The Custom of the County


In 1973, Edith Wharton wrote a book titled The Custom of the County. This book was about a family that moved from a small Midwest town called Apex, to the large Eastern city of New York. Their family consisted of a mother, father and a twenty year old young lady, named Undine Spragg. While in Apex, the family seemed to have it all. They were considered to be very wealthy. After they moved to New York they discovered a great change in their social status. Their world as they once knew it was no longer what they were used to.


The most drastic change came for Undine. She was no longer considered the elite young girl of the city. In New York, she blended in with everyone else. This did not make Undine very happy. She became insecure with herself. Undine knew that things needed to change. Then, one day she received a letter in the mail with an invitation to a dinner party at one of the most known families in New York City. Undine’s social status began to change for the better after that point.


With social status came the idea of old and new money. Old money was considered to be money that was passed down from generation to generation. A person that has old money has inherited their money. The term new money referred to money that was earned on a day to day basis. New money people had to work hard for their money, because their money was not handed down to them.


In New York City, at that time there seemed to be a clear line between who had what kind of money. New money people were not as highly looked at as old money people. The harder one worked to achieve their own money did not matter. One’s social status did not rise unless the money they received was inherited. Also, old money people had the aura of being good people while new money people were sometimes considered bad people.


Undine’s family was considered to be of new money when they were in the town of Apex. They made their money when Mr. Spragg discovered that the town needed to drink a different type of water. However, when they came to New York they were not rich at all. Living was much different in the big city, rather then