The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 26 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Undine finally returns to New York. She goes to see her parents but regrets that Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg can’t move from the Stentorian to somewhere closer to Fifth Avenue. Undine finds it difficult to talk to her parents and goes silent whenever the topic of their grandson, Paul, comes up.
Undine’s return to New York is a return to reality, and like her father predicted, she has to come back and face all the same problems that she left behind. Undine still tries to avoid talking about the most serious issues, like Paul. 
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Undine tries to stay away from the Fifth Avenue crowd, but she can’t avoid hearing about them in the society column of the papers her parents get. Peter often makes the column due to his world traveling, frequently mentioned alongside his wife, Clare. Mrs. Heeny clips any social news that Undine happens to miss. The worst for Undine is when she hears Mabel Lipscomb has remarried. After getting the news, she tells Mr. Spragg that he must take her to the opera that night.
After his failed flirtation with Undine, Peter seems to realize that his reputation is in danger, so he makes sure to make several very public appearances with his wife. As Undine despairingly reads the society pages, she gets the idea to go back to the opera, perhaps since that’s the place where all her successes started the previous time.
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Undine goes with Mr. Spragg to the opera and sees many people she knows, including Clare. Although Undine thinks Clare might act friendly, she avoids approaching anyone. When they get back from the opera, Undine takes off her cloak, and Mr. Spragg notices for the first time a pearl necklace that she often wears. She reveals that they’re from Peter. At first, she’s angry when her father suggests sending the pearls back to Peter, then she begins to think it might send a nice message.
Undine knows that an old-money stalwart like Clare will remain polite, even after Undine had a very public flirtation with Clare’s husband (New York’s high society discouraged public confrontations). The pearls that Undine is wearing represent how she hasn’t fully let go of Peter yet.
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One day, Undine abruptly hands her pearls to Mrs. Heeny and tells her to take them. Mrs. Heeny is confused. At first Mrs. Heeny thinks Undine means to take the pearls to be re-strung, but in fact, Undine wants to sell them—and for Mrs. Heeny to keep the sale a secret. The pearls give Undine some money to work with. She considers returning to Europe but doesn’t want to go alone because she feels that would look desperate, so she decides her parents must come with her.
Undine’s decision to get rid of the pearls suggests that she has finally accepted that Peter will never propose to her—and so she wants to cut her losses by trying to at least get some money from the pearls. After wrestling with despair and disappointment, Undine turns back to materialism for solace, looking at how she can profit off a bad situation.
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Quotes
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Mr. Spragg at first resists Undine’s request that he come to Europe with her. Eventually, however, both he and Mrs. Spragg are just flattered that they can be useful to their daughter, and so they agree to go, even though they haven’t even been out of the country before. In Europe, however, Undine soon begins to find her parents a hindrance, since they can’t adapt to European ways. Eventually, her parents decide to go back, and Undine stays behind, deciding to turn to Indiana Frusk (now Rolliver) for help.
Having recovered some of her old self, Undine loses her temporary preference for being alone. Undine’s parents aren’t her preferred crowd, but they seem to be better than nothing, and so Undine invites them to come with her to Europe. Unlike Undine, however, her parents struggle to adapt to their new environment, having barely adapted to life in New York.  
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