The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Ralph goes home and sits in an armchair by the fire. The Marvell family, which is connected to the noble Dagonet family, has a long history in New York and a long history of sending sons to Harvard or Columbia to become gentlemen. His family is not as rich as it once was, but Ralph has only simple wants, like books and the occasional holiday. Ralph’s cousin is Clare Dagonet (who became Clare after she married Peter).
After five chapters that mostly followed Undine’s perspective, the novel suddenly shifts to follow Ralph. Although Undine remains the main character in the novel, the narrator is omniscient and tells her story from other characters’ perspectives, as well.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Ralph’s family wants him to marry a nice girl, but he has resisted so far. He begins to reconsider, however, after meeting Undine. He used his earlier visit with Mrs. Spragg to learn more about Undine’s background. He learned that Mr. Spragg was poor when he first came to Apex, but eventually, he managed to take over some land from a bad debt and build a new waterworks called Pure Water that made him rich. Ralph likes that Mrs. Spragg did not pretend that their family had a rich, illustrious background. He worries that spending more time with the Popples or Van Degens will make Undine more like them.
This chapter reveals that Ralph likes Undine a lot more than he lets on. Perhaps Undine is no good at detecting subtlety, or perhaps Ralph himself is too inhibited to express his real feelings. While Undine herself doesn’t care where her father got his money, Ralph knows Mr. Spragg made his fortune on some potentially disreputable business, and this subplot about crooked deals in Apex continues to develop in the background of the novel.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
Quotes
Ralph is used to women being attracted to him, but he rarely reciprocates the feeling, except for briefly with Clare, back when she was still Clare Dagonet, not Van Degen. This is why he feels so confident in his current judgement that Undine must be special.
Ralph confirms that he has (or at least had) feelings for Clare, as Undine suspected. Although Ralph makes the decision to finally act on his feelings for Undine, this passage makes her seem like his second choice.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon