The Custom of the Country

by

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 39 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
In May, Undine finds herself back at the Hotel de Chelles, reluctant to have to share it with Hubert de Chelles and his new wife but grateful just to be out of Saint Desert. They have renovated the place beyond what was required, knocking down walls and Americanizing the décor.
Like Undine, Hubert seems to prefer American values, like instant gratification, over more traditional European values. This is why he marries an American heiress and redoes the old family hotel. Raymond tolerates Hubert’s actions, perhaps in part because he has little control over Hubert, whereas tradition does allow him to control his wife, Undine.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
As more time passes, Undine is surprised and disappointed to see that Raymond is not as different from Ralph as he seems. He also spends his time reading or dabbling in creative pursuits like painting, which Undine doesn’t understand. In addition, he takes up an interest in politics. Undine prefers Raymond when they’re in Paris, where he gives her more freedom to go off on her own.
Although Undine adapts some aspects of her personality over the course of the novel, her disdain for art and other solitary activities remains constant. For a materialist like Undine, art involves too many intangibles. Undine prefers more tangible things, like money and the objects it can buy.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
While talking with some Paris friends, Undine gets the idea that perhaps she should have a child with Raymond, since not having a child with him seems to be hurting her reputation. She tells Raymond that the Marquise de Chelles blames her for their lack of a child and that she wants to make things better. Raymond, however, brushes the idea aside, saying his mother’s ideas are old fashioned.
Undine’s decision to have a child seems sudden and possibly surprising, given how much she hated being pregnant with Paul. But given how successfully Undine used Paul to manipulate Ralph, it’s possible Undine hopes to do the same with Raymond. Even though Undine herself doesn’t seem to like children, she ashamed that she’s unable to convince Raymond to have a child.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine is embarrassed that she can’t convince Raymond to have a child, since she’s used to getting her way with husbands. Her days pass slowly and start to blend together. Meanwhile, Raymond is friendly but more interested in his own matters. Undine thinks about her future and can’t see anything changing about her situation. The Chelles seem to expect Undine to give up travel and settle into their old traditions and routines.
While previously Raymond kept a close watch on Undine, he now gives her more leeway to roam. This should, in theory, make Undine happy, but she just takes this as evidence that Raymond is starting to ignore her, illustrating once again how Undine’s restless personality often leaves her unsatisfied no matter the outcome.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Get the entire The Custom of the Country LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Custom of the Country PDF
One day in September, when Undine is back at Saint Desert, Princess Estradina comes by. At first, Undine thinks that the Princess has decided to stop being friends with her, but before leaving, the Princess suggests that despite looking well, Undine has gotten a little too “stout” and could use some excitement in her life. The Princess says Undine shouldn’t let the Chelles keep her shut inside all day. Undine responds that she didn’t know Raymond would be so jealous before she married him. The Princess scoffs at this, suggesting that she doubts that Raymond is truly going out of the house because he’s interested in “politics” and that politics never keep a man busy after midnight.
During her marriage with Ralph, Undine got used to being able to trick her husband. In fact, she often didn’t even have to trick him—she could spend time out in the open with Peter Van Degen and Ralph would barely even react. This gave her false confidence that she would always be able control her marriages—when in fact Raymond has been hiding things from her right under her nose. The Princess implies that when Raymond pretends to be going to political events, he’s really going to see other women. Once again, Undine hates when a character treats her the way she used to treat other characters.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon