The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In the Adirondacks, Ralph sits on the balcony of a lake house and looks out at the clouds on the water. He doesn’t have anyone in his life that he can talk about Undine with—the whole thing will become a scandal, and the people in his life avoid scandals. His family doesn’t really understand divorce, least of all Mr. Dagonet
Undine may be much vainer than Ralph, but Ralph still has his own concerns about his reputation. Ralph, however, cares less about the newspapers and more about how his family will react, particularly his difficult grandfather.
Themes
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Ralph begins replacing photos of Undine around the house. He feels both angry and ashamed of himself about how things have gone lately. Eventually, he is satisfied not to see Undine looking at him from all those pictures, and he decides not to fight the divorce after all. He gets angry however, when Laura Fairford comes over and speaks to Paul as if Undine is dead and never coming back.
Ralph suffers from an internal conflict. On the one hand, he wants to erase Undine from his life, as illustrated by his removal of all her pictures. On the other hand, however, he finds this change frightening and bristles when other people acknowledge his failing marriage.
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One day, Ralph is on the subway and happens to see his own name in a newspaper someone else is reading. The article focuses on Undine, and the headline references a husband who is too absorbed in business to make his home happy.
Ralph realizes that Mr. Spragg misled him into believing that his divorce could be amicable, when all along Undine was planning to attack Ralph in order to protect her own reputation.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon