The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 30 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few days after discussing annulment with Raymond, Undine runs into Elmer again. While she wasn’t certain that Elmer noticed her last time, this time he greets her and seems eager to see her. They talk, and Elmer declares that he loves it so far in Paris. Undine is surprised to hear about how Elmer’s life has been progressing out of view for her. He, however, has heard about her life, since her divorce made the newspapers.
Undine despised Elmer the last time she saw him, but all it takes is one friendly greeting for her to change her mind about him. Elmer understands that the things Undine wants most in the world are admiration and acceptance. Elmer kept track of Undine’s life in the newspapers, suggesting that he still thinks about her.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine invites Elmer back for tea. As they ride back, Undine seems to agree with Elmer about all the good qualities Paris has, but she tells him that sometimes she gets very lonely. Elmer suggests, however, that she’s probably only lonely when she wants to be. Undine is annoyed to learn that she doesn’t seem to be at the center of Elmer’s thoughts. Undine suggests they should see each other again at some point, but Elmer says he’s headed back next week.
Undine welcomed Elmer gladly because she believed that she was at the center of his thoughts. But when she realizes that he has other things on his mind, she gets resentful. Even as Undine draws near to securing a marriage proposal from Raymond de Chelles, she continues to expect devotion from men like Elmer, highlighting her perpetually unsatisfied personality.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
While Undine is genuinely disappointed that Elmer will be headed back, she says there’s something he can do for her. Elmer guesses that it has something to do with the gentleman she was with in Nice the other day (Raymond). When Undine mentions needing money for an annulment, Elmer makes fun of her, wondering if she wants him to bribe the Pope on her behalf, but then he becomes more sympathetic and asks if Paul is with her. Undine regretfully says no but claims that she got “everything” in the divorce. Elmer says that personally, if Paul were his, he’d fight to his last dollar to hold on to him in the divorce proceedings. He asks why Undine doesn’t just send for Paul, but Undine says she can’t afford to, plus the Marvells would never give him up. But Elmer helps her see that perhaps getting Paul would convince the Marvells to start sending her checks. Elmer mentions that he has more potential legal trouble brewing before saying that it was pleasant to see Undine again.
Although Elmer and Mr. Spragg don’t always get along, they share a similar sense of detachment that allows them to see the absurdities in the world around them and endures them with a sense of humor. Undine takes her social climbing very seriously. Elmer also wants to improve his social rank, but he doesn’t care about his reputation as much as Undine—he’s just willing to do whatever it takes to keep making money. Elmer’s talent for identifying schemes helps him realize that Paul could be an important bargaining chip for Undine. The fact that Elmer would suggest this—and that Undine would go along with it—suggests how deeply both of them have immersed themselves in a culture of selfishness and materialism.
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
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