The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 38 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It has been raining in Saint Desert for longer than Undine can remember as she looks out the window of a chateau at a park. One year earlier, Undine had been reluctant to leave Paris for Saint Desert, but she figured she wouldn’t be away for long. At first, Undine liked it at Saint Desert. The usually sweet Paul had begun to irritate her in their crowded Paris residence, but the chateau gave him more space to play outside. But then things change when Raymond’s father dies.
The name Saint Desert suggests isolation, which is appropriate, since the chateau at Saint Desert is located far away from bustling Paris. While a private chateau might be a paradise for some, Undine is so in love with crowds and being the center of attention that she suffers in isolation.
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Quotes
At first, Undine thought it might be a good thing to see Raymond promoted in his family by his father’s death. But now, during the mourning period, Undine finds herself feeling cramped again as the whole Chelles family comes to the chateau at Saint Desert. The days begin to blend together for her. Eventually the other family members leave Undine alone with her husband and son, but she soon realizes that they won’t be headed back to Paris anytime soon and that Raymond’s new position doesn’t come with any financial benefits, since French law doesn’t allow fathers to favor eldest sons with their inheritances.
Even after her new marriage, Undine can’t stop thinking in materialistic terms, wondering how the death of Raymond’s father will affect her own standing in the world. Though she wants to benefit from Raymond’s father’s death, she instead must face the truth that some events, like death, don’t necessarily come with any positive outcomes.
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Raymond wants to tend to some family land, and this requires him to be there in person. He will allow Undine to make a spring visit to Paris, but Undine hoped that instead, they might live permanently at the Hotel de Chelles in Paris. While Undine has learned a little bit more about the value of money since her last marriage, she still doesn’t particularly care about managing her expenses. But she finds that Raymond is more logical than Ralph, and this makes it harder for her to get her way with him.
Raymond’s devotion to his family’s land sets him apart from Undine, who has little affection for her hometown of Apex; even in New York, Undine spent much of her time living out of a hotel rather than somewhere permanent. Undine learns that Raymond’s devotion to land and tradition makes him harder to sway than Ralph was.
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One day, Raymond has to go to Paris to sort out some issue with his brother, Hubert de Chelles, who has a reputation as the family troublemaker. Undine fears that Raymond will have to pay money to help Hubert and that it will mean a longer stay in Saint Desert for her. Raymond promises that he has bailed his brother out for the last time, but Undine has heard this line before. It turns out Raymond’s brother is marrying an American heiress and must square away his debts before the wedding.
Previously, Undine disliked looking in mirrors. Here, it seems that she dislikes Hubert because his extravagant financial habits force her to consider how she herself might look from the outside. Hubert also activates Undine’s competitive instincts, since he competes directly with her for a share of the family money. Humorously, marrying a rich heiress turns out to be expensive, because Hubert needs to pay off his debts to prove that he’s a worthwhile marriage candidate.
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Raymond then reveals that he has allowed for Hubert de Chelles and his future wife to live in the Hotel de Chelles in Paris for 12 years if they agree to renovate it. Undine is outraged that he’d do such a thing without consulting her, but Raymond says she never wants to hear about business affairs, and someone has to be thinking about money.
Raymond either doesn’t understand his wife’s feelings or he deliberately excludes her from decisions where he knows she may disagree. Although Ralph couldn’t provide as much for Undine as she wanted, he was easy to manipulate, and Undine struggles to adjust to Raymond’s more assertive personality.
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