The Custom of the Country

The Custom of the Country 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 and still 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 H tel in France and a Ch teau in the countryside But no, the tapestries are so dusty and it s all such a bore And who is the man who can satisfy you The sensitive Ralph Marvell from a patrician New York family Or the handsome, determined French aristocrat, Raymond De Chelles But thenthere is the crude new American, Elmer Moffatt, a financier and social climber every bit as ruthless as Undine herself The Custom of the Country is an irresistible mix of grand soap opera and social satire simply packed with unforgettable characters, locations, and glorious descriptions Home furnishings, architecture, dress silks or feathered hats every detail is caressed with an acquisitive eye As Undine climbs ever higher I delighted in Glided Age Washington Square with it s old money familiesElegant, intimate salons filled with fine paintings, china vases and delicate gilded chairsThe fading grandeur of Old Europe is keenly drawn, as is the invasion of New Money Americans eager to appropriate the finer things without really understanding them.I flew through The Custom of the Country in two sittings and I can t wait to read Edith Wharton P.S The portraits are all by John Singer Sargent, reputedly the inspiration for Claud Walsingham Popple, who paints a portrait of Undine. 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 it s people, The House of Mirth 1905 , The Custom of the Country 1913 , and The Age of Innocence 1920 The Custom of the Country produced one of Wharton s most memorable characters, Miss Undine Spragg, who came to New York from a well to do, but not socially connected, family She finally breaks into high society when she meets and eventually marries Ralph Marvell He has the family connections but not the wealth she is hoping for, but she has stepped on that ladder of upward mobility and she takes advantage of every opportunity from that point to fulfill her dreams If I counted right she is married four times and has at least one significant affair during the course of the novel I don t think she was in love with anyone but herself Yes, Undine was a vain and very shallow young woman Wharton s ability to create interesting characters, captivating plots, and prose that is incredibly beautiful, makes anything she writes a pleasure to read I don t know if this is her best novel, many critics think it is, but it is right up there, not only with her other works, but with anything from that period And that period includes the likes of Fitzgerald, Hemingway, and her good friend Henry James. First Published In , Edith Wharton S The Custom Of The Country Is A Scathing Novel Of Ambition Featuring One Of The Most Ruthless Heroines In Literature Undine Spragg Is As Unscrupulous As She Is Magnetically Beautiful Her Rise To The Top Of New York S High Society From The Nouveau Riche Provides A Provocative Commentary On The Upwardly Mobile And The Aspirations That Eventually Cause Their Ruin One Of Wharton S Most Acclaimed Works, The Custom Of The Country Is A Stunning Indictment Of Materialism And Misplaced Values That Is As Powerful Today For Its Astute Observations About Greed And Power As When It Was Written Nearly A Century Ago Edith Wharton has fixed Henry James, whose essential problem is that he s a pain in the ass He s smart and all, if that s what you re into, but he s never been known to end a sentence and he has this perverse refusal to write the interesting parts of stories It s weird, right It s like if the Death Star blew up off screen and the movie ended with people discussing it That was crazy how that just blew right up, huh Yeah, at first I thought we weren t going to win, but in the end we did Edith Wharton is like Henry James with the interesting parts Custom of the Country follows Wharton s best character, especially if you like terrible characters Undine Spragg, the Edmund Hillary of social climbing She arrives in New York from the allegorical Midwestern small town of Apex, with money on her mind To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence She s out to use her beauty to become one of the beautiful people She s a social genius brilliant at reading people, seeing what they really want, adapting her behavior to them But she s desperately shallow a mote in the beam of pleasure and that s her hamartia That s a fancy word I just learned it means fatal flaw If what they want is to talk about art or literature, she s bright enough to know it but in no way interested in doing it.So she goes through social circles, partners, cities She was always doubling and twisting on herself She marries view spoiler the hidden sea cave Ralph Marvell, a sensitive artist type with social stature but no money She dumps him for Peter Van Degen, who has the money but no intention of divorcing his wife she rebounds with the French aristocrat Raymond de Chelles, who makes her a marquise but will not fund her partygoing And she ends up with who she started with, the crude, ambitious, successful Elmer Moffat Her big secret all along has been that she capriciously married him back in Apex, in sortof a Britney Spears in Vegas move In a bizarrely touching way, Moffat has loved her all along he s pulled strings, sometimes cruelly, to keep her afloat and within reach You find yourself almost happy for her with this match they re perfect for each other, both entirely untroubled by morals or empathy But even at the end, with all the money and social standing she s ever wanted, she s already grasping for the next rung of the social ladder She could never be an Ambassador s wife, thanks to her divorces, and in the very last sentence of the book, she said to herself that it was the one part she was really made for hide spoiler 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. This book is amazing No one writes like this any in fact, after I finished this, I had a hard time getting into a 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 blew me away.Aside from that, the story is great fun, with its spunky, bratty heroine on a tear through Europe collecting suitors and clothing, Katamari Damacy style You might hate her, but you have to admire her power And you have to admire Wharton s almost eerily modern ideology. Think Edith Wharton only wrote novels about nice people who fall victim to society s uncongenial s 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 hard to identify with, but that doesn t really matter, because for one thing, the story is far too interesting to care about a trifle like an unlikeable heroine, and for another, there are other characters to sympathise with Such as Undine s poor, long suffering husbands, to whom Wharton devotes a few beautiful, desperate chapters.Undine Spragg is a marvellous creation whose sense of entitlement and ruthlessness defy belief She is as hypocritical as the friends with whom she surrounds herself, disapproving of them for doing the same things she herself does without seeming to be aware of the irony As a reader, you keep waiting for Undine to learn a lesson, but other than a dim awareness that others seem to find her rather dull once they have got over her physical beauty, she never learns a thing, let alone the harsh lesson she so deserves She just goes on and on pressing for the things she wants, and for some reason she gets them Most of them, anyway.As always, Wharton s prose is beautiful, her satire thick and marvellous With great authority she lashes out at the different circles in which Undine moves, all of which Wharton knew from experience Midwestern wannabes, representatives of venerable Old New York dignified but ineffective , the Gilded Age nouveaux riches vulgar, very vulgar, but not entirely without redeeming qualities and the French aristocracy dignified but hypocritical What with Undine being so successful, The Custom of the Country lacks some of the tragic quality that makes The House of Mirth and The Age of Innocence so memorable, but other than that, it s a fine exploration of upward mobility and aspirations, written by an author whose prose never fails to delight. On her side Come Again Pardon Huh March 8, 2017 Open Letter to Baron Fellowes of West Stafford Lord Julian FellowesAfter reading the novel The Custom of the Country , I read that you attribute to this novel your success with, among other endeavors, the popular series Downton Abbey, and the part of your speech accepting the 2012 Edith Wharton Lifetime Achievement Award when you said It is quite true that I felt this was my book that the novel was talking to me in a most extreme and immediate way I think it s a remarkable piece of writing In Undine Spragg, Wharton has created an anti heroine absolutely in the same rank as Becky Sharp, Scarlett O Hara, or Lizzie Eustace Undine has no values except ambition, greed and desire, and yet through the miracle of Wharton s writing, you are on her side That s what s so extraordinary about the bookI decided, largely because of her work, that it was time I wrote something I agree, in a general way, with everything you state about this novel up until the part about being on Undine Spragg s side I find the thought that anyone could pull for Undine Spragg quite perplexing and almost troubling Perhaps I might attribute our difference in opinion to class distinctions me an attorney who grew up middle class in the American Deep South and you a loaded, landed Baron author screenwriter reared in South Kensington and Chiddingly, East Sussex I do not think though, that this can be pegged simply to the fact that you are English and I am American At least I hope that is not the case because I do sincerely believe that I am on the side of the angels here I enjoyed this fine novel as a satire of the upper class society in New York City at the start of the 20th Century I take heart from the fact that no one in the novel pulls for or is on Undine s side except Undine Her father cannot even stand her I cannot think of or imagine a female anti heroine who is or could be despicable, callow, vacuous, callous, nauseating, cold, loveless, loathsome, self centered and inhumane as Undine Spragg She was spoiled by her parents, threw fits when her father hesitated to bankrupt himself to buy her the next new thing to fit into NYC s upper crust, she married in hopes of money, then, when it was never enough, she abandoned husband and child and prostituted herself for jewelry, long stays in Paris, et cetera, then failed to come home from her vixen adventure to attend to her son or husband when the husband had pneumonia, did not bat an eye upon her husband s awful death, and committed many other moral misdeeds In short, I could not find one redeeming quality in this b tch I wanted her to fall and miserably so in some tangible or measurable way certainly, she failed in about every part of the moral human character and condition.By posting this online, I am inviting anyone of any class, gender, age, and from anywhere who has read this novel to enlighten me on what I am missing that put Baron Fellowes of West Stafford on Undine Spragg s side My Lord, hath our moral decadence come to this Most Respectfully Yours, s Attorney Addled, At A Loss in Alabama SPOILERSSocial gold does not always glitterEdith Wharton did not have a happy life Nor do her characters What is happiness anyway, if not merely a part of our lives, something we all pursue, but rarely, if ever, possess in a clean, full form We are destined to fail We are imperfect by design And Undine Spragg is one of the most imperfect characters I have come across Actually, imperfect is an understatement She is a walking disaster A woman almost completely devoid of empathy and self respect She is forever entrapped in her search for greatness, but nothing she achieves is ever enough As soon as I was finished, I told my friend Jeffrey What is the point of achieving what you dream of if you can never enjoy it, because you are always so consumed with what you don t have, if the very reason for wanting what you do is that you don t have it and once you have it, you find yourself bored and angry and it turns out that nothing has really changed I think that the reason why the protagonist I should say the antagonist, really can never be happy with her achievements is her lack of desire to share them And, of course, they lose their meaning She merely wants to be admired and indulged and not bothered with anything, to not think and be responsible for anyone and anything She has no sense of self She wants to be treated like an object, like all she exists for is to be admired from afar, like she has no substance, in the same way a doll or a sculpture is admired, like she is empty And this is why her life is empty too As my friend Sidharth says, life needs life to see itselfIt was admiration, not love, that she wanted She wanted to enjoy herself, and her conception of enjoyment was publicity, promiscuity the band, the banners, the crowd, the close contact of covetous impulses, and the sense of walking among them in cool security..A stranger that was what she had always been to him So malleable outwardly, she had remained insensible to the touch of the heart In her mind there is no place for considerations, scruples, limitationsIt was impossible for Undine to understand a social organization which did not regard the indulging of woman as its first purpose She completely lacks depth She combines passionate desires with passionless nature A combination that leads to the downfall of everyone who loves her and her own personal hell But is it merely her faultThe real paradox is the fact that the men who make, materially, the biggest sacrifices for their women, should do least for them ideally and romantically And what s the result how do the women avenge themselves All my sympathy s with them, poor deluded dears, when I see their fallacious little attempts to trick out the leavings tossed them by the preoccupied male the money and the motors and the clothes and pretend to themselves and each other that that s what really constitutes life Oh, I know what you re going to say it s less and less of a pretence with them, I grant you they re and succumbing to the force of the suggestion but here and there I fancy there s one who still sees through the humbug, and knows that money and motors and clothes are simply the big bribe she s paid for keeping out of some man s way And is Undine one of the exceptions Her companion took the shot with a smile No she s a monstrously perfect result of the system the completest proof of its triumph It s Ralph who s the victim and the exception Unlike others, Undine doesn t learn any lessons, doesn t go through any profound changes She keeps being a soulless, mindless force of nature, sucking the life out of everyone close to her This book, just like The Age of Innocence, reveals the truth that often stays unsaid That when women are belittled, men are no less harmed Because each right entails with itself a responsibility and vice versa When there is no equality, when there is no partnership, there are no winners Only destruction And by refusing to admit it, we become our worst enemies Undine is a woman of her time But is Ralph truly an exception There is no doubt about how much he loves her and that he wants to give her much than just material goods, that he wants her to be an essential part of his life However, he misses to realize that indulging someone isn t enough to create a real partnership By tolerating and accepting everything she does to him, to their child he is no less of a supporter of the vicious circle He completely loses his spiritThe flame of love that had played about his passion for his wife had died down to its embers all the transfiguring hopes and illusions were gone, but they had left an unquenchable ache for her nearness, her smile, her touch His life had come to be nothing but a long effort to win these mercies by one concession after another the sacrifice of his literary projects, the exchange of his profession for an uncongenial business, and the incessant struggle to make enough money to satisfy her increasing exactions That was where the call had led him He spends his whole life diminishing himself and exalting her This adoring, gentle, maybe too good to be true husband feeds the abyss as much as every self centered lover of boot licking out there Not having appreciation for yourself is as bad as not having it for the person next to you The lack of sense of self is probably the only thing he truly shares with Undine Even in the end, when he finally has a reaction, he takes down not her, but himself He destroys himself and the future of his son.The distinction between winner and loser, abuser and victim, is not always quite clear To me Ralph and Undine, albeit very different, are two sides of the same coin Products of an ill system that either corrupts or crashes you Unlike the ending of The Age of Innocence, the ending of The Custom of the Country doesn t leave us with a glimmer of hope It is perfect and eloquent in its bleakness Edith Wharton strips the body of the late XIX century New York society of its brilliant clothing, separates the skin from the bones and turns the bones into dust There is no happiness in this story, but there is truth And, as imperfect as we are, it is up to us whether we shall let it be our truth or find that glimmer of hope, after all.My thanks to Candi for the recommendation 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 with a bubbly, divorced Gibson Girl who s gorgeous but dreadful, who s got all the new fashions and knows the most ruthless jokes And who can really blame me for breaking my engagement I m an American I can t help it We just wanna have fun We want things to be sexy and dazzling, and brand spanking NEW And okay, this book s not new exactly 1913 , but it sure reads that way I can t improve on my mother s description of The Custom of the Country as Henry James meets Candace Bushnell, except to recommend it also to fans of Gossip Girl and similar treats.Edith Wharton is truly a fabulous writer, and her style s as gorgeous as the gilded world of the rich she describes The special thing about this particular book of hers is its repellent anti heroine, the wonderfully named and well initialed society beauty Undine Spragg Undine Spragg makes Emma Bovary look like a sweet, sharp young lady who d be good BFF material Wharton s unsubtle point that society Society creates monsters like Undine is not so heavy handed that the pace or plot gets slowed down While there are definitely some tragic, Whartonian events in here, the whole novel for me felt both like tragedy and comedy, and her unsympathetic heroine bit works so successfully that the novel profits hugely from that ambivalence The book ends with a marriage, and is tragic in this weird and smart sense that the hero doesn t realize there has been any tragedy It s a good good book, truly I had a swell time.Can I just say now that I LOVE Edith Wharton I LOVE Edith Wharton I just think she s great She sure could write, man The Custom of the Country is very specifically about a historical moment and certain issues American identity, wealth, the Woman Question, etc but it s in the Great Lit section because the things she s getting into still matter a lot Undine s one of the most beautiful characters in literature, and it s no accident that she s got one of the most memorably lousy personalities Wharton makes her very human, though, and weirdly sympathetic, while tying the tragedy that is Undine to ideas about the social role of women and the effects of that role on individuals So The Custom of the Country is, in that way, a successful social novel, because Wharton gets her political concerns across through not in spite of the story s unfolding.But The Custom of the Country is, than a great social novel, a great Society novel Society being what Americans tried to put together before we got Hollywood, this is a sort of a proto Valley of the Dolls celebrity cautionary tale, which is another gigantic point in its favor I also got all riled up when Undine made it to Paris and started trying to get in with the Faubourg Saint Germain set, in the hopes that she d bump into the main character from In Search of Lost Time That unfortunately didn t happen, but it is fun to think about, in a really dumb, nerdy, middle school English class assignment kind of way Edith Wharton s no Marcel Proust, but that s not necessarily a bad thing She s no George Eliot either, so while Wharton may be considered somewhat less respectable in certain social circles, when I go out calling it s her drawing room I rush to first It s the best decorated and most fun, and Dr Eliot can wait, possibly forever.

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

[Reading] ➮ The Custom of the Country  ➶ Edith Wharton – Webcamtopladies.info
  • Mass Market Paperback
  • 480 pages
  • The Custom of the Country
  • Edith Wharton
  • English
  • 06 March 2017
  • 9780553213935

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