By Edith Wharton
Original Copyright 1913
Charles Scribner’s Sons Publisher
Published by Penguin Books 1990
I try to throw a few “classics” into my reading queue every now and again, usually as more of a reminder of times gone by than anything else. Sometimes I’m bored out of my ever-loving mind, but with this one I was actually pleasantly surprised!
The Custom of the Country is the story of the delightfully unlikable Undine Spragg, the daughter of an up-and-coming New York family who move out of the sticks to introduce their daughter to “society”. While Undine thrives in her new social entanglements, she does have hopes for finding a suitable spouse (which is not easy after some youthful indiscretions, including a quickly-unraveled elopement with a man who seems to continually pop up in her new world).
Undine is a manipulative little narcissist and usually manages to get whatever she wants. But when hiding her past becomes a difficulty, Undine rushes into the first advantageous marriage she can find. Her new husband has entrée into society, of course. But, as Undine later discovers, his finances are not in the best condition, nor does he have the ability to change those circumstances. Undine, who had grown accustomed to always having her way and being able to manipulate her parents into giving her everything, becomes increasingly frustrated and dissatisfied at her new financial constraints. Her husband tries to fulfill her wants, but soon discovers the pitfalls of his bridal choice.
When Undine finds herself in a situation that could lead to a future with another man (a man with money, of course), but only if each of them could obtain their own respective divorces, she throws herself headlong into the process without even a second thought. Then when the “other man” ends up not wanting her (shocker!), Undine seeks a new sugar daddy and finds one rather quickly, or so she thinks. Despite his impressive French title, however, husband #3 has dedicated his slice of the financial pie elsewhere and merely rolls his eyes at Undine’s voracious appetite for spending money, locking her down into a quiet domestic life that she absolutely abhors.
Dumb luck being what it is, Undine runs into hubby #1 again (you know, the one she eloped with WAYYYYYY back when) and wouldn’t you know it? He is now rich beyond the dreams of Avarice. You can just imagine how this turns out.
Things I loved about this book:
#1. I absolutely detested everything about the main character of the book, which kept me reading to see what she was going to do, think or feel next. One of the lines that best describes this character: “…Undine felt the rush of physical joy that drowns scruples and silences memory.”
#2. Near the end of the book, with Undine in her latest marriage and spending more money than you can even imagine, she STILL is not satisfied. The author notes, “Even now, however, she was not always happy. She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.” So in the end, she really didn't get everything she wanted.
#3. The author actually uses the word “tessellated” in a sentence. One of my favorite Alt-J songs:
Although it had a few sections that were a little slow and yawn-worthy, it was generally entertaining and kept me intrigued. I do recommend this one for anyone who is a fan of Victorian-style writings.