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Custom Of The Country

4.01  ·  Rating Details  ·  6,911 Ratings  ·  648 Reviews
It follows the career of Undine Spragg, recently arrived in New York from the Midwest and determined to conquer high society, Glamorous, selfish, mercenary, and manipulative, her principal assets are her striking beauty, her tenacity, and her father's money.
Paperback, 384 pages
Published October 1st 1981 by Berkley (first published 1913)
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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)
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(showing 1-30 of 3,000)
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Petra X
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
Dec 07, 2009 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
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
Beth
Jul 12, 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
Fionnuala
Jan 27, 2015 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.
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
[P]
Jun 27, 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
Eric
Jul 16, 2014 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
Faith
May 27, 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
Sara Steger
Aug 23, 2015 Sara Steger 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
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
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
Jul 28, 2015 Dov 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
♪ Kim
Feb 09, 2013 ♪ 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
LauraT
Jun 20, 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!!!!
Beth
Jun 03, 2016 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
Susan L
Jul 26, 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
JSA Lowe
Jan 05, 2011 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
Ali
May 17, 2015 Ali rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The Custom of the Country is undoubtedly a biting satire on that society which Wharton understood so very well. Here Wharton explores the society of old New York families and the emerging nouveau riche.

“She wanted, passionately and persistently, two things which she believed should subsist together in any well-ordered life: amusement and respectability.”

Undine Spragg – is a quite marvellous anti-heroine, her actions cannot help but appal and confound the reader. More than a hundred years after
...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
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
Amy Harris
Aug 22, 2012 Amy Harris rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Sep 17, 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
Emily
Jan 09, 2013 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
Lynn
Feb 01, 2009 Lynn rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
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
Apr 21, 2014 Pamela rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
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
Lobstergirl
Jun 23, 2014 Lobstergirl rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: Heidrun Goebbels
Shelves: fiction

Frankly this could also be titled American Psycho.
Vanessa
Nov 17, 2015 Vanessa rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I am baffled as to why I didn't read any Edith Wharton when I was a teenager, but it has been fantastic to get to read her stuff for the first time as an adult. The writing is spectacular, and her insights into class, gender, greed, lust, and status feel amazingly contemporary. Classics for a reason.

As to The Custom of the Country in particular, I have not taken such delight in the ruthless machinations of an anti-hero(ine) since Breaking Bad. Rooting for a shallow sociopath has never been more
...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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“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
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