“When The Custom of the Country was first published in 1913, it was her ninth novel, and her audiences were eager to read Wharton’s indictment of the American upper class. They weren’t to be disappointed. In this novel, we follow the rise of Undine Spragg, an ordinary girl from Kansas, and her rise in society through multiple marriages.
Undine’s father is one of those hard-working Americans who earns his money the old-fashioned way – by hard work and innovation. His money makes Undine an attractive catch in an age when the upper classes in Europe seek wealthy American heiresses to prop up their cash poor estates. Unfortunately, Undine can never seem to the find the perfect match. She does marry, several times in fact, but each one doesn’t seem to have the money to match the society she has entered. And Mr. Spragg, although generous, does not wish to support Undine and her various husbands to the point of bankruptcy himself.
Edith Wharton has penned a scathing novel of a typical gold digger, albeit before gold diggers were common. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t excited by this novel. I’ve heard this story before, and Wharton didn’t bring anything new to the table in terms of character development or narrative. It just left me flat.
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006 (originally 1913)
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