Nancy's Reviews > The Custom of the Country

The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton
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Oct 30, 09

bookshelves: classics
Read in October, 2009

Wharton's sobering saga of social ambition drives home the point that we should be careful what we wish for. Her anti-heroine, Undine, is staggeringly vain and ambitious and struggles when she is on the outside of society looking in. But, unfortunately, she feels even more dissatisfied when she achieves her objective to marry well and is imprisioned by the societal norms of her husband's very gentile, blue-blooded family.

The Gilded Age society that Wharton presents to us is really a brave new world for both the nouveau riche financiers and industrialists as well as the denizens of the quiet, more established social world. The clash of money and refinement makes this novel both compelling and revolting as we watch the symbiatic relationship between the old and new.

There are precious few sympathetic characters in the book; and,knowing that Wharton wrote about the world she inhabited makes her morality tale all the more sobering to me. One interesting facet is that the two most genuine characters in the book come from opposite sides of the spectrum: one is a brash, self-made man who epitomizes ambition and new money---and the other, a French aristocrat who values family heritage and position far more than material wealth. Undine got to choose. . . .
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