Symposium on The Custom of the Country

Happy Birthday. Undine!


On 22 – 23 August 2013, delegates from France, Spain, Switzerland, Ireland, the USA and the UK gathered at Liverpool Hope University in the UK for a symposium designed to mark the centennial year of the publication of Edith Wharton’s landmark novel, The Custom of the Country.  The event was organised by William Blazek (Liverpool Hope University) and Laura Rattray (University of Glasgow), and co-sponsored by the Edith Wharton Society.

To mark the centenary, many of the panels and keynotes were devoted to topics pertaining specifically to The Custom of the Country, while others addressed the literary, cultural and historical contexts of Wharton’s writing.  Keynote speakers for this event were esteemed Wharton scholars Dr Pamela Knights (Independent Scholar, formerly Durham University) and Professor Gary Totten (North Dakota State University).  Dr Knights, who has published extensively on Wharton and is perhaps best known as the author of The Cambridge Introduction to Edith Wharton, gave a presentation titled “A ‘Decomposing Radiance’: The Custom of the Country, Energies and Expression.”  Professor Totten, the immediate past president of the Wharton Society and editor of Memorial Boxes and Guarded Interiors: Edith Wharton and Material Culture, gave his keynote on “Wharton’s Wild West: Undine Spragg, Medora de Mores, and the Dakota Divorce”.

As well as conference panels, papers and keynotes, delegates enjoyed tours of Liverpool, meals in the city, and a champagne birthday tea party to mark the occasion – with a specially designed cake. Undine Spragg may forget birthday special occasions; Whartonians do not. Happy 100th Undine!  Ambassador’s wife….?

A special Custom issue of The Edith Wharton Review will appear in spring 2014, featuring a selection of articles developed from symposium papers.

–Laura Rattray