The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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Clare Van Degen is one of the most important members of New York high society, being part of the Dagonet family by birth and the Van Degen family through her marriage to Peter Van Degen. Although Clare was once in love with her cousin Ralph Marvell and still holds some feelings for him, she rarely acts on them, and he doesn’t either. Clare is too devoted to tradition to consider divorcing Peter, even as Peter earns himself a reputation as a playboy. Clare and Peter’s marriage reflects how many members of upper-class New York society lived with open secrets, showing how these secrets could drive spouses apart. Clare shows how tradition and custom can trap people in ways that no amount of wealth or privilege can overcome.

Clare Van Degen Quotes in The Custom of the Country

The The Custom of the Country quotes below are all either spoken by Clare Van Degen or refer to Clare Van Degen. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
).
Chapter 6 Quotes

But how long would their virgin innocence last? Popple’s vulgar hands were on it already—Popple’s and the unspeakable Van Degen’s! Once they and theirs had begun the process of initiating Undine, there was no knowing—or rather there was too easy knowing—how it would end!

Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 50
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 16 Quotes

Her colour rose again, and she looked him quickly and consciously in the eye. It was time to play her last card. “You seem to forget that I am—married,” she said.

Van Degen was silent—for a moment she thought he was swaying to her in the flush of surrender. But he remained doggedly seated, meeting her look with an odd clearing of his heated gaze, as if a shrewd businessman had suddenly replaced the pining gentleman at the window.

“Hang it—so am I!” he rejoined; and Undine saw that in the last issue he was still the stronger of the two.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg (speaker), Peter Van Degen (speaker), Ralph Marvell, Clare Van Degen
Page Number: 142
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

Moffatt’s social gifts were hardly of a kind to please the two ladies: he would have shone more brightly in Peter Van Degen’s set than in his wife’s. But neither Clare nor Mrs. Fairford had expected a man of conventional cut, and Moffatt’s loud easiness was obviously less disturbing to them than to their hostess. Undine felt only his crudeness, and the tacit criticism passed on it by the mere presence of such men as her husband and Bowen; but Mrs. Fairford seemed to enjoy provoking him to fresh excesses of slang and hyperbole.

Related Symbols: Apex
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 33 Quotes

“But shall I tell you what I think, my dear? You and I are both completely out-of-date. I don’t believe Undine cares a straw for ‘the appearance of respectability.’ What she wants is the money for her annulment.”

Related Characters: Clare Van Degen (speaker), Ralph Marvell, Undine Spragg, Paul Marvell
Page Number: 273
Explanation and Analysis:
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Clare Van Degen Character Timeline in The Custom of the Country

The timeline below shows where the character Clare Van Degen appears in The Custom of the Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 3
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...she figures maybe the other guests are more impressive than they look. Undine recognizes Mrs. Clare Van Degen as perhaps the most illustrious member of New York society there. (full context)
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Eventually, Clare happens to mention that she is getting her portrait done by Claud Popple. Some other... (full context)
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As everyone goes to leave, Clare puts a hand on Ralph’s arm and says she hopes he’ll go to dinner and... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...uses her opera glasses to scan the crowd. She notices that just one box is open—Clare’s (since she is still dining with Ralph). Just then, Undine begins to feel that she... (full context)
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Just then, Clare and Ralph arrive to take their box, seemingly alone. Mabel Lipscomb asks Undine if they... (full context)
Chapter 6
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...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). (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 13
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...back to New York on his yacht. But Ralph doesn’t like the idea. His cousin Clare never rides with her husband on the yacht, meaning they’ll be alone with Peter. According... (full context)
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Shortly before their departure, Ralph goes to visit Clare at her hotel. They have a pleasant meeting, but at the end, Clare warns him... (full context)
Chapter 15
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...his own birthday party. Ralph hears a horn outside and thinks it’s Undine, but it’s Clare. Ralph finds Clare’s presence calming, particularly as things have begun to get more tense with... (full context)
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While talking with Ralph, Clare happens to bring up Elmer, who has been making a name for himself on Wall... (full context)
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...nurse for not taking Paul over. She says the portrait viewing went late, even though Clare told Ralph it was a tea. When Ralph asks if Undine took a cab, she... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...Ralph, but their money problems are driving a wedge between them. Still, she likes that Clare likes Ralph, since she likes having things that other people want. Undine is also happy... (full context)
Chapter 18
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Undine invites Elmer to a dinner with Ralph, Laura Fairford, Clare, and Charles Bowen. Ralph is impressed with Elmer and the others are interested in his... (full context)
Chapter 21
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One afternoon near the end of June, Ralph begins to wonder if Clare is still in town. He goes to visit her in person, hoping her presence will... (full context)
Chapter 24
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Undine explains that the real problem is Clare, who finds divorce “vulgar.” Indiana Frusk asks what Undine’s plan was when she came back... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...Peter often makes the column due to his world traveling, frequently mentioned alongside his wife, Clare. Mrs. Heeny clips any social news that Undine happens to miss. The worst for Undine... (full context)
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Undine goes with Mr. Spragg to the opera and sees many people she knows, including Clare. Although Undine thinks Clare might act friendly, she avoids approaching anyone. When they get back... (full context)
Chapter 31
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Since his divorce, Ralph hasn’t gone to see Clare at her home, although he occasionally sees her when they both go to see his... (full context)
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...marriage. Ralph asks Laura if she already knew about this, but she dodges the question. Clare tries to reassure Ralph that the annulment will make him even freer, but Ralph feels... (full context)
Chapter 32
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As more days pass, Ralph begins to feel that Clare is right and that if Undine remarries, he really will begin to feel freer. He... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...he might hide Paul away to prevent him from being taken. He then goes to Clare to tell her all about his recent problems. He complains the cost of fighting Undine... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...Ralph frets over how to raise enough money to buy back Paul—his lawyers confirm that Clare’s guess about Undine’s motivations is correct. Ralph is reluctant to allow Clare to help him... (full context)
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Ralph goes to Clare to tell her about his meeting with Elmer. He says it seems that Elmer has... (full context)
Chapter 35
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...Paul grow up, and his book is coming along too. Ralph doesn’t get to see Clare often in person, but they communicate frequently on the phone or by letter, and she... (full context)