The Custom of the Country

By Edith Wharton,

Book cover of The Custom of the Country

Book description

Edith Wharton’s classic story of one woman’s quest for wealth and status after the turn of the twentieth century

Beautiful, selfish, and driven, Undine Spragg arrives in New York with all of the ambition and naiveté that her midwestern, nouveau riche upbringing afforded her. As cunning as she is lovely,…

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Why read it?

3 authors picked The Custom of the Country as one of their favorite books. Why do they recommend it?

Is Undine Spragg Edith Wharton’s least admiral protagonist? Perhaps. But as well, she is her most beguiling.

With her modest mid-western roots and her hunger for something more, she personifies the American dream, only she incarnates its less noble form. Cunning and beautiful, she uses her every charm exclusively in service to her ambition.

There is something thoroughly modern about her self-belief, her perpetual reinvention. It’s impossible to look away as she ruthlessly forges her own future, defying expectations and conventions time and again. 

They say what goes around comes around; but when it comes to Undine Spragg we…

Unlike the other authors on this list, Edith Wharton is not funny. And if you don’t believe me, or if you suffer from too much cheerfulness, read Ethan Frome. But even though I adore funny writers, I tip my Merry Widow hat to this American master. In The Custom of the Country she follows Midwestern gal Undine Spragg as she conquers first New York and then French society, leaving destroyed men in her wake. Downton Abbey fans will know that this was the book that inspired Julian Fellowes to produce his Gilded-Age saga and complete cottage industry. Undine is…

Over a century before there were the Kardashian women and the Real Housewives, Edith Wharton created the character of Undine Spragg. Undine is the gold medal Olympic champion of social climbingshe needs to be seen and admired, to be at the cutting edge of fashion, and to be indisputably on top.  She will sacrifice anything to satisfy her hunger for status—marriages, children, and love. She fears nothing and no one. In the character Undine, Wharton held a mirror up to the superficial values of the Gilded Age. If Undine Spragg were created today, she would show the Kardashians…

From Glenn's list on fearless females in fiction.

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