Undine sympathetic to moderns? Well, maybe. Bloom recounts a story in which he asked a class whom they'd rather be or be in love with: Lily from The House of Mirth, Ellen from The Age of Innocence, or Undine. He expected them to choose Ellen (his own choice), but they chose Undine. I have not read the other books (although I saw the film of TAoI), so I can't really comment, except to say that I would remain celibate the rest of my life rather than fall in love with Undine. She's utterly toxic and startlingly self-centered.
My experience, which admittedly is influenced by my practice because it brings me into intimate conversations with people with whom I would not choose to socialize, is that no one wants to admit that only money matters to them. Everyone thinks that God, the nation, moral standards, their family, their personal honor, whatever, matters more than money, even though their actions do not always support their beliefs. I was as shocked as Bloom by his class, because I can't imagine anyone not being horrified by Undine. I can understand some sympathy for Elmer, who doesn't really seem to be that bad a fellow. (Unless, of course, Moffatt intentionally drives Ralph to suicide by his disclosure, but I don't see how he could have anticipated that. I didn't.)
Her carelessness and heartlessness toward her child, the fact that she intentionally goes off on a spree with a lover and starts the divorce process immediately after learning that her husband is desperately ill, her steady ruining of her parents without a flicker of remorse--she is an absolute and utter villainess without redeeming features. Jonathan Franzen has written:
"Undine is an extreme case of the unlikable person rendered perplexingly sympathetic by her desires. She’s almost comically indestructible, like Wile E. Coyote. The interest I take in her ascent, her Coyote-like survival of the seeming wipeout blows that her divorces deliver to her social standing, may be akin to the fascination of watching one spider in a jar prevail over other spiders, but I still can’t read the book without aligning myself with her struggle."
H-m-m. Well, I can. I would have loved to see the book end with her complete ruin. I absolutely loathed her.
: Bowen, thanks. I notice I've started to
: forget names of characters as soon as I
: finish novels. I had to think for a moment
: to come up with Ralph's name.
: Even if Wharton didn't, I wonder if anyone
: does sympathize with Undine. It seems to me
: that, now more than ever, Americans feel
: that nothing other than money and the things
: it can buy means anything. Old money is
: worth no more than new money. The Marvell's
: and their set seem a relic. Elmer Moffit and
: Undine Spragg seem more in harmony with
: Someone said that Teddy Roosevelt and Edith
: Wharton were both self made men. She took it
: as a compliment.
: Wharton is one of the authors I'm most
: familiar with. I've read (listed in order of
: how much I've enjoyed them) The Age of
: Innocence, Ethan Frome, The Custom of the
: Country, Summer, and The House of Mirth.
: I've also read (again in order of enjoyment)
: The Writing of Fiction, A Backward Glance,
: and A Motorflight through France. I remember
: the autobiography as quite interesting and
: the travel book as really dull.
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