The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 29 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In early spring, Undine is once more in Paris. She feels successful, having declared that she will only see Raymond in the presence of his aunt, the Duchess, a decision that has also raised Undine’s standing with Princess Estradina. Despite her attempts to appear strong, Undine is always pleased when Raymond does come to visit his aunt. Still, despite all of Undine’s success, she keeps running into problems with money.
Spring represents new beginnings, and Undine’s budding courtship with Raymond seems to reenergize her. But after her past failures, Undine avoids getting too comfortable, unable to fully enjoy spending time with Raymond because she worries that things will go wrong again.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Marrying Raymond will be difficult for Undine, since the Catholic Church doesn’t recognize divorce, meaning that marrying a divorced woman can greatly injure a person’s social standing. Undine tries to keep Raymond satisfied by doing what she can, but she can sense that perhaps his patience is wearing thin. Still, she maintains that she will either marry him or give him up.
France is a predominantly Catholic country. Catholicism has been around longer than Protestantism (Undine’s religion), and so this section sets the two of them up as opposites: Catholic vs. Protestant, European vs. American, Old vs. New. This makes it clear that any relationship Undine has with Raymond will involve a clash of ideas and values.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine thinks back to a letter she received recently from Mrs. Spragg, who is still missing her grandson, Paul. Undine feels a tightness in her throat when she thinks of Paul growing up without her. She wants to find a good man who can be a father to him and begins to cry. Just then, Raymond comes through the door. He introduces her to the concept of annulling a marriage.
While strict Catholics don’t believe in divorce, they do believe in annulment. Whereas divorce simply ends a marriage, annulment ends a marriage and claims the marriage was never legitimate in the first place. Although Raymond is the one who requires the annulment, the idea appeals to Undine too because it represents a new beginning and a rejection of the past.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine gets to working thinking about annulment, but she is a little distracted as she notices that her social standing with Princess Estradina seems to have been falling ever since she returned to Paris. Princess Estradina has been treating Undine like she’s invisible, which really annoys Undine. Eventually, she hears that Raymond’s mother, the Marquise de Chelles, has found out about Undine’s past and disapproves. They believe Undine isn’t a suitable marriage candidate for their son (because of her divorce, which is forbidden in the Catholic Church), and so they believe she is spoiling Raymond’s other prospects for marriage. Undine takes this as a declaration of war and plans to prove Raymond’s family wrong by getting her annulment.
Although in general, Europeans and Catholics have a stronger connection to tradition, in many ways, Princess Estradina is just as fickle as her Protestant American counterparts. After campaigning for Undine to marry Raymond, she suddenly seems to regret it once Undine actually gets close to marrying Raymond. Undine tried to use these French nobles to escape her past—but even in Europe, she can’t stop them from finding out about her marriage history.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
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