The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 24 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Still in Paris, Indiana Frusk (newly married to Representative James J. Rolliver) tells Undine that she should’ve come to her first for advice. It’s been a little less than a year since the triumphant day when Undine looked out her Paris hotel window. Indiana’s main advice is to get a divorce as soon as possible, since you never know when you’ll need it. Undine asks if Indiana took her own advice, and Indiana goes quiet. Nevertheless, Indiana feels that Undine gave Peter too much time to think by going back to Dakota for six months.
Like many characters in the story, Indiana likes giving advice more than she likes taking it, illustrating the deep hypocrisy at the heart of affluent society, where people fail to live up to their own values. Time has passed, and this chapter reveals what previous chapters hinted—that Peter and Undine weren’t compatible after all. Undine feels particularly disappointed by this result because she has to witness the success of Indiana Frusk, a rival Undine used to consider beneath her.
Themes
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Quotes
Undine explains that the real problem is Clare, who finds divorce “vulgar.” Indiana Frusk asks what Undine’s plan was when she came back to the United States. She says Peter was going to go to Reno while she went to Dakota, so that it wouldn’t look like they were acting together. They were going to meet up in Chicago, but Peter never showed, and he never writes letters, regardless of the circumstances.
Undine refuses to think ill of Peter, even after he rejects her, choosing instead to place the blame on Clare. Perhaps Undine has not totally given up on Peter, or perhaps the concept of being rejected is too painful for Undine, given how much she loves admiration.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Indiana Frusk tells Undine it’s a shame about Peter but asks if there’s anyone else she could make use of now that she’s newly divorced. Undine remains set on Peter, and it turns out that Indiana’s husband, Representative James J. Rolliver, knows Peter and has seen him recently. Undine thanks Indiana and offers to introduce Indiana to her European friends. In fact, however, Undine feels that her position in her social circle is too precarious to risk introducing Indiana. Her New York friends have already shunned her over the divorce. Some of her friends feel Raymond would have been a better choice than Peter.
As she tries to remake her life after divorce, Undine stays cautious. While she relies on Indiana for advice, Undine also seems slightly embarrassed by her, which is why Undine only pretends to want to introduce Indiana to her European social circle. The fact that Undine’s friends prefer Raymond bodes well for him, since Undine seeks public admiration for her decisions (even though she has no problem privately disappointing people like Ralph).
Themes
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Undine has not seen Raymond since coming back to Paris this time, preferring to leave any meeting with him up to chance. One day, however, she sees Raymond sitting at the other end of the same tea-room where she’s sitting. He recognizes her, but it’s crowded, and he doesn’t come over.
After applying too much pressure on Peter and scaring him off, Undine deliberately takes a slower approach to courting Raymond. Undine can learn from her actions, but she usually chooses not to. Instead, she uses the new lessons to further her own selfish goals.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Over the next few days, Indiana Frusk continues to be a big part of Undine’s life in Paris. One morning, Indiana tells her that she invited Peter to dinner but that he turned her down after guessing her connection to Undine. Undine threatens to go right to Peter’s hotel and see him directly, but Indiana advises against it. She says that Peter has turned against Undine in part because of how she ignored Ralph when he was sick. Undine insists the story is exaggerated.
It’s unclear whether Peter really abandoned Undine because he heard about how she treated Ralph or if that was just the most socially acceptable excuse he could think of. In any case, Peter got a preview of what it was like to live with Undine (and have her spending his money), and hearing about Ralph’s condition likely further warned Peter about the consequences of marrying Undine.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon