Highly acclaimed at its publication in 1913, The Custom of the Country is a cutting commentary on America's nouveaux riches, their upward-yearning aspirations and their eventual downfalls. Through her heroine, the beautiful and ruthless Undine Spragg, a spoiled heiress who looks to her next materialistic triumph as her latest conquest throws himself at her feet, Edith Wharton presents a startling, satiric vision of social behavior in all its greedy glory. As Undine moves from America's heartland to Manhattan, and then to Paris, Wharton's critical eye leaves no social class unscathed.
THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY marks Edith Wharton's return to the satiric tone of THE HOUSE OF MIRTH. She follows bored, passive Ralph Marvell, a gentle young man with the heart of a poet, as he squanders his family's modest inheritance in an attempt to find happiness. But the real star of Wharton's narrative is the beautiful, ambitious, and blatantly amoral schemer, Undine Spragg, who manipulates her nouveau-riche Midwestern parents into taking her East. There she rampages through New York society in search of a wealthy husband--who turns out, disastrously, to be Ralph Marvell. Wharton savages the vulgar Spraggs, who live only for money and what it can bring, while appreciating the culture and traditional values of the old guard. But her satiric eye spares no one: with the genteel Marvell family, Wharton illustrates how completely a corrupt society can affect individual characters no matter how they try to resist. Considered one of Edith Wharton's greatest novels, THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY is also notable for the author's understanding of the power of the media--of gossip and sensationalism--even in the 1870s.
- Literary Criticism
- October 1, 2001
- October 1, 2001
- Edith Wharton