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Summary

The first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for literature, Edith Wharton stands among the finest writers of early 20th-century America. In The Custom of the Country, Wharton’s scathing social commentary is on full display through the beautiful and manipulative Undine Spragg. When Undine convinces her nouveau riche parents to move to New York, she quickly injects herself into high society. But even a well-to-do husband isn’t enough for Undine, whose overwhelming lust for wealth proves to be her undoing.

Public Domain (P)2003 Recorded Books, LLC

What listeners say about The Custom of the Country

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Thick and absorbing

I was looking for another Edith Wharton and listened to all the 'samples' of 'The Custom of the Country' and thought that this one sounded like the best narration.

I often find the scruples of Wharton's characters rather difficult to sympathize with- so it was something of a relief to come across Undine Spragg- who has no scruples at all- she's just a naive, selfish monster battling (rather pathetically) towards a happiness that always lies just beyond her. Certainly she's repulsive but it makes for an interesting character. - and there is plenty of gorgeous period detail along the way.

8 people found this helpful

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Insightful

I enjoyed the book after a slowish start. Not my usual genre, I listened to it as on the literature syllabus for my degree. It was worth the time, and more enjoyable than I expected.

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Excellent performance by narrator

Couldn't fault the narrators performance, but I found the book a struggle to finish. Overall not bad.

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  • Esther
  • 29-07-12

Cannot recommend a better narrator!

Edith Wharton's novel is deliciously enjoyable, especially if you delight in watching detestable characters crush one another and see people behave more brutishly and vulgarly than you could have expected. By "people" I primarily mean the wonderfully named Undine Spragg, a social climber who bulldozes as many people as she can to attain an ever escaping, ever elusive goal of social grandeur and wealth. Wharton's satiric, witty, whip-smart writing fairly sparkles here, and the entire novel has lighter touch, perhaps because about half of it is in the mind of a buffoon, rather than the plodding Archer of Age of Innocence, for example.

But I really want to write about Barbara Caruso here, who should narrate EVERYTHING. She reads with warmth, humor, wit, and imparts an incredible understanding of each of the characters. I wonder about the difficulty of being a reader—she has to play every role, and she does so splendidly. Conflicted characters like Undine, whom one would normally expect to hate, are given depth and conviction. Brava.

16 people found this helpful

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  • Jenny Jenkins
  • 24-10-20

Superb Narration of a Thoroughly Modern Novel

I’d read Custom of the Country before — the first novel about divorce— and found it fascinating and engaging. Thank God for a narrator who does it justice. Barbara Caruso is a wonderful actress who does all the accents and voices to perfection — no mean feat. She is also pitch perfect when reading the narrative, somehow letting the listener grasp the nuances just as Edith Wharton intended. Going to seek out more Barbara Caruso narrations right now!

2 people found this helpful

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  • Mary Baldwin
  • 04-09-18

Classical snobbery in the USA

I read somewhere that the difference between Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina and Henry James’ Portrsit if a Lady, is that Tolstoy liked his characters. Since James and Wharton were BFFs, that makes a lot of sense. Barbara Caruso did a great job, bringing all the different characters to life. Each voice is vibrant and distinct, with subtleties of class and regional accents giving a nice depth to the varying personages. The high-caste New Yorkers of that time should sound a bit more like Katherine Hepburn, though. Also, thanks to Google for supplying images of John Singer Sargent portraits. All in all an enjoyable piece of historical fiction, except that by the end I wanted to punch the protagonist in the face.

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  • Carl A. Gallozzi
  • 05-05-21

A perceptive examination of Gilded Age New York

Edith Wharton continues her examination of New York "Society" - with the introduction of a new heroine (Undine Spragg) - who dreams of 'making it big' (getting what she wants) in New York City.

There is much commentary about "Society" enforces its will - and punishes (through emotional violence - exclusion - banishment) for those who offend; the double standards and hypocrisy of the day.

Excellently written - astute observations with reference to 'the players and non players in the game'.

As relevant today as when it was written - the heroine succeeds up and until the end of the novel when she discovers that the item she really wants (?) she cannot have because of her own behavior and situation.

Should be of interest to those who read about the U.S. "Gilded Age".

Carl Gallozzi

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  • T. Anderson
  • 26-05-18

One of Edith Wharton's best

Edith Wharton's character development is, as always, excellent; which is not to say that the main character is likeable -- she's not! But one of the most shining passages in the novel is the stretch of a few paragraphs surrounding the phrase "custom of the country" which mirrors the title. Here is Wharton's observation of the American culture a century ago, still true today: "American men look down on their wives." She pointed out something that haunted mid-century books by feminists who wrote manifesto-books like the "Feminine Mystique" and the "Female Eunuch." The men are not the enemy here, though; they are mostly likeable and sympathetically treated. Wharton wasn't blaming any particular person or group of persons; she just made observations on the social condition in general while turning out an interesting story with interesting characters.

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  • Mitzi
  • 02-01-18

Wonderful writer. Wonderful reader.

I would highly recommend this version of "The Custom of the Country." The reader, Barbara Caruso, does a superb job of conveying moods, characters' distinct personalities, etc. without overwhelming the narration or putting herself (her voice/performance) at the center of the experience. Her voice does not distract but adds to the beauty of a great classic.

There is nothing I can say about Wharton's writing that hasn't been said far better by over a hundred years of scholarship already.

What a masterful writer she was! Every paragraph is crafted so magnificently that it makes one feel sorry for our contemporary authors who always use the most obvious words and the most unimaginative phrases to say the most common things--thus *not* elevating them (as Wharton does) out of their everyday drabness. One example for all: I recently listened to "The Handmaid's Tale" and I remember thinking "there is not one single beautiful sentence worth remembering"--it's just only plot (and not a well written one at that). An author like Atwood would write that the characters of her story were afraid of getting fat. Fine. BUT Wharton writes of her character that she "shuddered at the
thought that she might some day deviate from the perpendicular";... heeeheehee :) GENIUS! *That* is great writing.

I highly recommend this fantastic story that captures a certain upper-class (mean) spirit so well to everyone (esp. Americans). And hats off to Barbara Caruso for a perfect performance.

The recording is slightly glitchy at times, but no text gets lost when those little hiccups occur.

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  • C. E. Fisher
  • 25-02-21

Riding a speeding train

This Wharton narrative grabs you and takes you into a plot that moves like a speeding train. An unparalleled heroine- if not empathic- takes on the world with her unending ambition. The reader is magnificent! Highly recommended!

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  • Suzanne
  • 03-02-21

Meh

I really wanted to enjoy this book. I did enjoy musing psychologically about the female character but really that was about all. I finished it only because I am an avid reader and run out of books frequently.

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  • Susanna D’Addazio
  • 13-05-20

Hate This Book; Love The Narration

I loved Barbara Caruso’s version of the Anne of Green Gables series, and decided to try some more of her work.

Unfortunately I couldn’t listen to more than three hours of this book. The main character is such a naïve, vain, and silly character. I could not stand her.

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  • carrie
  • 18-12-18

Undine the unscrupulous.

I like Edith Wharton and her style of writing but in this novel it was so difficult finding any sympathy at all for this ninny of a heroine. She was a shallow, childish, gold digging idiot who got what she deserved. The narrator is as fabulous as the writing however!

1 person found this helpful