The Custom of the Country

by

Edith Wharton

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Peter Van Degen Character Analysis

Peter Van Degen is Clare Van Degen’s husband. He has a reputation for womanizing and later becomes Undine Spragg’s admirer, though Undine is at that point already married to Ralph Marvell. Although in the end Peter and Undine barely even kiss, Undine believes that Peter is on the verge of divorcing his wife to marry her. As Ralph notes at one point, what Peter really offers for Undine isn’t sex but admiration (as well as money). Unlike the Dagonets, who are respectable but no longer truly wealthy, Peter is the sort of man who never has to worry about money. As far as Undine is concerned, this makes him ideal, as she constantly feels inadequate and tries to compensate by spending money. Ultimately, however, Peter rejects Undine. His character represents how fickle the wealthy can be, as he cycles between his wife and various mistresses as it pleases him.

Peter Van Degen Quotes in The Custom of the Country

The The Custom of the Country quotes below are all either spoken by Peter Van Degen or refer to Peter 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 20 Quotes

Some six weeks later. Undine Marvell stood at the window smiling down on her recovered Paris.

Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 24 Quotes

“If you’d only had the sense to come straight to me, Undine Spragg!

There isn’t a tip I couldn’t have given you—not one!”

Related Symbols: Apex
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 26 Quotes

Undine, without answering, caught up the pearls and thrust them into

Mrs. Heeny’s hands.

“Good land alive!” The masseuse dropped into a chair and let the twist slip through her fat flexible fingers. “Well, you got a fortune right round your neck whenever you wear them, Undine Spragg.”

Undine murmured something indistinguishable. “I want you to take them—” she began.

Related Characters: Undine Spragg (speaker), Mrs. Heeny (speaker), Peter Van Degen
Page Number: 231
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 40 Quotes

“Sell it? Sell Saint Desert?”

The suggestion seemed to strike him as something monstrously, almost fiendishly significant: as if her random word had at last thrust into his hand the clue to their whole unhappy difference. Without understanding this, she guessed it from the change in his face: it was as if a deadly solvent had suddenly decomposed its familiar lines.

Related Characters: Raymond de Chelles (speaker), Undine Spragg, Peter Van Degen
Related Symbols: The Stentorian
Page Number: 323
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Custom of the Country PDF

Peter Van Degen Character Timeline in The Custom of the Country

The timeline below shows where the character Peter Van Degen appears in The Custom of the Country. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 4
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...it is that day. But then the lady with the eye-glass calls the young man Peter, and Undine realizes that he is Peter Van Degen, son of a famous banker. Undine... (full context)
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Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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Back at the Stentorian, Undine is disappointed thinking that she’ll probably never see Peter again, and she’s also disappointed to see that Ralph stopped by and left his card... (full context)
Chapter 5
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...Ralph). Just then, Undine begins to feel that she herself is being watched and notices Peter’s bulging eyes on her. He is sitting with the woman who had the tortoise-shell eye-glass... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...greet Ralph, but Undine quickly says no. The opera starts. During intermission, Claud Popple and Peter stumble into Undine’s box. They talk, with Peter mentioning that his wife, Clare, thinks that... (full context)
Chapter 6
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...and the occasional holiday. Ralph’s cousin is Clare Dagonet (who became Clare after she married Peter). (full context)
Chapter 12
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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In Paris, Ralph happens to see Peter walking down the street, looking like someone who doesn’t have to worry about money. He... (full context)
Chapter 13
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...the hotel, expecting to see Undine gone, but in fact, she is talking intimately with Peter at a tea table. They hardly notice Ralph’s arrival. They all talk for a while,... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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Ralph starts to get angry with Undine. He says Peter has been manipulating her, but Undine says all he needs is a good woman to... (full context)
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...They have a pleasant meeting, but at the end, Clare warns him not to let Peter take advantage of Undine. Ralph replies that Undine is good at defending herself, though inwardly,... (full context)
Chapter 14
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...studio, but he tosses off paintings less neatly. Sometime long after Ralph and Undine’s honeymoon, Peter comes by to watch Claud painting Undine. Peter jokes around about the portrait, but Claud... (full context)
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
...portrait should have clothes that look realistic and a face that doesn’t look too realistic. Peter in particular approves of the portrait. (full context)
Corruption Theme Icon
At the portrait viewing, Peter happens to mention how the Driscolls aren’t holding their usual ball because they’re all out... (full context)
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Peter asks why Undine is suddenly so white, but she says she’s just tired of posing. ... (full context)
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Peter says Undine will never get a cab on such a snowy night, so he offers... (full context)
Chapter 15
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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...was a tea. When Ralph asks if Undine took a cab, she tells him that Peter gave her a ride back. Ralph wants to ask more questions but holds back. (full context)
Chapter 16
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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...that he should’ve noticed long ago. He feels that he has avoided confronting Undine about Peter because he’s afraid of learning the truth. He suspects that Peter isn’t her lover but... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...ball is a lavish affair. Undine enjoys seeing everyone’s admiration, although she feels that perhaps Peter is admiring her a little too much. Peter has recently gifted her money, and she... (full context)
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One day, Peter announces he’s sailing for Europe. He says maybe Undine can visit him in Paris at... (full context)
Chapter 17
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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Undine realizes it was a mistake to accept money from Peter. She wanted immediate gratification but now understands that it would have been better to lay... (full context)
Chapter 18
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...shocked when Undine suggests that she’d consider divorcing Ralph because she’d much rather be with Peter. After talking with her father, she takes the elevator down and is surprised to see... (full context)
Chapter 19
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...their thoughts about marriage. Just then, Raymond happens to notice Undine at a table with Peter and asks who she is. Charles Bowen explains who Undine is and that she’s already... (full context)
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Charles Bowen supposes that Undine wants her privacy with Peter, so he’s surprised when Peter invites him and Raymond to join their dining party. They... (full context)
Chapter 20
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...toward her might not last, she finds it valuable due to the way it makes Peter jealous. She wants Peter to finally be clear to her about his intentions. (full context)
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One day, Peter confronts Undine about why she just suddenly disappeared for a couple days, and she tells... (full context)
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Peter begs Undine not to leave Europe just yet. His request moves Undine, but she resists... (full context)
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Peter asks why Undine has suddenly gone so pale. She just crumples the telegram up and... (full context)
Chapter 22
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
...make the divorce as difficult as he can. He asks Mr. Spragg if Undine expects Peter to marry her. Mr. Spragg says his daughter is currently alone and hasn’t mentioned any... (full context)
Chapter 24
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
Gender Roles Theme Icon
Corruption Theme Icon
...Indiana took her own advice, and Indiana goes quiet. Nevertheless, Indiana feels that Undine gave Peter too much time to think by going back to Dakota for six months. (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
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...asks what Undine’s plan was when she came back to the United States. She says Peter was going to go to Reno while she went to Dakota, so that it wouldn’t... (full context)
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Indiana Frusk tells Undine it’s a shame about Peter but asks if there’s anyone else she could make use of now that she’s newly... (full context)
Marriage and Divorce Theme Icon
Materialism and Ambition Theme Icon
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...big part of Undine’s life in Paris. One morning, Indiana tells her that she invited Peter to dinner but that he turned her down after guessing her connection to Undine. Undine... (full context)
Chapter 25
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...continues to mull over the events of the previous year, particularly her failed affair with Peter. Living with Peter was the first time in her life when she could buy anything... (full context)
Chapter 26
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...can’t avoid hearing about them in the society column of the papers her parents get. Peter often makes the column due to his world traveling, frequently mentioned alongside his wife, Clare.... (full context)
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...the first time a pearl necklace that she often wears. She reveals that they’re from Peter. At first, she’s angry when her father suggests sending the pearls back to Peter, then... (full context)
Chapter 32
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...he really will begin to feel freer. He figures that even if Undine failed with Peter, she is cunning enough that she won’t make the same mistakes again. (full context)
Chapter 34
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...leave, Clare glances at him, and suddenly they start to kiss—right under a portrait of Peter. (full context)
Chapter 46
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...actually wants to see. Several of her New York and Paris friends have been invited—even Peter. Undine finally has everything she could ever want, and yet she can’t shake the feeling... (full context)