The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 44 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Undine guessed correctly when she assumed that Raymond would go back to life as usual after their argument the other day. They begin to live more and more apart. Undine decides to call her old friend Indiana Frusk to invite herself over, and it turns out that Indiana is already planning a banquet that she is happy to invite Undine to. At the banquet, as Undine hoped, she finds Elmer.
Undine’s reunion with Indiana Frusk suggests that she is moving to reclaim her old life. Notably, her preference for old friends grows proportionally to her increasing distance from Raymond.
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At the banquet, Undine sits next to Elmer, and people notice how cordially he greets her. Elmer seems to be a person of interest at the banquet, with people quietly pointing him out. For a while, Elmer makes no mention of his visit to Saint Desert, but during a private moment, he asks Undine about the tapestries. Undine tells him it was a mistake for the dealer to write a letter to Raymond.
Undine clearly plans on trying to win Elmer back and potentially even wants to remarry him, but she remains discreet; if Elmer has similar plans, he, too, is keeping them to himself. Nevertheless, people at the party notice how Elmer and Undine act around each other, suggesting that they can’t hide their feelings all that well.
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Elmer says he had to make an offer on the tapestries because he leaves France in a week. Undine is disappointed to hear this, but Elmer says even if he stayed in France, it’s unlikely he’d see much of Undine. Undine asks why not. She says she’s always wanted to be friends with Elmer.
Although Elmer clearly enjoys spending time with Undine, he finds it hard to shake his old impulse to keep roaming. Even after his phenomenal success, Elmer remains ready to adapt and change himself.
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The next day, Elmer comes to visit Undine while she happens to be taking tea with her sisters-in-law. The women watch Elmer cautiously, but Undine tells him she intends to see her friends, regardless of who’s watching. She begs Elmer to put off leaving so that she can get him into some private collections he hasn’t seen yet. Elmer is intrigued and stays to see one duke’s collection and then goes to see other collections, spending time with Undine almost every day.
Elmer and Undine both act cautiously, finding appropriate excuses to spend time with each other rather than ignoring convention. Perhaps after Mr. Spragg intervened in Elmer and Undine’s first marriage, they have both learned the value of, at least on the surface, going along with social customs instead of trying to challenge them.
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Undine knows what she wants once again, and she puts aside being cautious. She has given up on any hope of Mr. Spragg ever making it big on Wall Street, so there’s no use relying on him as a way to improve her social standing. She feels her position with Elmer is precarious and that if he leaves France, she might suddenly drop out of his life.
After passively spending so much time in the shadow of Raymond de Chelles, Undine once again sets lofty goals for herself. She knows she wants to leave Raymond so she plans to try to secure someone even better: Elmer.
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One day, someone comes to the chateau with a bill for Undine. The Marquise de Chelles is there and seems to be judging Undine, but Undine tells her she doesn’t care who knows about her bills. The Marquise says she’ll drop the subject, but this only makes Undine angrier. Undine makes a visit to Elmer at his hotel room that catches him by surprise. She puts her hand on his, asking him not to send her away.
By this passage, Undine has decided to leave Raymond, and so she doesn’t pay attention to little dramas like the complaints of the Marquise de Chelles that would have upset her before. When Undine grabs Elmer’s hand at the hotel, it’s a small gesture, but it makes her intentions clear.
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