“We watch her like a car crash while at the same time we root for her.”
Until I read The Custom of the Country, I had never met a literary character quite like Undine Spragg, nor encountered such an in-depth portrait of a classic antiheroine. Yet, we’ve all met women like her. We all know women who have transformed and reinvented themselves. Undine follows the trends carefully, without having anything unique to add, and unabashedly markets herself at the center of the world of high society that she longs to belong to.
I’ve always loved Edith Wharton’s writing, but The Custom of the Country is my favorite, and I think her funniest and most sly. As I’ve worked on adapting it into a screenplay, I’ve found it interesting to hear some men say that Undine is so unlikable, while my women friends love her and are fascinated by her and what she’ll do next. We’ve all seen her before, the way she walks into the room, her focus on men, and her ease with their gaze. We admire and are annoyed by her. While I’ve often worked on stories with more sympathetic characters, it’s been so fun to dive into Undine’s world and pursuits.