The Custom of the Country


Edith Wharton

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Custom of the Country can help.

The Custom of the Country: Chapter 27 Summary & Analysis

One day when Undine is moping about the state of her life in Paris, a young woman approaches her and asks if she’s Mrs. Marvell. The question annoys Undine, but the young woman gets her attention when she reveals that she is Princess Lili Estradina, the cousin of Raymond. They talk, and the Princess invites Undine to come see her mother. Undine feels that she and the Princess are already becoming close. She finds both the Princess and her mother, the Duchess, to be fascinating people. The Princess, who could be anywhere in age between 20 and 40, dresses in either baggy, masculine clothes or extravagant draperies. The Duchess better fits with Undine’s ideas of what an aristocrat should look like—she looks old and has lost much of her youthful beauty, but she still has dignity.
As previous chapters revealed, Undine fancies Europeans with fancy titles. But while previously Undine delighted in reeling off the titles of her noble friends, she is a little more jaded after her divorce with Ralph and her failed affair with Peter. While the Princess and the Duchess still retain some glamor for Undine, she also begins to notice the flaws they hide beneath their fancy titles. The Princess, for example, certainly doesn’t have a princess’s fashion sense, and even the dignified Duchess looks more like a relic from a previous era.
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Princess Estradina is separated from her husband but not yet officially divorced. Undine feels that the Princess and the Duchess understand her and are protecting her. But when one night at the hotel Undine runs into someone from her old Parisian social circle, she fears that the Princess and the Duchess will find out about Undine’s past.
Undine is trying to escape her past, and this is why she finds the Princess and the Duchess so comforting: they don’t know about Undine’s past, so it’s like she has a blank slate. But Undine’s fear about being found out suggests that she hasn’t actually started over —she has just found yet another way to temporarily run from her problems.
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon