The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 41 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Undine is shocked at how little influence she seems to have over Raymond. At one point, she even suggests that if they disagree so much they should separate, but Raymond simply says that separation simply isn’t something that people like him do. Undine decides to go to Paris on her own for 24 hours, claiming that she’s looking for a new nurse for Paul. In reality, she has a plan of her own.
Despite his reputation as a traditionalist, Raymond picks and chooses which of his traditions he follows—he is allowed to have affairs, but Undine isn’t allowed to separate from him. Although Undine remained unusually passive during the earlier part of her marriage to Raymond, her increasing dissatisfaction causes her to make plans and take action again.
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At Saint Desert while Raymond is away on a trip, a visitor comes. Undine has been expecting him. The man inspects the tapestries in the house and then says he has brought along an American collector. Undine says the tapestries aren’t for sale, but the dealer says that his American collector only buys things that aren’t for sale. Undine says she’d need to hear a price, so the dealer invites his American collector to take a look.
Undine knows that Raymond would never approve of someone entering his house and assigning a monetary value to his family treasures, but Undine does it anyway because she knows it is an effective way to undermine her husband’s authority.
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As it turns out, the American collector is Elmer. He looks at a bust for a moment before recognizing Undine with a shock. Elmer looks the same as he always did, with the same ruddy face. Undine also seems surprised to see him. Elmer tells his dealer that he’s taking a later train because he wants to stay and talk with Undine.
Once again, Elmer makes a surprising reappearance in the story, right at the moment when it seems like another character’s luck is changing. Elmer and Undine have had their differences in the past, but after her long isolation with her French husband, Undine finds Elmer Moffatt’s brash American personality to be refreshing.
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After looking at some tapestries, the dealer goes back to make his train, leaving Elmer alone with Undine. Elmer mentions that he just got dinner in Paris with some of Undine’s old friends, like the Driscolls and Indiana Frusk (now Mrs. Rolliver). Elmer seems to be listing off all these names to prove he’s part of that crowd now. Undine says he must be very rich, and Elmer laughs and says he is. Undine says she probably can’t stop him from getting the tapestries, and Elmer says nothing can stop him from getting anything he wants.
Although Elmer is finally rich, he still acts like he has something to prove, listing off his various social connections to convince Undine that he has finally made it. Elmer seems to be flirting with Undine, but just as he does with business deals, he remains slippery and elusive to give himself plausible deniability. Undine longs to get back to her old social world, and so she listens intently to Elmer’s descriptions of it.
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Undine asks Elmer why he helped her in the past when she was trying to marry Raymond. Elmer says he doesn’t keep grudges and figured helping Undine might be good for business. He says he’s surprised to see Undine has settled down, but she says it’s not all by choice. She says she often gets lonely at Saint Desert. Elmer gives some details about how he and Representative James J. Rolliver finally pulled off the Apex deal. Undine asks what he has planned next, other than business. Elmer says he’d like to do everything—to have the best of everything life has to offer.
Even when he is trying to win Undine over, Elmer maintains a detached, businesslike attitude. This contrasts sharply with Ralph, who was sensitive and more likely to make decisions based on emotions. Perhaps inspired by her long isolation, Undine offers a rare moment of vulnerability, telling Elmer about how her dreams of a noble French husband don’t live up to the reality.
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Quotes