The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 40 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
After Princess Estradina leaves, Undine continues to idle away the long days at Saint Desert. She amuses herself by trying to annoy the Marquise de Chelles. During brief visits to Paris, Undine does get more freedom, but she feels she never spends enough time in the city to develop social connections. She still buys nice dresses, but they stay in her wardrobe, just as her dresses used to do when she stayed at the Stentorian. The dullness of her life begins to make Undine herself look duller, and she tries new trends to refresh her look.
Despite Undine’s superficiality, there is also something universal about her desire to be accepted. At the beginning of the book, she was a social outcast (at least by New York standards) who never used any of her party dresses. Now, as she buys nice dresses that just sit in storage at Saint Desert, she finds herself right back where she started.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Raymond stops commenting on Undine’s high expenses, which Undine takes as confirmation that Princess Estradina was right when she implied Raymond was having affairs, and now Raymond is trying to make up for his own flaws by allowing her to spend more. Winter passes, but as spring nears, Raymond makes no mention about going to Paris. Eventually, Undine brings up the subject, and he says they can’t go to Paris due to their heavy expenses lately. Undine says she’ll just go by herself, but Raymond feels this is unseemly.
Although Raymond may seem to uphold old-fashioned values, he ends up being just as hypocritical as Undine and her friends from New York. After making a big deal about Undine’s divorce and his Catholic values, he proceeds to break is own religious rules by seemingly committing adultery. Rather than wrestling with his own hypocrisy, he doubles down by refusing to let Undine go to Paris on her own. Raymond worries about what Undine might do for his reputation if she goes out and about alone, even though his own affairs are public enough that Princess Estradina knows about them.   
Themes
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Raymond and Undine each accuse the other of not understanding their needs. Undine suggests that Raymond should just sell Saint Desert, which clearly horrifies him, so she keeps going on about how Americans like to sell things they can’t afford. Raymond insists that Undine just doesn’t understand.
Raymond correctly notes that people like Undine are too quick to discard the past, but his own shortcomings and hypocrisy call his judgment into question.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Quotes