“The Custom of the Country” by Edith Wharton is a novel that explores the life of Undine Spragg, a young woman from the Midwest who moves to New York City in pursuit of wealth and high society. Undine is a spoiled and selfish character who will stop at nothing to achieve her materialistic goals, even if it means hurting those around her.
The novel begins with Undine and her family’s move to New York, where they struggle to establish connections within high society. Undine eventually marries Ralph Marvell, a member of the prestigious Dagonet family, but soon becomes bored with him and his lack of wealth. Undine sets her sights on a richer husband and convinces Ralph to make a business deal with her former husband, Elmer Moffatt, which ultimately leads to Ralph’s financial ruin and suicide.
Undine divorces Ralph and marries European nobleman Raymond de Chelles, but their relationship becomes strained due to Undine’s lavish spending and lack of appreciation for Raymond’s historical heritage. Undine becomes reacquainted with Elmer, who has become wealthy through successful business ventures, and the two eventually marry. The novel ends with Undine and Elmer in possession of Raymond’s tapestries, while Undine desires to become the wife of an ambassador.
Throughout the novel, Undine is a character who exemplifies the shallowness and materialism of high society. Wharton uses Undine to critique the customs and values of the wealthy in the early 20th century, and to explore the consequences of a life lived for wealth and status. Despite Undine’s many flaws, she is a compelling character who elicits both sympathy and disapproval from the reader, making “The Custom of the Country” is a thought-provoking and entertaining read.
It provides a vivid portrayal of the rigid societal norms and conventions of the wealthy class in New York during the Gilded Age. The novel revolves around the story of Undine Spragg, a beautiful and ambitious young woman who comes from a humble background and wants to make a name for herself in society. Throughout the novel, Undine uses her cunning and charm to manipulate the people around her and climb the social ladder, eventually marrying into a wealthy family.
One of the key themes of the novel is the tension between tradition and modernity, and how this conflict plays out in the lives of the wealthy elite. The early 20th century was a time of great change, as the old order was being challenged by new ideas and lifestyles. This was particularly evident in the realm of social norms, where people were pushing the boundaries of what was considered acceptable behavior. In “Customs of the Country,” we see this play out through the character of Undine, who represents the new, modern woman who is not content to be confined by the constraints of tradition.
Another theme that is explored in the novel is the idea of personal freedom and the sacrifices that must be made to achieve it. Undine is driven by her desire for wealth and status, and is willing to do whatever it takes to get what she wants, even if it means sacrificing her own happiness and the well-being of those around her. This theme is particularly relevant to the early 20th century, as many women were fighting for the right to vote and seeking greater freedom and autonomy in their lives.
In conclusion, “Customs of the Country” is a powerful and timeless novel that explores the complex interplay between tradition and modernity, as well as the personal sacrifices that must be made in pursuit of freedom and success. Through the story of Undine Spragg, Edith Wharton provides a vivid and incisive critique of the societal norms and conventions of her time, and her writing continues to resonate with readers today.