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January 2013 marks 100 years since the first installment of Edith Wharton’s “Big Novel” The Custom of the Country was published (as well as 200 years since Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was published—so much to celebrate!).

Custom 1913If you haven’t yet met Undine Spragg, anti-heroine and social climber, 2013 is a great time to read The Custom of the Country for the first time. Margaret Drabble calls Undine “one of the most appalling and fascinating heroines ever created.” Like Jane Austen’s Mary Crawford in Mansfield Park, Undine believes that “A large income is the best recipe for happiness I ever heard of.” She’s ambitious, and her primary project is to “marry up,” trading one husband for another in her pursuit of money and social power. She’s certain that just around the corner she’ll find satisfaction, something “more luxurious, more exciting, more worthy of her!”

The first installment of The Custom of the Country was published in January 1913 in Scribner’s Magazine. The Mount, Edith Wharton’s Home, is publishing an online serial this year that mirrors the original eleven monthly installments, and if you’d like to receive a copy of each one, you can subscribe to The Mount’s blog or e-newsletter. The first installment, January 1913/January 2013, is available online.

You can also read a reproduction of the serial online here, if you want to see exactly what the magazine pages looked like in 1913.

The Custom of the CountryOf course, I have to add that if you want to read the whole novel all at once, with extensive footnotes, an illuminating introduction, a helpful chronology of Wharton’s life, a detailed commentary on changes made between the serial text and the first edition of the novel, a charming portrait of Wharton in 1910, a stunning photo of the famous Lillie Langtry on the cover, and many wonderful excerpts from Wharton’s outlines, notes, and letters, along with contemporary reviews of the novel and useful historical material—why, then you’ll definitely want to order a copy of the Broadview Literary Texts edition of The Custom of the Country, edited by me.

Whatever copy you choose, you’ll be reading what Edith Wharton’s biographer Hermione Lee calls “her greatest book.” Happy reading!