, is a gold-digging narcissist with sociopathic tendencies. Undie, as she's called, works her way through one marriage after another, leaving a trail of devastation and even death in her wake.

This mig
...more
Helle
Sep 10, 2013 Helle rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: classics, american
Oh my Gawd! Undine Spragg, the main character in this novel (certainly no heroine, hardly even a proper protagonist) must be the biggest bitch I’ve ever met in literature (not a word I use lightly either, or often). Put together Scarlett O’Hara, Rosamund Vincy and Madame Bovary – and multiply that by about a thousand, and you have Undine Spragg.

It was strangely compelling to read about such a wanna-be, upper-class socialite from around the turn of the (20th) century New York, and I just hope th
...more
JSA Lowe
Sep 16, 2010 JSA Lowe rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
GR just ate my review, which irks me greatly. En bref, though, I'd just finished saying that I thought this to be better written perhaps than either Mirth or Innocence, though I realize that is quite a claim. Certainly it is more ill-tempered than either—crueller than Flaubert, in terms of least number of likeable characters (exactly none). Undine may in fact be one of the first literary sociopaths. Savage, petty, bitter, brutal, laugh-out-loud-and-then-moan funny—I almost began rereading it as ...more
Tom
Jul 01, 2013 Tom rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: amer-canon
"Undine Spragg -- how can you?" The novel opens with U's mother wailing this mock protest at Undine snatching a just delivered note from her hands, assuming it's for her. The incident seems like a minor one at the time, but such is Wharton's artistry that it quietly presents the major question of the novel: How on earth does U. get away with all the shocking behavior ranging from the merely rude to the devastatingly cruel? And more importantly, who or what, ultimately, is responsible for U's beh ...more
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
topics  posts  views  last activity   
Venality 2 14 Dec 24, 2015 08:52AM  
The Reading For P...: The Custom of the Country - August buddy read with Sandy, Candi, Greg and Iasa 52 25 Sep 03, 2015 10:13AM  
Edith Wharton : The Custom of the Country 2 8 Jun 11, 2014 04:26PM  
The 1700-1939 Boo...: The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton 24 41 Dec 03, 2010 03:19AM  
  • Roderick Hudson
  • Miss Marjoribanks (Chronicles of Carlingford, #5)
  • The Eustace Diamonds (Palliser, #3)
  • Edith Wharton
  • Anna of the Five Towns
  • Desperate Remedies
  • Marriage
  • The Doctor's Wife
  • The Making of a Marchioness, Part I and II (Emily Fox-Seton #1-2)
  • The Priory
  • Lucy Gayheart
16
Edith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the a ...more
More about Edith Wharton...

Share This Book



“Her failure was a useful preliminary to success.” 14 likes
“She wanted, passionately and persistently, two things which she believed should subsist together in any well-ordered life: amusement and respectability.” 10 likes
More quotes…