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Book Title: The Custom of the Country|
The author of the book: Edith Wharton
Edition: Createspace Independent Publishing Platform
Date of issue: April 27th 2011
ISBN 13: 9781461030256
Format files: PDF
The size of the: 2.53 MB
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Reader ratings: 5.1
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It was fashionable at one time to send rich American girls who had everything over to Europe in order to acquire a title from an impoverished aristocrat who was none too fussy about his bride so long as she came with a very generous papa. Some of them, like the extremely despicable Lady Rose Astor (view spoiler)[How else can one describe a racist, anti-semitic bff of Henry Ford and other Nazi sympathisers? (hide spoiler)] really became part of their adoptive country and others, like our heroine, Undine Spragg didn't.
Undine wasn't top-drawer wealthy to begin with, only middling, and she had a past, but that didn't stop her pursuit of wealth, haute couture, a sparkling social life and compliments. She came from Apex and you might think reached her apex on marrying a French Marquis and gaining a title and a historic palace, but no, he wasn't rich enough for her. And so displaying all the worst characteristics of an American (as described by the Marquis - shallow, no feeling for history or art, everything is valued according to its monetary worth and has to be new) she tries to sell, or persuade the Marquis to sell, tapestries given by Louis IVX to his family. In doing so she meets her first husband again, now a billionaire, and so a quickie divorce at midnight is arranged with a wedding minutes later, and she is happy as happy could be. All that money!
Her husband, provider of this unlimited largesse, lives if not to regret it, at least to make the best of it, which is more than can be said for her second husband, father of her only child. He shot himself. The husband pals up to this child, whom Undine scarcely knows and cares even less about. The husband knows that if he had no money, he too would not bask in her affections but be subject to the same cold, brittle light Undine regards her son with and determines to do his best for the boy.
It's quite a brilliant book, related closely to the French genre of beautiful women and the machinations they get up to in pursuit of wealth. But the French are moralistic and the woman always gets her comeuppance, whether it be the pox, age, or the mirror on the wall keeps telling her there are younger beauties that men will pay top dollar for, not old whores past their sell-by date. Edith Wharton being an American does not feel the need for this sort of ending. Her heroine, nasty as she is has achieved the American dream of social-climbing and wealth - anyone can get to the top. And there she leaves her narcissistic billionairess.
Well-written, and very enjoyable. The only flaw for me was the headlong drive for money and social domination was not tempered by any softness or virtues in the heroine. She lacked humanity. You couldn't identify with her as you could with, say, Madame Bovary
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Read information about the authorEdith Newbold Jones was born into such wealth and privilege that her family inspired the phrase "keeping up with the Joneses." The youngest of three children, Edith spent her early years touring Europe with her parents and, upon the family's return to the United States, enjoyed a privileged childhood in New York and Newport, Rhode Island. Edith's creativity and talent soon became obvious: By the age of eighteen she had written a novella, (as well as witty reviews of it) and published poetry in the Atlantic Monthly.
After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton's novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton's first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton's reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.
In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.
The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 -- the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.
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