The Custom of the Country the Custom of the Country the Custom of the Country
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The Custom of the Country the Custom of the Country the Custom of the Country

3.99 of 5 stars 3.99  ·  rating details  ·  5,010 ratings  ·  471 reviews
Highly acclaimed at its publication in 1913, The Custom of the Country is a cutting commentary on America's nouveaux riches, their upward-yearning aspirations and their eventual downfalls. Through her heroine, the beautiful and ruthless Undine Spragg, a spoiled heiress who looks to her next materialistic triumph as her latest conquest throws himself at her feet, Edith Whar...more
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Published December 26th 2007 by Bantam Classics (first published January 1st 1910)
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Jessica
Dec 07, 2009 Jessica rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Martine
Mar 10, 2008 Martine rated it 4 of 5 stars  ·  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
Beth
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
Fionnuala

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.
Eric
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
Susan L
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
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
JSA Lowe
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
Ruby Rose Scarlett
Oh, Edith. Why does it always seem like you're speaking to me directly, that your books are your end of our correspondence, that your heroines are mere reflections of the person I truly am? Why, oh, why can you find just the tender spot, the flaw I wish I didn't have and then show me what would happen if I didn't keep it in check? How can you crash into my life at the very moment I need it most? The Custom of the Country reads like a cautionary tale and yet it's impossible for me to blame the he...more
Amy Harris
Undine, as the protagonist with whom is is impossible to sympathize, is the unavoidable product of the nouveau-riche New York society of the early 20th century, and its rubbing against the old landed gentry of the same time. Wharton carefully constructs a criticism of this world using sharp wit and insight.

Most hilarious sentence describing Undine's relentless social ambition: "She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew ab...more
Tom
"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
Lynn
I really liked this book a lot, though for some reason that embarrasses me a little because it a way it is pretty lightweight. Sort of a cross between Henry James and Candace Bushnell. The characters are so real! The heroine is very unsympathetic, though the main point of the book - made explicit by one of the male characters quiet early on - is that the way women are treated by the society creates people like Undine Spragg.

The weird thing about this book is that in many ways it could be describ...more
Pamela
Oh, Edith Wharton, how I do sink into your novels. The Custom of the Country (the meaning of the title becomes clear only well in, and is never outright explained) follows Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl determined to seduce and elbow her way into the ranks of early-20th-century New York Society. Since this is a Wharton novel, "Society" has more flavors than Baskin-Robbins, and part of the pleasure is learning, along with Undine, who is more haute than whom and why. Undine is an almost wholly u...more
Bensmomma
In "Custom of the Country," Wharton follows the entry (and exit and re-entry ad infinitum) of the midwestern beauty Undine Spragg into New York's high society circa 1900. About 40% into this book, things start to come to a head between Undine Spragg (our anti-heroine) and her poor husband, Ralph. At that point I almost tossed the book out as I couldn't bear the prospect of the spendthrift and shallow Undine making his life miserably for another couple of hundred pages. Without spoiling the plot,...more
Samantha
Poor Ralph.

Poor Paul.

Everyone who comes into contact with Undine Spragg ends up regretting it. She pulls them in with her beauty and appearance of innocence, but this girl knows what she is doing - if only she could figure out what she wants. Constantly striving for whatever it is she doesn't have, Undine has a sense of entitlement that knows no bounds. If her parents can't provide it, then she must need a husband. If he is incapable, well, she'll find a lover who can meet her bills. She seems t...more
Emily
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
Lauren
It's been a while since I've read a Wharton novel, but this made me want to make a stack of all the others I haven't read (along with those I have) and stay put for the summer, polishing them off one by one.

When I read "The Emperor's Children" in summer '05, I immediately felt that Messud had to have studied (and loved) Wharton's manner of observing the worlds of New York society.

"The Custom of the Country" is a biting, brilliant book of the social aspirations of one Undine Spragg of Apex, NY....more
Lauren
What a wonderful reread this was. Undine Spragg is a fantastic character, right up there with Becky Sharp and Emma Bovery. She is both a product of her culture and a victim of it and you just don't know whether to slap her or cheer her on.

The Wharton biography I am currently reading made me especially attentive to certain elements in the novel - the restlessness of the characters, the brilliant descriptions of locations and interiors, and Wharton's powerful indictment of marriage and the non-ed...more
Judith
If you are a fan of Edith Wharton, this book is a must. I downloaded it for free on my IPad and once I opened the book, I could hardly put it down. I think it is probably chick-lit but if you are a guy who likes Wharton, more power to you. I am shocked that this book is not as well-known as "House of Mirth" or "Age of Innocence" since I believe it is just as good if not better than both.

It's been a long time since I encountered a more vicious scheming heroine than Undine Scraggs, the beautiful...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 the people therein, The House of Mirth (1905), The Custom of the Country (1913), and The Age of Innocence (1920).

The Custom of the Coun...more
Marcy
Like most of Edith Wharton's books that I've read thus far, The Custom of the Country is about the upper crust in Manhattan circa early 1900s. We think the one percent is revolting these days, but back then they seem to be almost alien in their lives of constant travel and over-indulgence. These people did nothing but go from one fabulous locale to another buying clothes, staying in luxurious hotels, and eating in fine restaurants.

The focus here is on Undine Spragg, a clueless, spoiled brat who...more
Vanessa
Fantastic! I just love Edith Wharton, the way she is such a master of language, expertly crafting sentences so lucid and so brilliantly put together; sentences that say exactly what she means to say in a way that a reader would not really expect possible until reading the pages of her book. I am a voracious reader and I can certainly appreciate a lot of authors for all the different ways they enhance the world of literature with their work. But I cannot even begin to express how much I appreciat...more
Eliane
I loved this book. I approached it with some trepidation but with no good reason. Edith Wharton's style is very readable, interesting, modern and above all, funny. Not to say that this is a comic novel but it is a satire on turn of the century American society, with lessons still to be learnt for today.

Undine Spragg (and isn't that a wonderful name!) is a gloriously awful selfish monster. Beautiful, stupid, uneducated, ambitious. A real "grass is always greener" type who will let nothing - not h...more
Ruthmgon
October 2011 book group book.

The book description pretty much sums this up. I had only read Ethan Frome before by Edith Wharton and was impressed then. This is apparently more of her usual cast of characters, but not being one who reads through the complete works of many authors, I would not have picked this up had it not been on a list of books to read for discussion, and I am looking forward to just that....

The book does give a good sense of place: the visuals, movement and activities of the...more
Mary
"She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them."

This sentence sums up the spoiled, vain, shallow Undine Spragg perfectly. A relentless yet unintelligent social climber who believes that any bird in the bush has to be better than the one she holds in her hand, Undine plows through Society leaving heartbreak and ruin in her wake. Her complete lack of self-awareness is pitiful and yet one can't pity her, because she d...more
Fernanda
Hacía mucho que no disfrutaba tanto de una novela de intrigas aristocráticas. La historia a pesar de no ser sustanciosa te envuelve de manera que te mantiene al filo de las situaciones. Es imposible detenerse ante el poder de atracción que ejercen sus personajes.

La historia en general es sobre la clase de monstruos que puede crear la sociedad, uno de esos es Undine Spragg, un personaje odioso, consentido, con un entendimiento nulo del mundo y con un constante enfoque en su persona, hermosa, radi...more
Beatrice
A strangely prescient, purely American novel. Edith Wharton captures the sometimes positive, sometimes negative traits of our culture and magnifies them in our protagonist, Undine Spragg. This magnification (which could be interpreted as slight or major, depending on your POV of American society) causes the reader to question their own beliefs in progress and society's arrangement.

Undine is a social climber from Kansas who uses her good lucks and chameleon-like nature to trump the rigid social...more
Maura
What a piece of work Undine Spragg is. She is one of the most selfish, grasping characters I've come across in a book in a while. Usually I don't like a book if I don't like any of the characters, but Undine is such a train-wreck that she fascinates you - you want to keep reading to see what will happen next. Nothing is ever enough for her; she wants it all, and once she wants something, she uses any means she can to get it. I can't decide if Edith Wharton was more scornful of the "ugly" America...more
Cathy Simonds
The only Wharton I ever read was House of Mirth - which I enjoyed tremendously - but that was about 30 years ago. Thought it was time to sample some more (between my rereading Austen novels). Loved Custom of the Country. Undine Spragg is such a wonderful character: completely and totally selfish, self-centered, narcissistic, cruel, scheming, unrepentant. She is focused on money and social advancement and nothing gets in her way. She uses her husbands, her parents, her child with commplete unconc...more
Shannon
This is maybe more of a 3.5, but I'm rounding up due to multiple interesting uses of the word "monstrous".

While reading the book I kept thinking of Friedrich de la Motte Fouqué's Undine. There's no mention of it in this edition's introduction, or in the Wikipedia entry on the novel, but I feel like Wharton must have been thinking of mermaids when she named her main character. Undine Spragg is constantly being described as alien, cold or unknowable. She's dangerously inhuman, a creature without a...more
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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
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