The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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The Custom of the Country: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The discussion about divorce makes dinner a little tense, but Laura Fairford tries to smooth things over by escorting Ralph and Undine over to the theater for a show. Laura brings with her an older, gray-haired gentleman named Mr. Charles Bowen, whose relationship to Laura is unclear to Undine. As they take their seats in the theater, Undine hears a stranger complimenting her and is extremely pleased.
Divorce is an important theme in the novel, and this dinner party establishes that despite its happy beginning, Ralph and Undine’s marriage won’t be any fairy tale. Despite Undine’s efforts to gain acceptance, all it took was a couple ill-suited jokes to make the Dagonets uncomfortable.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Undine feels that this evening is a way of making up for the earlier time at the opera when she was disappointed. As she looks around, she notices many people she knows, including Clare in her box. Claud Popple comes over to visit Undine and Ralph, saying he’d love to paint Undine. Ralph seems opposed to it but doesn’t forbid her. This causes Undine to frown and turn away from Ralph but just when she does, she sees a familiar ruddy-faced man (Elmer Moffatt). Undine tells him she doesn’t want to speak with him just then, but they can meet later. Meanwhile, Ralph has gone over to see Clare and they witness Undine talking to the ruddy-faced man.
This passage makes it clear that Undine holds on to old grudges and disappointments. She constantly competes not just with other women but with past versions of herself, as well. Ralph and Undine’s disagreement over Claud’s portraits provides an early glimpse of how their values differ. Meanwhile, the character Elmer Moffatt remains mysterious but seems to signify trouble brewing wherever he appears.
Themes
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
When Undine gets back to her bedroom at the Stentorian that night, she is surprised to see Mrs. Spragg waiting there, eager to hear all about it. She asks Undine if anything went wrong or if she saw anyone she didn’t want to see, but Undine says of course everything went well.
Mrs. Spragg’s strange questions make it clear that somehow, she already knows about Elmer Moffatt’s presence at the opera, but she wants to hear about it directly from Undine. Undine, however, shuts her mother out by refusing to discuss the topic.
Themes
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon