The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 31 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Almost two years have passed since Ralph first learned that he was getting divorced. He has tried to adapt his life to these big changes with mixed success, unable to decide what his values are. He still thinks about his book on occasion, but other people in his life seem to be less and less interested in what he’s doing. Everyone encourages him to write, but he only really starts after people stop encouraging him. His book vision is very different from what it used to be, with his old ideas seeming too grand and heroic.
As the novel goes on, time skips become longer and more frequent, helping convey the feeling that time is speeding up. Ralph felt angry and hurt in the immediate aftermath of his divorce, and even two years later, he still grapples with it. Nevertheless, he has finally started writing his book, suggesting that perhaps he is ready to move beyond daydreams and finally take action.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Since his divorce, Ralph hasn’t gone to see Clare at her home, although he occasionally sees her when they both go to see his sister, Laura Fairford, out in the country. One evening, he finally tells Clare that he’s been writing, and her attention helps to reassure him.
Clare has always been close to Ralph, but she becomes an even more important ally after the divorce. Clare helps connect Ralph to his younger, more hopeful days, and she also understands marital trouble well, given her very public issues with her playboy husband, Peter.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Ralph spends the night at Laura Fairford’s place, feeling pleased about where his book is at, but the next morning in the papers he learns that Undine intends to marry a French nobleman and is confident that the Pope will annul her previous marriage. Ralph asks Laura if she already knew about this, but she dodges the question. Clare tries to reassure Ralph that the annulment will make him even freer, but Ralph feels that he already has all he needs from the divorce.
Ralph tells himself that his progress on his book is enough to keep him satisfied, but his actions seem to contradict those thoughts. In fact, Ralph still seems deeply interested in hearing more about Undine’s life, even as he claims that he doesn’t care. This reflects how difficult it can be to let go of the past, even painful parts.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon