The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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Elmer Moffatt is Undine Spragg’s first husband; many years after the divorce, he marries her again to become her fourth husband. Like Mr. Spragg and Mrs. Spragg, as well as like Undine herself, Elmer Moffatt is shaped by his background in the Midwestern town of Apex. Apex is small enough that when Elmer elopes with Undine, it causes a scandal and seriously damages Elmer’s reputation. New York offers a new start for Elmer. Compared to the upper-class members of New York society like Ralph Marvell, Elmer is more mercenary and willing to do whatever it takes to get ahead. This trait serves him well, and despite several setbacks and reversals, Elmer ultimately establishes himself as a successful player on Wall Street. In many ways, Elmer is the male counterpart to Undine, showing how sometimes it’s possible to climb the social ladder through sheer, undisguised ambition. Unlike Undine, however, there’s nothing particularly tragic or cautionary about Elmer’s story, and so Elmer represents how New York high society rewards ambition and having flexible morals.

Elmer Moffatt Quotes in The Custom of the Country

The The Custom of the Country quotes below are all either spoken by Elmer Moffatt or refer to Elmer Moffatt. 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 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 30 Quotes

“You couldn’t, up to now; but now you’re going to get married. You’re going to be able to give him a home and a father’s care—and the foreign languages. That’s what I’d say if I was you…His father takes considerable stock in him, don’t he?”

She coloured, a denial on her lips; but she could not shape it. “We’re both awfully fond of him, of course… His father’d never give him up!”

“Just so.” Moffatt’s face had grown as sharp as glass. “You’ve got the Marvells running. All you’ve got to do’s to sit tight and wait for their cheque.” He dropped back to his equestrian seat on the lyre-backed chair.

Related Characters: Elmer Moffatt (speaker), Undine Spragg (speaker), Paul Marvell , Ralph Marvell, Raymond de Chelles
Page Number: 255
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 35 Quotes

Within forty-eight hours Ralph’s money was in Moffatt’s hands, and the interval of suspense had begun.

The transaction over, he felt the deceptive buoyancy that follows on periods of painful indecision. It seemed to him that now at last life had freed him from all trammelling delusions, leaving him only the best thing in its gift—his boy.

Page Number: 278
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 36 Quotes

For a moment he was conscious of seeing it in every detail with a distinctness he had never before known; then everything in it vanished but the single narrow panel of a drawer under one of the bookcases. He went up to the drawer, knelt down and slipped his hand into it.

As he raised himself he listened again, and this time he distinctly heard the old servant’s steps on the stairs. He passed his left hand over the side of his head, and down the curve of the skull behind the ear. He said to himself: “My wife … this will make it all right for her….” and a last flash of irony twitched through him. Then he felt again, more deliberately, for the spot he wanted, and put the muzzle of his revolver against it.

Page Number: 290
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 41 Quotes

It was of no consequence that the details and the technicalities escaped her: she knew their meaningless syllables stood for success, and what that meant was as clear as day to her. Every Wall Street term had its equivalent in the language of Fifth Avenue, and while he talked of building up railways she was building up palaces, and picturing all the multiple lives he would lead in them. To have things had always seemed to her the first essential of existence, and as she listened to him the vision of the things he could have unrolled itself before her like the long triumph of an Asiatic conqueror.

Related Characters: Elmer Moffatt, Undine Spragg
Related Symbols: Apex, Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 329
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 44 Quotes

“Hullo!” he exclaimed, surprised; and as he stood aside to let her enter she saw him draw out his watch and glance at it surreptitiously. He was expecting someone, or he had an engagement elsewhere—something claimed him from which she was excluded. The thought flushed her with sudden resolution. She knew now what she had come for—to keep him from every one else, to keep him for herself alone.

“Don’t send me away!” she said, and laid her hand on his beseechingly.

Related Characters: Elmer Moffatt (speaker), Undine Spragg (speaker), Raymond de Chelles
Page Number: 347
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 46 Quotes

Even now, however, she was not always happy. She had everything she wanted, but she still felt, at times, that there were other things she might want if she knew about them.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg, Elmer Moffatt
Related Symbols: Fifth Avenue
Page Number: 362
Explanation and Analysis:

But under all the dazzle a tiny black cloud remained. She had learned that there was something she could never get, something that neither beauty nor influence nor millions could ever buy for her. She could never be an Ambassador’s wife; and as she advanced to welcome her first guests she said to herself that it was the one part she was really made for.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg, Elmer Moffatt
Page Number: 364
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Custom of the Country PDF

Elmer Moffatt Character Timeline in The Custom of the Country

The timeline below shows where the character Elmer Moffatt appears in The Custom of the Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...But Mr. Spragg doesn’t seem happy. In a low voice, he says that he saw Elmer Moffatt recently. Mrs. Spragg is concerned and makes her husband promise not to tell Undine... (full context)
Chapter 4
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...people she’s meeting. In private, Mrs. Spragg asks Mr. Spragg if he happened to see Elmer again, but he says once was enough. (full context)
Chapter 8
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...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... (full context)
Chapter 9
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...earlier. In the park, she arrives at the place where she’s arranged to meet with Elmer. He seems surprised that she actually showed up, and while she says she’s glad to... (full context)
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Undine says she was surprised to learn that Elmer was in town—Mr. Spragg didn’t tell her about seeing him earlier. Undine says she never... (full context)
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Undine says she didn’t mean to avoid Elmer the previous night. She tells Elmer she’s engaged again. Elmer reveals that he is working... (full context)
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Undine begs Elmer not to mention anything about their history together in Apex to anyone in New York.... (full context)
Chapter 10
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...to support Ralph. Mrs. Spragg brings up an even bigger concern: Undine recently ran into Elmer. Mr. Spragg is alarmed but again promises to see what he can do. (full context)
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...doing anything, however, Mr. Spragg ignores the problems for a little while. Then one day, Elmer comes up to him in his office and forces his way into the elevator. Mr.... (full context)
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Elmer gets to the point: he wants to get out of Harmon B. Driscoll’s office. He... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...the Driscolls aren’t holding their usual ball because they’re all out of money lately. Apparently, Elmer threatened to give Harmon B. Driscoll a different kind of ball (as in, a ball... (full context)
Chapter 15
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While talking with Ralph, Clare happens to bring up Elmer, who has been making a name for himself on Wall Street, despite his mysterious origins.... (full context)
Chapter 16
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...hear at a dinner that the investigation into Harmon B. Driscoll has mysteriously stopped and Elmer’s sudden good luck seems to have disappeared, and so the Driscolls will hold a ball... (full context)
Chapter 17
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...life. She says if she had another chance, she’d marry the right man. Just then Elmer comes into the office. Despite his recent loss against Harmon B. Driscoll, Elmer still looks... (full context)
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Elmer says he’s there to see Mr. Spragg on business. They go off together and close... (full context)
Chapter 18
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...After talking with her father, she takes the elevator down and is surprised to see Elmer waiting for her. She tries to avoid him, but he insists. He tells her to... (full context)
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Undine goes with Elmer to his office. At the office Elmer explains everything: He wants to meet Ralph, since... (full context)
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Undine invites Elmer to a dinner with Ralph, Laura Fairford, Clare, and Charles Bowen. Ralph is impressed with... (full context)
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Undine asks Ralph what he and Elmer discussed earlier when they were smoking. Ralph mentions a business proposal that Elmer made that... (full context)
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Elmer shows up two days later to see Ralph at his West End Avenue residence, since... (full context)
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...no one involved is under any sort of special obligation. (Ralph doesn’t mention that it’s Elmer who proposed the deal.) Ralph decides to go along with the deal, since hesitating might... (full context)
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On his way out of Elmer’s office, Ralph runs into Mr. Spragg. Mr. Spragg asks how Ralph knows Elmer, and Ralph... (full context)
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...she takes Paul to see Mr. Dagonet, and on the way back, she runs into Elmer. Elmer says it’s nice to meet Paul and offers to carry him, which Undine accepts.... (full context)
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Elmer says that Ralph really helped him make a fresh start and thinks he helped Ralph... (full context)
Chapter 21
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...escape her influence. His job continues to drain his energy, even though his deal with Elmer raised his standing in the company. Occasionally, he takes Paul over to see Mr. Spragg... (full context)
Chapter 28
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...is angry about being abandoned. She goes to a tea-room and is surprised to see Elmer in the crowd. (full context)
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...it has been a long time since Undine has had any sort of contact with Elmer, she is annoyed to see that he isn’t alone—he’s with a woman in a very... (full context)
Chapter 30
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A few days after discussing annulment with Raymond, Undine runs into Elmer again. While she wasn’t certain that Elmer noticed her last time, this time he greets... (full context)
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Undine invites Elmer back for tea. As they ride back, Undine seems to agree with Elmer about all... (full context)
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While Undine is genuinely disappointed that Elmer will be headed back, she says there’s something he can do for her. Elmer guesses... (full context)
Chapter 33
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...leaves Mr. Spragg’s office, he recalls that Mr. Spragg’s office is where he first met Elmer. He quickly forgets Elmer and begins daydreaming about how he might hide Paul away to... (full context)
Chapter 34
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...she’s willing to do it. His search for funds brings him to the office of Elmer. Apparently, Elmer was supposed to be a valuable witness in an investigation, but when he... (full context)
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Elmer’s office looks much nicer than it did the last time Ralph was there. Elmer listens... (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 some connection to Representative James J. Rolliver, who... (full context)
Chapter 35
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Ralph manages to get Elmer the money within 48 hours. He feels happy to have resolved his long period of... (full context)
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Meanwhile, Ralph hears more rumors about Elmer. Apparently, Elmer was supposed to testify against Harmon B. Driscoll, but Driscoll paid Elmer a... (full context)
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Ralph reads the papers for news from Apex that Elmer’s scheme has gone through. But the news doesn’t come, and when Ralph tries to call... (full context)
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...lawyers get an extension from Undine’s about the payment, but more time passes and still Elmer’s deal doesn’t go through. Finally, Ralph happens to hear from Henley Fairford that the Apex... (full context)
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Elmer confirms for Ralph that the Apex deal hasn’t gone through. He says not all hope... (full context)
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Elmer’s confession shocks Ralph. Elmer talks about how he promised to stay quiet so that Undine’s... (full context)
Chapter 36
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...but instead goes home in a daze. He thinks more about how Undine lied about Elmer to use him. Now, he realizes she’s been lying to him from the moment she... (full context)
Chapter 41
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As it turns out, the American collector is Elmer. He looks at a bust for a moment before recognizing Undine with a shock. Elmer... (full context)
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After looking at some tapestries, the dealer goes back to make his train, leaving Elmer alone with Undine. Elmer mentions that he just got dinner in Paris with some of... (full context)
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Undine asks Elmer why he helped her in the past when she was trying to marry Raymond. Elmer... (full context)
Chapter 43
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...opportunity, she could use up all the wealth even of a man as rich as Elmer. In fact, she’d be doing just that if she had only remained his wife. She... (full context)
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Elmer’s speech for the Apex Temperance Society went over wonderfully. Afterward, there was an ice cream... (full context)
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...they were at getting what they wanted. Despite that, she found herself most interested in Elmer at one of his greatest moments of failure, shortly after he caused another minor scandal... (full context)
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On the day of their walk in Apex, Elmer told Undine that he was down on his luck. Undine said that based on his... (full context)
Chapter 44
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...she is happy to invite Undine to. At the banquet, as Undine hoped, she finds Elmer. (full context)
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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... (full context)
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Elmer says he had to make an offer on the tapestries because he leaves France in... (full context)
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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... (full context)
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...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... (full context)
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...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,... (full context)
Chapter 45
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Elmer’s hotel room contains many ostentatious signs of wealth, like Greek marble. Undine repeats that Elmer... (full context)
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Undine asks Elmer if he ever misses her, and he says he does. She replies that being with... (full context)
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Elmer says he doesn’t want to just have an affair with Undine. He knows what it’s... (full context)
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Undine and Elmer seem to be at an impasse, with Elmer insisting that he’ll go back to the... (full context)
Chapter 46
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...just got back from his fancy private school for the Easter holidays. Undine has married Elmer, and they’ve just returned from America, having been on many trips around the world during... (full context)
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...Raymond best out of all his fathers, but Raymond has totally disappeared from his life. Elmer has bought a hotel for his family to live in, and Paul wanders around the... (full context)
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Paul asks Mrs. Heeny why Undine married Elmer. Mrs. Heeny says it was because Undine got divorced. She provides newspaper clippings about it,... (full context)
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...happens to notice some tapestries that used to hang in Raymond’s chateau at Saint Desert. Elmer says Paul has a good eye to remember them. Paul doesn’t dislike Elmer, but the... (full context)
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...the feeling that she’d want many other things if she only knew what they were. Elmer is better at fulfilling Undine’s wishes than either of her previous husbands, but he’s not... (full context)
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Undine talks with Elmer about plans for their dinner that night. Elmer brings up a mutual friend who managed... (full context)