It was exactly 100 years ago, in January 1913, that Edith Wharton’s fifth novel, The Custom of the Country, was first published in serial form in Scribner’s Magazine. The novel, which featured the relentless social climber Undine Spragg, achieved critical and commercial acclaim.
In the opinion of many (including us!), the novel today holds up supremely well. Here’s what novelist Margaret Drabble had to say about it in a 2004 review published in The Guardian, in which she deemed Undine Spragg “one of the most appalling and fascinating heroines ever created”:
“…Wharton’s sheer intelligence and her intellectual curiosity and neutrality absolve the reader from undue guilt. She writes a comedy of manners, often with a tragic dimension (as in The House of Mirth, 1905), but she is not a moralist. She is an anthropologist and a sociologist, as her title indicates. This novel is full of brilliantly perceptive comments on family and marriage, on women’s education, on American customs and European customs, and on the influence of American capitalism and commerce upon American culture. Where Henry James dimly suggests, Wharton analyses and illustrates. She knows the world in a way that few novelists do, and it is a privilege to see the world in her company.”
With a reverent nod toward Wharton and history, we are releasing an online serial, mirroring Scribner’s Magazine’s original installments. In addition to Wharton’s delightful prose, we will include commentary from Wharton scholars, Mount staff, and others giving context and definition to one of Wharton’s most debated works.
Please join us in reading Custom of the Country in serial form, and in celebrating the enduring power of Wharton’s work! We welcome your comments and feedback.