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An unapologetic story of social demands,
This review is from: The Custom of the Country (Oxford World's Classics) (Paperback)
"The Custom of the Country" is hard and unflinching in its telling of Undine Spragg's relentless pursuit for fortune and fame in the early 20th century. Through Undine Spragg and her various loves, Ms Wharton articulates her thoughts on the effect of the New York society's customs on the expected roles of men and behaviours of women. Ms Wharton further shows that the same can be said of another country's society when she moves the story to Paris in the later part of the book.
In Undine Spragg, Ms Wharton has spared no punches in portraying her self-centred personality and thoughts, who according to her is a perfect example of the product of New York society's customs.
As with the "House of Mirth", very few of the characters in "The Custom of the Country" were given a reprieve from the fate that they seem destined to suffer. This cannot be brought across more starkly than in the scene where Undine's husband, Ralph Marvell, finally uncovers the full scale of her lies and deception. His subsequent mental breakdown is excruciating and highly emotive. Yet at the same time, there is an ethereal quality to the loss of his grip on reality, which makes for compelling and climatic reading.
Ms Wharton does not, for any moment, spare her reader any anguish and agony in the story of Undine Spragg and particularly that of Ralph Marvell. The rare moments of true tenderness and calm in the novel are often employed to sensitise one's feelings and deepen the pity, before a devastating blow is delivered. At such points, one cannot help but submit helplessly and almost unquestioningly to Ms Wharton's portrayal of her characters, and ultimately to her sublime story-telling.