Undine Spragg: Edith Wharton’s Best Antiheroine

September 11, 2019 | 1 book mentioned

Few classic and contemporary author pairings seem as apt as Edith Wharton and Jia Tolentino. Thanks to Modern Library, the two are finally together in a new edition of The Custom of the Country, Wharton’s novel of manners set in New York’s high society. In her introduction, Tolentino paints the novel’s heroine, Undine Spragg, as an easily relatable figure for today’s readers: “For my money, no literary antiheroine can best Undine—a dazzling monster with rose-gold hair, creamy skin, and a gaping spiritual maw that could swallow New York City. People like her have been abundant in American culture for some time, but I never feel invested in their success; more often, I idly hope for their failure. With Undine, however—thanks to the alchemical mix of sympathy and disdain that animates Wharton’s language in the novel and allows her to match Undine’s savagery with plenty of her own—I find myself wanting her to get everything she desires.”

is a writer and illustrator. She is the author of two illustrated books, Last Night's Reading (Penguin Books, 2015) and Sanpaku (Archaia 2018).

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