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The Custom of the Country (Bantam Classics) Mass Market Paperback – April 1, 1991

175 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

Review

"Edith Wharton's finest achievement."—Elizabeth Hardwick

From the Publisher

First published in 1913, Edith Wharton's The Custom Of The Country is 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.

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Product Details

  • Series: Bantam Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Classics (May 1, 1991)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0553213938
  • ISBN-13: 978-0553213935
  • Product Dimensions: 4.2 x 0.8 x 6.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7.2 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (175 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #100,015 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

105 of 109 people found the following review helpful By Susan S. Platt on June 16, 2000
Format: Paperback
What a marvelous author Edith Wharton is! I like to copy passages from her books just to feel how beautifully she constructs her sentences and paragraphs. I've also read Ethan Frome, Summer, House of Mirth, and Age of Innocence; they are all terrific novels. But The Custom of the Country is her best. Could there be a worse mother, wife, or daughter than Undine? And yet, she is too pathetic to hate; she is so needy and dependent upon material things. She's perhaps the most unliberated woman in literature! Do read this novel; you will love it and learn from it.
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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By F. L. Daugherty on August 30, 2013
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is Edith Wharton's real masterpiece. Before reading this novel recently (I'd hardly heard of it before), I'd read her much more famous "Age of Innocence" and "House of Mirth." I thought they were okay -- beautiful descriptive passages, brilliant flashes of psychological and political insight, but with boring characters and lame story lines. "The Custom of the Country" has all the fine qualities you expect to find in a good Wharton novel, but with an absolutely amazing protagonist -- Undine. "The Custom of the Country" is "Vanity Fair," with its much paler Becky Sharp, squared. This is what Thackeray would have written if he'd had a much keener and colder eye -- and a blacker sense of humor. This is now in my novelistic top ten -- along with (if you want to know some other books I like before taking my advice and buying/reading this): "Moby-Dick," "The Man Without Qualities," "Blood Meridian," "Remembrance of Things Past," and Burroughs' last major novel "The Western Lands."
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31 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 22, 1998
Format: Hardcover
I have just finished reading Edith Wharton's THE CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY and have never wanted to strangle a protaganist so much in my life! Ms. Wharton has created a character that could rival any modern day soap opera vixen. Undine Spragg is spoilt, selfish, vain and socially ambitious. When Ms. Wharton writes from her perspective, I found myself at times feeling sorry for her. When she writes from the perspective of the people Undine ruins, I despised her. In the end, there is nothing kind that I can say about Undine Spragg. About Ms. Wharton, however, I can say she has again reestablished herself as a literary genius. In the character of Undine, Ms. Wharton criticizes the emptiness of greed mixed with vanity in a shallow person who knows nothing else. However, Ms. Wharton also makes it clear that Undine is not soley to blame for her character. "It is the custom of the country" her second father-in-law explains of Undine's stupidity, insensitivity and unending selfishness. Women who are so totally pampered and kept ignorant of the real world remain spoilt brats until they are old enough to truly hurt so many lives. The two saddest victims of her ruthlessness are her second husband Ralph, a sensitive writer from an old-money family, and their son Paul. Though it is doubtful anyone will like Undine, you will at times pity her. However, the genius of Edith Wharton is that through Undine we see the destruction of society and families by the ridiculous treatment of women in society of early 1900's. Another note on this particular edition of this and all Everyman books is that they are so beautifully crafted, it is always a treasure to read any book printed by this company. Besides being beautifully designed, Everyman editions also have wonderful chronologies of the author and historical references and literary events. They are truly elegant additions to any library.
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48 of 57 people found the following review helpful By Scooper on July 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
To anyone who has read The Custom of the Country, the idea that Undine Spragg is the perfect personification of America would be something to think about. To those who haven't read it, my humble advice is that they read it and form an opinion on that subject. For now, I'll explain my reasoning: Undine is decidedly ambitious,and the levels of her ambition are often praised and lamented by other characters. She is a social climber, and she uses other people as the rungs in her ladder. So do many business moguls, however. So do normal people. We simply refer to it as 'doing what has to be done,' or 'having a way with people,' or even 'brown nosing.' Monopolies are built with these adverbs as their hammer and nails. Our way of life is founded on them. Yet we relish our dislike for Undine Spragg for attempting to build her life in this way, the only way she was taught. We do not notice that the essence of Undine is floating all around us. It built the house we live in and produced the computer we are using right now. It is the essence of Cold Ambition. It builds itself up with or without help, reaches its peak, sees a better peak, and climbs even higher. Success is never achieved, because to profess success is to say that we can do no better now. We are raised to believe that that idea is profane. We can always do better and go higher. Just read the last line of The Custom of the Country. It's a killer.
I think Undine was dangerous, personally. If I knew her, I would stay away from her as well as I could. But just look at the thoughts that this book brings out. Read it and join in the fun.
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18 of 20 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on April 29, 1998
Format: Paperback
Undine Spragg - a beautiful women with very little intelligence. Her petulant behaviour carries us through this novel as she uses her family to propel herself through the ranks of New York society. She marries to further her stature and soon discovers that moving in the right circles only takes her so far without the money to maintain the lifestyle she craves. Undine discards the people of her life as they fail to provide the monetary support she needs and looks to affairs and friendships to cover her shortcomings financially. It would be easy to hate her character except for the fact that she is not smart enough to realize the hurt she causes those around her, she never seems to hurt them intentionally they just get in the way of her greed and ambition. At times I even pitied her.
Other readers thought she was content by the end of the book, but I don't think Undine will ever be content, there will always be greener pastures...
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