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


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The Custom of the Country (Bantam Classics) + The House of Mirth (Dover Thrift Editions) + The Age of Innocence (Dover Thrift Editions)
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Product Details

  • Series: Bantam Classics
  • Mass Market Paperback: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Bantam Classics (April 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 (87 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #248,791 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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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Customer Reviews

The first time I tried to read this book, I couldn't get past the first couple of pages.
Too Dumb for Stoppard
Although I have read Wharton's major novels, this an exceptional one because of the spectacular character of Undine and the quality of writing.
C. Ritz
CUSTOM OF THE COUNTRY provides a revealing glimpse into the workings of the upper society circles of New York before the Great War.
S. Calhoun

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

94 of 98 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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30 of 31 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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44 of 51 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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16 of 18 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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10 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Diane Schirf on May 6, 2007
Format: Paperback
In The Custom of the Country, Edith Wharton creates one of the most unlikable, even despicable, characters I know of in American fiction. Undine Spragg is not a murderer, sociopath, or monster, but an ambitious young woman determined to climb New York's social ladder to the very top. The ambitions in themselves are not inherently bad, and other characters clearly share them. It is Undine's utter lack of regard for anyone else, from her aging parents to her neglected son, that makes her contemptible. What makes her chilling is the odd combination of ingenuousness and its opposite; with rare exceptions she is oblivious to the rights, aspirations, and feelings of others if they do not pertain to her own objectives.

In Wharton's world, choosing the right man was as important to a society woman's future as selecting the right college, graduate school, or first job is today for a professional woman. For Undine and her friends, divorce carries no more significance than as a means to get out of the wrong job. As she tells her fiancé's shocked traditional New York family, "I guess Mabel'll get a divorce pretty soon . . . They like each other well enough. But he's been a disappointment to her . . . Mabel realizes she'll never really get anywhere till she gets rid of him." This dinner conversation foreshadows the rest of the novel.

Wharton reveals Undine's competitive nature through her childhood rivalry with Indiana Frusk, and her unsatisfied, reaching one through her travels with her parents. Undine will never be happy because there will always be someone with something she doesn't have, whether it is greater wealth, fame, or a title or position.
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