The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
When Mr. Spragg first arrived on Wall Street, he kept many of his qualities from Apex, but there was something different behind his eyes. Now, Mr. Spragg is shocked to learn how expensive New York weddings are, particularly now that Undine is moving the date up for hers. Mr. Dagonet has come to discuss the wedding with Mr. Spragg, and Mr. Spragg’s attempts to joke with him mostly fall flat. They discuss Ralph’s work in the law field, which Mr. Dagonet insists is a “profession,” not a “business.”
Mr. Spragg may seem like an unsophisticated man, but his ever-present sense of humor suggests that he is better than most at seeing through the contradictions and absurdities of upper-class life in New York. For example, while Mr. Dagonet sees nothing wrong with asking Mr. Spragg to contribute money to supporting Undine and Ralph, Mr. Spragg finds it funny that a man with a reputation as grand as Mr. Dagonet’s might actually have less money than Mr. Spragg.
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It turns out that Ralph doesn’t like doing things that make money—he mostly just writes poetry and receives three thousand a year from his grandfather, Mr. Dagonet. Mr. Dagonet says he couldn’t teach Ralph how to work because it would’ve been too expensive. Eventually, Mr. Spragg realizes that Mr. Dagonet is asking him to help contribute to supporting his daughter and his future son-in-law, since it’s best for everyone if Ralph stays away from business.
Ralph is the stereotypical child of privilege who never had to get a real job. Mr. Dagonet takes pride in keeping Ralph out of work and feels shame about not being able to provide everything for Ralph, even though a part of him seems to also regret that his grandson has become so dependent on him to survive.
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Quotes
Mr. Spragg finds that supporting Undine and Ralph will cost him so much money that he recommends that Undine break off the engagement. Undine is furious when he brings this up, shouting that she isn’t getting married for the money. Mr. Spragg suggests that if she really loves Ralph, maybe she’d be OK starting their marriage without much money. Undine, however, is indignant that her father would allow her to drag Ralph down. Mr. Spragg says he’ll see what he can do.
Undine claims that she isn’t marrying Ralph for the money—and she might truly believe this—but she also refuses to live modestly with Ralph. Given his sense of humor, Mr. Spragg may be joking when he suggests Undine break off her engagement with Ralph—or perhaps in his own way he’s trying to warn her that Ralph isn’t as rich as she might expect. 
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Mr. Spragg talks to Mrs. Spragg about how he just doesn’t think he can come up with the money to support Ralph. Mrs. Spragg brings up an even bigger concern: Undine recently ran into Elmer. Mr. Spragg is alarmed but again promises to see what he can do.
Mr. Spragg’s money problems are persistent but also abstract. He seems to be doing better financially than some respected New York families like the Dagonets, but their rules of etiquette prevent them from acknowledging money issues openly.
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Instead of doing anything, however, Mr. Spragg ignores the problems for a little while. Then one day, Elmer comes up to him in his office and forces his way into the elevator. Mr. Spragg says he’s busy, but Elmer insists that Mr. Spragg will want to hear what he has to say. He talks about how he’s become Harmon B. Driscoll’s secretary due to his inside information about underhanded business dealings in Apex. Mr. Spragg himself was involved in these dealing but got out—but Representative James J. Rolliver is still involved, and he’s now a rival to the Driscolls.
Almost every character from Apex has some connection to shady business dealings that involve Representative James J. Rolliver. This Apex corruption subplot highlights the murky origins of wealth. Mr. Spragg becomes a respected businessman in New York, but he made his fortune using the same tactics as the slippery Elmer Moffatt.
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Elmer gets to the point: he wants to get out of Harmon B. Driscoll’s office. He promises not to interfere with Undine’s wedding if Mr. Spragg just shows up at the Driscoll office before 5 PM and tells what he knows about Representative James J. Rolliver. Mr. Spragg refuses at first, so then Elmer asks him questions about his daughter’s wedding date. Mr. Spragg still seems reluctant, but just then Ralph shows up at the office. Ralph apologizes for interrupting, then he says he thinks he knows Elmer from somewhere. Elmer says he doesn’t think so and leaves the office.
Mr. Spragg’s shady business dealings in Apex catapulted his career, but they also made him vulnerable to blackmail from people like Elmer, who know about his past. Elmer’s veiled threats against Mr. Spragg are personal, since Mr. Spragg was the one who broke up Elmer’s marriage with Undine and turned all of Apex against him. Ralph nearly witnesses this whole scene, but as usual, he remains too naïve to see what’s really going on.
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Corruption Theme Icon