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Re: The Custom of the Country
Yes, the phrase "custom of the country" is spoken by Charles Bowen in Chapter 15. He says, "Because it's against the custom of the country...Why haven't we taught our women to take an interest in our work? Simply because we don't take enough interest in them...Why does the European woman interest herself so much more in what the men are doing? Because she's so important to them that they make it worth her while!" I wouldn't be a bit surprised if he was speaking for the author, as far as her feelings about America vs. Europe. After all, she wrote this novel just as she moved to Europe for good. I know very little Wharton, but from reading the Wikipedia article, she seems to have been a strong and independent sort. She also appears to have been a member of Ralph's class--Old New York families. Her scorn toward Peter Van Degen and his nouveau riche friends may also represent her actual feelings toward them. Of course, she does not spare the Marvells of her own set. Nor does she spare the tradition-bound French. But even though her net of scorn and satire is thrown wide, there is no vindication of Undine. I'm quite positive that Wharton herself, anyway, despised her leading lady. I detect a tone of mockery and disdain for the arriviste(s) from Kansas throughout the novel.
: Yes, I'm having trouble committing myself to
: the rereading I want to do. I want to do it
: because, in reading this time, I became
: interested in the play of sympathy. Undine
: seems an almost despicable character, and
: yet I began to wonder about that. I have
: read that many readers, even Jane Austen's
: mother, of Mansfield Park sympathize more
: with Mary Crawford than with Fanny. They
: find Mary Crawford lively and pleasant and
: Fanny something of a prig. I started to
: wonder if one might find Ralph and his set
: rather priggish bores and sympathize more
: with Undine. I started to wonder if Wharton
: did. I was interested in the comments of
: that guy who turned up two or three times -
: his name started with a B - who said that
: Americans left their wives out of real life.
: I wondered if he was speaking for the
: author. I decided to think he wasn't, to
: think that Edith had no sympathies, as, I
: think, a good novelist should not. And yet
: as I read on, it became hard to believe
: anyone could sympathize much with Undine.
: Neglect of children always seems to damn
: women. It is that which makes it most
: difficult to sympathize with Emma Bovary
: too. Little Paul becomes almost Dickensian
: by the end.