The Custom of the Country
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"Edith Wharton's finest achievement." -- Elizabeth Hardwick The Custom of the Country tells the story of Undine Spragg, a Midwestern girl who attempts to ascend in New York City society. It may well be have been the lynchpin that made Edith Wharton's career become the phenomenon that comes so easily to memory across so many decades. Oh, it's of a cloth with all her work -- there's no mistaking that a page of her writing came from her and not someone else -- but on a certain level, this novel is a mean book, and the meanness is warranted. The heroine (a woman named Undine Spragg, of all things!) is a spoiled heiress who makes her way in life by conquering one man after another after another, moving from the American heartland eastward first to New York, and ultimately to Paris.
the cash you could fix it up all right with the Pope?’ Her heart began to beat. She remembered that he had once put a job in Ralph's way, and had let her understand that he had done it partly for her sake. ‘Well,’ he continued, relapsing into hyperbole, ‘I wish I could send the old gentleman my cheque tomorrow morning: but the fact is I'm high and dry.’ He looked at her with a sudden odd intensity. ‘If I wasn't, I dunno but what—’ The phrase was lost in his familiar whistle. ‘That's an awfully
say out in Apex that I spent too much time loafing round the bar of the Mealey House; that was one of the things you had against me. Well, maybe I did—but it taught me to talk, and to listen to the other fellows too. Just at present I'm one of Harmon B. Driscoll's private secretaries, and some of that Mealey House loafing has come in more useful than any job I ever put my hand to. The old man happened to hear I knew something about the inside of the Eubaw deal, and took me on to have the
should make such a suggestion. ‘I couldn't ask them—it's not possible. My grandfather does as much as he can for me, and my mother has nothing but what he gives her.’ Undine seemed unconscious of his embarrassment. ‘He doesn't give us nearly as much as father does,’ she said; and, as Ralph remained silent, she went on: ‘Couldn't you ask your sister, then? I must have some clothes to go home in.’ His heart contracted as he looked at her. What sinister change came over her when her will was
doctors' and nurses’ bills, and all the attendant confusion and expense. If only Moffatt's project might be realized—if for once he could feel a round sum in his pocket, and be freed from the perpetual daily strain! The next morning Undine, though calmer, was too weak to leave her bed, and her doctor prescribed rest and absence of worry—later, perhaps, a change of scene. He explained to Ralph that nothing was so wearing to a high-strung nature as monotony, and that if Mrs Marvell were
Paul. He did not want to see any one but his mother and grandfather till his legs could carry him to Mr Spragg's office. It was an oppressive day in mid-August, with a yellow mist of heat in the sky, when at last he entered the big office-building. Swirls of dust lay on the mosaic floor, and a stale smell of decayed fruit and salt air and steaming asphalt filled the place like a fog. As he shot up in the elevator some one slapped him on the back, and turning he saw Elmer Moffatt at his side,