Chapter 4 Summary

Undine insists that her father rent a box for the opera on Friday. She has decided that going to the opera will give her an opportunity to see and meet more people of the upper-class New York society. Mr. Spragg, who does not enjoy the nervous tension he feels when his daughter wants something but does not get it, makes excuses, such as a lack of funds for such an extravagant request. Then he promptly leaves for his office to avoid any further confrontation. This angers Undine. To release her agitation, she goes out for a horse ride. However, she expects a call from her father as soon as she returns home, stating that he has given in to her wishes. When Mrs. Spragg declares that she has heard nothing from Mr. Spragg, Undine dresses to go out again, this time to an art museum—another place where she hopes to meet influential people. It had been mentioned during the Fairfords’ dinner party.

At the museum, Undine notices that many of the people look at her with obvious admiration of her beauty, but she is not content. She wants more. She wants to know these people by name. She wants them to recognize her as someone of equal worth. When she notices a tall girl dressed in furs taking notes as she gazes at the paintings, Undine mimics her by scribbling in the catalog she was given upon entering the museum. Minutes later, when she see a woman examining a picture through tortoise-shell eyeglasses adorned with diamonds, Undine wants to purchase a similar pair of glasses for the next time she visits the museum.

Undine is so absorbed in trying to be like the other women she sees around her that she accidentally bumps into an overweight man. The impact knocks the catalog out of her hand, and the young man retrieves it for her. Undine stares at the young man’s face in an attempt to identify who he is. He has bulging eyes with thick lids, and she feels sure she has seen his photograph in the newspapers. It is not until Undine hears a woman calling to the young man that she guesses his full name. He must be Peter Van Degen, the son of the “great banker.” Upon recognizing this member of high society, Undine smiles. The man had been clearly been distracted by Undine’s beauty, even though his wife had completely ignored her.

When Undine returns home, she is not overly enthused to learn that Ralph Marvell had called. Undine thinks it was impolite of him to have called without previously making an appointment with her to ensure that she would be home. Her spirits, however, are raised when her father comes home and hands her an envelope. To her surprise, her father has rented an opera box not for just one night but for every Friday night of the opera season.