The act of reading ... begins on a flat surface, counter or page, and then gets stirred and chopped and blended until what we make, in the end, is a dish, or story, all our own.
— Adam Gopnik

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May 3, 2013


      Mrs. Heeny laughed. 'Did you read the description of yourself in the Radiator this morning? I wish't I'd 'a had time to cut it out. I guess I'll have to start a separate bag for your clippings soon.'
      Undine stretched her arms luxuriously above her head and gazed through lowered lids at the foreshortened reflection of her face.
      'Mercy! Don't jerk around like that. Am I to put in this rose? -- There -- you are lovely!' Mrs. Heeny sighed, as the pink petals sank into the hair above the girl's forehead. Undine pushed her chair back, and sat supporting her chin on her clasped hands while she studied the result of Mrs. Heeny's manipulations. 'Yes -- that's the way Mrs. Peter Van Degen's flower was put in the other night; only hers was a camellia. -- Do you think I'd look better with a camellia?'
      'I guess if Mrs. Van Degen looked like a rose she'd'a worn a rose,' Mrs. Heeny rejoined poetically. 'Sit still a minute longer,' she added. 'Your hair's so heavy I'd feel easier if I was to put in another pin.'  Undine remained motionless, and the manicure, suddenly laying both hands on the girl's shoulders, and bending over to peer at her reflection, said playfully, 'Ever been engaged before, Undine?'
      A blush rose to the face in the mirror, spreading from chin to brow, and running rosily over the white shoulders from which their covering had slipped down.
      'My! If he could see you now!'
      Mrs. Spragg, rising noiselessly, glided across the room and became lost in a minute examination of the dress laid out on the bed.
      With a supple twist Undine slipped from Mrs. Heeny's hold.
      'Engaged? Mercy, yes! Didn't you know?  To the Prince of Wales!  I broke it off because I wouldn't live in the Tower.'
      Mrs. Spragg, lifting the dress cautiously over her arms, advanced with a reassured smile.
      'I s'pose Undie'll go to Europe now,' she said to Mrs. Heeny.

I'm still a month or two behind {though I'm trying} in following The Mount's 100th-anniversary re-publication of The Custom of the Country, but it's so good. The plot is already thickening {'The habit of meeting young men in sequestered spots was not unknown to her:  the novelty was in feeling any embarrassment about it.'}, and the writing -- and Undine -- are wonderful. I loved the description {in the introduction to one installment}of Edith Wharton as 'a kind of double agent of proper decorum,' living among them just to reveal their secrets.

{roses found here}


Claire (The Captive Reader) said...

I have vague memories of this but it has been so long since I read it that I know it's time for me to pick it up again. I do remember it being the only Wharton I really enjoyed!

JoAnn said...

Ah, the patience of Mrs Heeny..
Undine is my favorite Wharton character. Glad you're still enjoying The Custom of the Country.

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