The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 13 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After going out to see a play on his own, Ralph gets back to the hotel, expecting to see Undine gone, but in fact, she is talking intimately with Peter at a tea table. They hardly notice Ralph’s arrival. They all talk for a while, then Peter leaves, mentioning that he must see them again soon.
Despite Peter’s reputation as a playboy, Undine shows no shame about being caught with him. Now that the honeymoon period is both literally and figuratively almost over, Undine has no problem openly challenging her husband’s values, like his preference for modesty and chasteness. 
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After Peter leaves, Undine teases Ralph by saying she didn’t shop too long while he was out—in fact, she saved them money. She made Peter offer to take them back to New York on his yacht. But Ralph doesn’t like the idea. His cousin Clare never rides with her husband on the yacht, meaning they’ll be alone with Peter. According to Ralph, Peter’s yacht has a reputation of not being a place for decent women. Undine fires back that this is only because Clare is still so infatuated with Ralph that it forces Peter to take up with other women.
Undine knows that Ralph won’t like her proposed plan to go with Peter, and so she tests his limits to see what she can get away with. Ralph becomes more open about what he fears—Peter’s reputation with women—but this only causes Undine to double down and point out how Ralph himself may be a hypocrite for still having feelings for the married Clare.
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Ralph starts to get angry with Undine. He says Peter has been manipulating her, but Undine says all he needs is a good woman to influence him. Nothing Ralph can think to say seems to change Undine’s mind. He stands firm, however, and eventually gets her to give up on the yacht trip (although he has to ask Laura Fairford for more money to get home).
Ralph and Undine both act naïve in their own ways. Ralph foolishly believes he can change Undine, while Undine foolishly believes she can change Peter. They both lack the ability to see and accept people as they are, and this lack of understanding leads to conflict.
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Shortly before their departure, Ralph goes to visit Clare at her hotel. They have a pleasant meeting, but at the end, Clare warns him not to let Peter take advantage of Undine. Ralph replies that Undine is good at defending herself, though inwardly, he’s not so sure this is true. Meanwhile, Undine hasn’t restrained her spending at all, even though she knows they don’t have much money.
As Ralph’s marriage with Undine gets rockier and rockier, Clare becomes an important confidante for Ralph. She understands exactly what Ralph is going through, since her husband is the one that Undine has been spending so much time with lately.
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Back at his own hotel, Ralph finds Undine crying on the couch. He asks what’s wrong, but Undine says that anyone should be able to see what’s wrong, implying that she’s pregnant and has put on weight. Ralph says she’ll feel differently at some point, but Undine asks when and talks about losing a whole year of her life to the pregnancy. Ralph wonders if she’s mistaken about how she feels, but Undine says she isn’t mistaken and that she has even already consulted someone. Undine says she suddenly hates the sight of all the things she bought in Europe. She says she’s going to hate herself more and more each time she looks in the mirror.
This narration in this section is deliberately ambiguous. The wording suggests that Ralph and Undine are headed toward something inevitable, and at first, it sounds like it could be a divorce (and that the person that Undine consulted was a divorce lawyer). Undine’s hatred of herself in the mirror could be a hatred of the person she’s become in her marriage. As the novel goes on, however, it becomes clear that Undine is pregnant and that the person she consulted was a doctor. She hates herself in the mirror and her new clothes because she is gaining weight from pregnancy.
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