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Extended Audio Sample The Custom of the Country, by Edith Wharton Click for printable size audiobook cover
3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 3.00 (3,432 ratings) (rate this audio book) Author: Edith Wharton Narrator: Grace Conlin Publisher: Blackstone Audio Format: Unabridged Audiobook Delivery: Instant Download Audio Length: Release Date: July 2009 ISBN: 9781455171293
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One of Edith Wharton’s most acclaimed works, The Custom of the Country is a blistering indictment of materialism, power, and misplaced values. Its heroine, Undine Spragg, is one of the most ruthless characters in all of literature, as selfishly unscrupulous as she is fiercely beautiful. When her family acquires a small fortune, they leave America’s heartland and head east. As Undine climbs the social ladder through a series of marriages and affairs, she shows little concern for who she has to step on to get anything and everything she desires. Her rise to the top of New York’s elite society—before moving on to conquer Paris as well—provides a poignant and scathing commentary on the unquenchable ambitions of America’s nouveau riche.

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Quotes & Awards

  • The Custom of the Country is one of the most enjoyable great novels ever written. Not all enjoyable novels are great, and not all great novels are enjoyable. This is, supremely, both.”

    Guardian (London)

  • “Of all Edith Wharton novels, The Custom of the Country is my absolute favorite…Grace Conlin’s reading of Blackstone’s unabridged version is splendid, her voice fruity, elegant, and utterly ruthless.” 

    Forbes

  • “Brilliantly written.”

    Saturday Review (London)

  • “A splendid and memorable piece of work.”

    Bookman

  • “Edith Wharton’s finest achievement.”

    Elizabeth Hardwick

  • New York Public Library Staff Pick in November 2007
  • An Entertainment Weekly Pick for 12 Books to Ease Your Downton Abbey Withdrawl

Listener Opinions

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Janet | 2/17/2014

    " Surprise! I liked it - but I like all Edith Wharton. Probably ranks as one of my favorite of her's "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stephanie Pugh | 2/12/2014

    " This book illustrates the consequences of conspicuous consumption and explores marriage as a woman's profession. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Carol | 2/10/2014

    " My favorite kind of book--old. Story of Undine Spragg who is never content with her lot in life and who feels it is everyone's due to make her happy. But she is a pawn, a symbol for the way capitalism with its excesses became the measure of a man/woman in the U.S. Crossing the Pond frequently, she charms and makes a fool of herself at the expense (literally) of all she encounters. Devoid of conscience, she truly introduces what T.S. Eliot called, "The Wasteland." Always love Edith Wharton! "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 DiDi | 2/9/2014

    " Excellent writing. However, characters have no redeeming qualities. All the excess and want for more is sickening. Child was pawn between parents and families in the struggle for more money and material goods. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Madeline | 1/11/2014

    " 1. The Custom of the Country is kind of Vanity Fair for Americans in the early 20th century (unless it is the late 19th century!). Admittedly, I haven't read Vanity Fair so I am talking from osmosis here, but Becky Sharp's come far enough in the cultural consciousness that the parallels are extremely tempting. Undine Spragg is the kind of beautiful but unscrupulous woman who claws her way upwards, shedding husbands and nevertheless obsessing over respectability. Scarlett O'Hara, who came later, is probably the refinement of this type, which is maybe why she is both iconic and beloved now; the things that make Scarlett kind of a horrible person contribute to our love for her, and her personal difficulties make her understandable . . . but never excusable. Undine is simply greedy, rather than ambitious - she doesn't dream, and she doesn't want something until she sees someone else having it. Ralph Marvell describes her as a woman with "violent desires and . . . cold tenacity"; Undine destroys him, though she doesn't mean to, several years after their actual divorce. She ends up on top, stuffed but still unsatisfied. 2. Like Colette, Edith Wharton's women are often more vigorous than her men. Her female characters are hungry, active, determined, single-minded. Her men tend to be softer creatures - sometimes they have steel underneath their down stuffing (in The Custom of the Country, Raymond de Chelles fits this type), but mostly they don't. But equally as often, she writes members of both sexes as lost and bewildered - The House of Mirth is perhaps the best example of that approach - and there's something of that in The Custom of the Country although Undine is, necessarily, a woman of the vigorous and hungry type. She's out of her depth for most of the novel; shockingly, this does not lead to happiness! Like, who knew! The man she's "meant for" is, of course, the masculine version of her, though able to actually earn money (Undine just spends it) and with some unsuspected depths (he's basically a Rhett Butler prototype). But it seems ridiculous to talk about Undine Spragg in terms of relationships, since she doesn't understand them, has no interest in sex, and is not emotionally expressive; she is beautiful, and she wants but she essentially eats her way through the world: once you've eaten, you just get hungry again later, and this is exactly how Undine goes through the world. 3. Despite the preceding point, Wharton's books resist dichotomies and dualisms with admirable consistency. She doesn't shy away from contrast, but her contrasts are layered and carefully shaded. It's not an either/or for Wharton. 4. The Custom of the Country is the kind of book you can read without picking up the satire. There's an edge to all her works, but she's so smooth that you can finish them without noticing it. (And I say this as a person who loathes Ethan Frome, okay?) But you should keep an eye out for that edge, because Wharton's actually hilarious when she wants to be, when she thinks you're smart enough to pick up on it. And, interestingly, the satire is hardly ever directed at Undine. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Natasha | 1/9/2014

    " The protagonist is easy to dislike as she is self-involved, materialistic, and superficial as heck. Edith Wharton's depiction of upper class culture in the early 20th century in the U.S. and among American citizens abroad is compelling and rich. Such a satisfying read! "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Elaine | 1/8/2014

    " This book is very difficult for me to write about. I think that it is considered to be a good quality book but I have some reservations about it. It seemed too long as the theme of the story was repeated over and over. I forced myself to finish it because I felt it was a must read. The book makes me wonder about Edith Wharton's ability to be in touch with her own feelings as her protagonist was an extremely superficial and insensitive woman. I felt that Wharton presented no redeeming features about her and I find that troubling as I don't believe that there aren't reasons for why people behave the way that they do. Wharton portrays a world that is based on lifestyle, entertainment, social standing, the acquisition and possession of wealth to a degree that I found unreal and oppressive to read about. I do think that it may somewhat reflect her own values and the life that she lived. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mariam Odent | 1/6/2014

    " I love the writing in this book. It's about a social climber in 1910s New York. She's so ruthless and energetic. And the way Wharton describes the way people around her enable her bad behavior is beautifully written. Wharton's writing is so sharp and clear that it was an incredibly breezy read but gave me a lot to think about at the same time. You even feel pity for the heroine who's so emotionally and intellectually impoverished, the worst the thing in the book that happens is when she gets what she really wants (a rich husband with an endless spending account). Now she has nothing to put her energy towards. But then again, she bankrupted everyone around her, so it's clearly not that simple. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Mitzi | 12/31/2013

    " What an era, what a protagonist. You may love to hate her, or you may love her, you may see bits of her in folks you know or even, yikes, yourself. Dissatisfied much? "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 louise | 12/24/2013

    " This is my ultimate favorite. I could not put this book down. Edith Wharton's character Undine Spragg is the most selfish woman in history. it is said Wharton hated her the way she wrote about her. Wonderful read......... "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Jillian Kathryn | 11/28/2013

    " i mean, it's no Ethan Frome. Social commentary about those social climbing bitches of her time. A lot more dramatic and entertaining than I expected. Worth a read, but be willing to deal with some loathsome but lovable characters. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Linda | 11/6/2013

    " Good old gloomy Edith Wharton! You can count on her for unhappy, unfulfilled characters who struggle against a fate of never being quite rich enough. Always well written and readable. I love this era of literature...Snobbery and vanity without the double negatives! "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Brynn | 10/18/2013

    " This is excellent commentary on a materialistic lifestyle, where it gets you, and how little it ever is really fulfilling. However, it's always difficult to read a 400 page book where you are honestly supposed to hate the main character. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Heidi | 5/2/2013

    " Scarlett O'Hara x 1,000 = Undine Spragg. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Lady of the Lake | 7/24/2012

    " This is definitely her best work. This was such a fabulous read. Characters were so real had so much depth. Love this one of my favorite of the classics. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Jill | 7/20/2012

    " I am taking a course on Edith Wharton's New York Stories. This was the second in the series. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Betty | 6/15/2012

    " Loved the syntax. Frustrating story. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Phoebems | 3/10/2012

    " Another Edith Wharton all-star. Is there any book by this woman I will not LOVE? This one is particularly detailed and covers an immense amount of time and mileage. Not quite so bleak as the others I've read. Loved it, especially the ending. "

  • 2 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 52 out of 5 Joan | 11/30/2011

    " i thought this book was too wordy. It was interesting to see how people thought in those days. The main character was selfish and egotistical in any era though! In the end, after getting what she wanted, she still wanted more. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Alice | 7/30/2011

    " Loved this book. I know a social climber just like her. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Anne | 7/11/2011

    " Supremely entertaining. I think all women have a little of the "heroine" in them. A modern woman who believes society owes her everything. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Erin | 6/8/2011

    " Oh, Undine. You meet your man, bear your child, but never get your soul. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Betty | 5/13/2011

    " Loved the syntax. Frustrating story. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Libby | 4/18/2011

    " How could anyone possibly be as shallow as Undine Spragg? She got the unhappiness she deserved. I read this after Major Pettigrew's Last Stand, which the author recommended in her notes at the end. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Sharon | 4/12/2011

    " I know this is said to be her best, but I didn't enjoy it as much as Age of Innocents. It doesn't have the nuances of her other books. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Susan | 3/21/2011

    " what a great novel. class and social standing revealed in it's vilest form. a wharton must read. a superbly vacuous, selfish, cruel and heartless character created that i am sure wharton recognized in the newly invented elite of NY. [contrasted with the old established aristocratic families.] "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Tocotin | 3/9/2011

    " I have to reread this book every once in a while, and today was the day. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Kim (vnfan) | 3/1/2011

    " I'm not sure there has ever been a villain quite like Undine Spragg. Absolutely no redeeming qualities.

    And yet, this book is one of the best I have ever read.

    Ever. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Courtney | 1/27/2011

    " UGHHHH! I CANNOT STAND UNDINE. But it was still a good book :) "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Gwenyth | 1/27/2011

    " This is the first thing I have read by Edith Wharton, and I really liked it! I want to call it something like Vanity Fair crossed with Somerset Maugham. "

  • 4 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 54 out of 5 Stephanie | 1/6/2011

    " This book illustrates the consequences of conspicuous consumption and explores marriage as a woman's profession. "

  • 3 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 53 out of 5 Heidi | 12/28/2010

    " Scarlett O'Hara x 1,000 = Undine Spragg. "

  • 5 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 55 out of 5 Joline | 12/21/2010

    " One of my all-time favorites. "

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