Editorial Reviews for this title:
Edith Wharton's satiric anatomy of American society in the first decade of the twentieth century appeared in 1913; it both appalled and fascinated its first reviewers, and established her as a major novelist. The Saturday Review wrote that she had "assembled as many detestable people as it is possible to pack between the covers of a six-hundred page novel," but concluded that the book was "brilliantly written," and "should be read as a parable."
It follows the career of Undine Spragg, recently arrived in New York from the Midwest and determined to conquer high society. Glamorous, selfish, mercenary and manipulative, her principal assets are her striking beauty, her tenacity, and her father's money. With her sights set on an advantageous marriage, Undine pursues her schemes in a world of shifting values, where triumph is swiftly followed by disillusion.
Wharton was recreating an environment she knew intimately, and Undine's education for social success is chronicled in meticulous detail. The novel superbly captures the world of post-Civil War America, as ruthless in its social ambitions as in its business and politics.
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From the Publisher
With the publication of this controversial novel, Edith Wharton leveled her most biting critique at the limitations that her society placed upon the ambitious woman.
The Custom of the Country--which Harold Bloom, among others, considers her strongest achievement--takes its name from Fletcher and Massinger's Jacobean play about a medieval custom in which the feudal lord had a right to use the body of any common woman in his domain, either for his own pleasure or for money by prostituting her on her wedding night. In Wharton's American revision, it is the woman herself who ruthlessly sells herself to whatever man she believes can provide her with the success she desires. Undine Spragg is a magnificent antiheroine, viciously and precisely rendered by the author.
With photographs by Alvin Langdon Coburn and drawings by Charles Dana Gibson, this Collector's Edition evokes the atmosphere of nineteenth-century New York. It also brings us closer to the author herself, with letters in her hand and other archival traces of her life from the special collections of The New York Public Library.
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