The Custom of the Country by Edith Wharton

by |January 21, 2011

Here’s an excerpt from The Custom of the Country

“Well, that’s what I mean -” Madame de Trezac took the plunge. “It’s not a question of your being bored.”

Undine coloured; but she could take the hardest thrusts where her personal interest was involved. “You mean that I’M the bore, then?”

“Well, you don’t work hard enough – you don’t keep up. It’s not that they don’t admire you – your looks, I mean; they think you beautiful; they’re delighted to bring you out at their big dinners, with the Sevres and the plate. But a woman has got to be something more than good-looking to have a chance to be intimate with them: she’s got to know what’s being said about things. I watched you the other night at the Duchess’s, and half the time you hadn’t an idea what they were talking about. I haven’t always, either; but then I have to put up with the big dinners.”

Undine winced under the criticism; but she had never lacked insight into the cause of her own failures, and she had already had premonitions of what Madame de Trezac so bluntly phrased. When Raymond ceased to be interested in her conversation she had concluded it was the way of husbands; but since then it had been slowly dawning on her that she produced the same effect on others. Her entrances were always triumphs; but they had no sequel. As soon as people began to talk they ceased to see her. Any sense of insufficiency exasperated her, and she had vague thoughts of cultivating herself, and went so far as to spend a morning in the Louvre and go to one or two lectures by a fashionable philosopher. But though she returned from these expeditions charged with opinions, their expression did not excite the interest she had hoped. Her views, if abundant, were confused, and the more she said the more nebulous they seemed to grow. She was disconcerted, moreover, by finding that everybody appeared to know about the things she thought she had discovered, and her comments clearly produced more bewilderment than interest.

Edith WhartonThe Custom of the Country

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About the Contributor

While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. ​Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.

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