The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 19 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Charles Bowen is sitting at a restaurant in Paris, thinking about a letter he might eventually write to Laura Fairford. He is dining with a French marquis named Raymond de Chelles, and they discuss their thoughts about marriage. Just then, Raymond happens to notice Undine at a table with Peter and asks who she is. Charles Bowen explains who Undine is and that she’s already married, although both he and Raymond find her lovely that evening.
Charles Bowen lives an idle life and functions in the story more as an observer than a driver of the action. Raymond, on the other hand, is a man of action, and when he sees Undine, he knows exactly what he wants. This focus on action contrasts sharply with Undine’s more inhibited husband, Ralph.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Charles Bowen supposes that Undine wants her privacy with Peter, so he’s surprised when Peter invites him and Raymond to join their dining party. They move to Undine’s table, where she is with some of the people she met in Europe the last time she was there. To Peter’s dismay, however, Undine soon arranges for Raymond to be near her at her table.
Undine treats Peter much the same way she treats Ralph—by not even attempting to disguise her interest in other men. While Undine mostly used Ralph’s jealousy to her advantage, Peter is less of a pushover and may not submit as easily to Undine’s wishes.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon