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 7 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Two months later, Mrs. Heeny comes to visit Undine. She points out a Tiffany engagement ring that Undine is wearing and argues with Mrs. Spragg about whether it’s a new purchase or an heirloom. Mrs. Heeny agrees to help Undine do her hair before she goes out that night. In fact, she is going to dinner to see the man who gave her the ring. Undine hopes she won’t disappoint him.
Although the end of the previous chapter strongly hints that Ralph is the one that proposed to Undine, the beginning of this chapter deliberately leaves the identity of Undine’s fiancé ambiguous. This suggests that for her, the most important thing is the engagement itself (and the Tiffany ring) instead of the identity of her future husband, further highlighting Undine’s materialistic personality.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
While Undine is getting ready, Mabel Lipscomb comes by to see her. She says she can help dress Undine because she was the one who introduced Undine to her suitor. As it turns out, Undine is having dinner at the Dagonet place—because Ralph (a cousin of the Dagonets) is the one who gave Undine the ring. Undine ends up seated at the table next to old Mr. Dagonet, who is less imposing than she expected. She can tell that Mrs. Marvell doesn’t approve of her impending marriage to Ralph. Laura Fairford (Ralph’s sister) tries to make everyone get along.
Mabel can see that Undine may soon surpass her in New York society, so she tries to claim credit for playing a role in Undine’s rise by introducing her to Ralph’s social circle. While Undine’s insecurity leads her to look down on people, it also sometimes allows her to see through pretension, such as here where she recognizes that Mr. Dagonet is not as impressive as his reputation might suggest.   
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
At the table, Undine feels like she must play the part of being in love with Ralph, even though she isn’t acting and feels that she really does love him. Mr. Dagonet asks about Mabel Lipscomb. When Undine tells Mr. Dagonet that Mabel’s husband is a stockbroker, Mr. Dagonet sounds disappointed, so Undine lies and says that Mabel is planning to get divorced soon because her husband is holding her back. Undine hopes this lie will make Mr. Dagonet think better of Mabel. Ralph interrupts to say that Undine had better think twice before divorcing him. Undine jokes that back in Apex, people consider it a good thing if a woman leaves a man who doesn’t meet her expectations.
Despite her shallow and materialistic tendencies, Undine does show moments of humanity, and here she seems to have genuine affection for Ralph. This scene also portrays Undine as sympathetic by illustrating how far she’ll go to win her in-laws’ acceptance, even lying about her friend Mabel in order to try to make Mabel sound better. Nevertheless, Undine also bristles at some of her in-laws’ attitudes, and she seems to joke about divorce purposely to shock them.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Quotes