Beatrice's Reviews > The Custom of the Country

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
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Feb 21, 12

bookshelves: edith-wharton
Read in March, 2011

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 barrier of old New York society. Her upward mobility is remarkable in that she is breaking class barriers and securing a place for herself in society as a woman at a time when women were not seen as independent entities. It's a Cinderella story made more complicated by the American dream and the pursuit of individual goals (and happiness).

I first read this book in a classroom setting, with classmates who were horrified by Undine's behavior: her consumerism, her shallow personality and obsession with labels, her disaffiliation from any one crowd which enables her to join any crowd--her Americanism. But, to me, she seemed like a natural creation of society.

The story is fun but serious and still has the power to leave the reader contemplating important questions about American society almost a century after it was first published.
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