The Custom of the Country
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"Edith Wharton's finest achievement." -- Elizabeth Hardwick The Custom of the Country tells the story of Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend in New York City society. It may well be have been the lynchpin that made Edith Wharton's career become the phenomenon that comes so easily to memory across so many decades. Oh, it's of a cloth with all her work -- there's no mistaking that a page of her writing came from her and not someone else -- but on a certain level, this novel is a mean book, and the meanness is warranted. The heroine (a woman named Undine Spragg, of all things!) is a spoiled heiress who makes her way in life by conquering one man after another after another, moving from the American heartland eastward first to New York, and ultimately to Paris.
re-strung?’ Mrs Heeny placidly suggested. ‘Why, you'd oughter to have it done right here before your eyes, with pearls that are worth what these are.’ As Undine listened, a new thought shaped itself. She could not continue to wear the pearls: the idea had become intolerable. But for the first time she saw what they might be converted into, and what they might rescue her from; and suddenly she brought out: ‘Do you suppose I could get anything for them?’ ‘Get anything? Why, what—’ ‘Anything like
breaking through the mysterious web of traditions, conventions, prohibitions that enclosed her in their impenetrable network. But her vanity suggested the obvious pretext, and she murmured with a laugh: ‘I didn't know Raymond was going to be so jealous—’ The Princess stared. ‘Is it Raymond who keeps you shut up here? And what about his trips to Dijon? And what do you suppose he does with himself when he runs up to Paris? Politics?’ She shrugged ironically. ‘Politics don't occupy a man after
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the studio had left her tired and nervous—she was beginning to learn that success may be as fatiguing as failure. Moreover, she was going to a big dinner that evening, and the fresh air would give her the eyes and complexion she needed; but in the back of her mind there lingered the vague sense of a forgotten engagement. As she tried to recall it she felt Van Degen raising the fur collar about her chin. ‘Got anything you can put over your head? Will that lace thing do? Come along, then.’ He
with a heavy brow and pushed-out lip. His daughter's outburst seemed at last to have roused him to a faint resentment. After she had ceased to speak he remained silent, twisting an inky penhandle between his fingers; then he said: ‘I guess mother and I can worry along without having Ralph's relatives drop in; but I'd like to make it clear to them that if you came from Apex your income came from there too. I presume they'd be sorry if Ralph was left to support you on his.’ She saw that she had