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The Custom of the Country
By Edith Wharton (1913)
First Edition, First Printing
DESCRIPTION: Although academes have been acknowledging former high-society queen Edith Wharton ever since her own youth (among other accolades, she was the very first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Literature), this Realism pioneer was dismissed by a lot of her contemporaries as the penner only of "melodramas for women;" but with every passing year, we're able to see more and more just what a brilliant observer of class and relationships Wharton actually was, a super-wealthy matriarch who rejected all the psychological trappings that usually came with such a position, and whose insightful novels about the upper class are in fact astute and complex examinations of the kinds of entrapping boxes such people build around themselves on a daily basis. Take today's book, 1913's The Custom of the Country, for a good example -- written about halfway between her two most famous novels (1905's The House of Mirth and 1920's The Age of Innocence), and the last book she would write before her infamous divorce from her first husband and her subsequent permanent move to France, it has been specifically cited in public by Julian Fellowes as one of his main inspirations for his hit PBS series Downton Abbey. ("It is quite true that I felt this was my book; that the novel was talking to me in a most extreme and immediate way. I think it's a remarkable piece of writing. I decided, largely because of her work, that it was time I wrote something.")
And there's a good reason Downton Abbey feels so similar in tone to this: taking a cue from her peer Sinclair Lewis, Wharton makes up a Midwestern powerhouse city called "Apex" as the hometown of her protagonist family the Spraggs, who move to New York with Industrial-Age "new money" and then politically marry their daughter Undine into an "old money" family who no longer has any money, as a way of bringing resources to the one and an inherited respectability to the other. But Undine is having nothing to do with this -- after an unwanted pregnancy, she essentially ditches her family in order to have an affair in Europe, then becomes a disconsolate divorcee which causes her no end of trouble within the circles she is forced to maintain. For a tearjerker about "true love," it's an awfully forward-looking and contemporarily relevant book, just like all of Wharton's other novels; and with copies in better condition and with the dust jacket intact selling for ten times as much, today's inexpensive price is a relative steal for those who are "true believers" in Wharton's powerful and still fresh-feeling work.
CONDITION: Text: Good Plus (G+). Although still with a tight binding and holding together quite well, the fact is that this copy has several serious condition issues, with a price today that reflects that, including a faded spine, several stains on the front and back covers, frayed spine edges, and inner hinges that are in the first step of coming apart. Dust jacket: Missing. Contains a pencil signature on the front inner cover that says "Elizabeth Moyer." As confirmed by the McBride Guide to the Identification of First Editions, a date agreement on the title page and copyright page, a lack of additional printing notices, and the appearance of the Scribners logo on the copyright page, makes this a true first edition, first printing.
PROVENANCE: Acquired by CCLaP at Market Fresh Books, Chicago, May 2015.
MINIMUM BID: US$75 / BUY THIS MOMENT FOR $150 OR BEST OFFER
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