The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Custom of the Country can help.

The Custom of the Country: Chapter 11 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It’s a sunny day in July, and Ralph and Undine are in Italy on their honeymoon—they’ve been traveling throughout Italy for four months. It has been a blissful time, although at the moment, Undine is complaining about the heat. Ralph says if it’s too hot, they could always just travel somewhere new, like Switzerland, but Undine doesn’t like any of his suggestions. Ralph picked the summer for their trip so that there would be fewer people around, but Undine is disappointed to be seeing the place at the wrong time.
Between chapters, the novel occasionally takes leaps ahead in time. In the space between Chapters X and XI, Ralph and Undine get married and spend several months honeymooning in Europe. This chapter catches up with them near the end of their honeymoon, when the initial bliss has worn off and disappointment begins to set in for each of them.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Ralph and Undine ride back in a carriage, and Ralph realizes that Undine’s real problem isn’t the heat but the lack of crowds—that’s why she doesn’t want to go to Switzerland where it’s cooler but no more crowded. Ralph wants to please Undine, but he also doesn’t want to tell her how quickly he’s running low on money, mostly due to her extravagant desires.
Ralph begins to see Undine’s true nature, realizing how she is vain and needs approval from strangers. Undine doesn’t exactly hide her vanity, and so the fact that it took Ralph several months of marriage to realize what she’s like suggests that he isn’t especially perceptive.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
That night, Undine’s silence makes Ralph nervous. He tells her he just saw something wonderful—a vision of a book he intends to write. Undine doesn’t seem to be interested in his grand vision and says she’s homesick. She says Europe isn’t as interesting as she expected. Ralph puts his vision aside and says that if Undine’s bored, perhaps first they should go to a more crowded place in Switzerland. This time, Undine is pleased and agrees to go.
Ralph doesn’t understand that the things that interest him—like his vision of a magnificent book he plans to write one day—don’t necessarily interest Undine. He has gotten through the first few months of marriage without major conflict, but as the months go on, the differences between him and Undine become harder and harder to ignore.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon