The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton

The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton

The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton

The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton: The Moving Finger is a short story written by Edith Wharton which was first published in 1901 in the Crucial Instances collection. The story was adapted for drama and was aired in 2006 in BBC Radio 4. Interestingly there are few stories in this name and all have become popular. The phrase was first seen in the poetic work of Omar Khayyam. In 1942 Agatha Christie wrote a book by this name and it was a detective novel true to the style of Agatha Christie. Another short story with the same name was written by Stephen King in 1990. Edith Wharton’s story is about a few friends and their friend whom they look up to, Mr Ralph Grancy. His life is traced here but the reason for his life becoming so poignant is his wife.

About the Playwright

Edith Newbold Jones was born on January 24th 1862 into an upper-class family in New York City. She married Edward Wharton who was much older to her and lived with him for over twenty years. Though she lived with him there was nothing in the marriage. Her doctor advised her to turn to write to spend her energies usefully. In 1913 she divorced her husband and the same time she had an affair with another writer Morton Fullerton. Initially, her short stories were not well received but slowly they began to get popular. The first story that became popular was The House of Mirth published in 1905.

She moved to Paris in 1910 and remained there till her death in 1937 at the age of seventy-five. In 1921 she won the Pulitzer Prize for her novel The Age of Innocence. She was nominated for the Nobel Prize for three years. During her life, she went against the social norms for a woman and most of her stories were a reflection of the same

The Moving Finger by Edith Wharton:  Plot Summary

The story revolves around Mr Ralph Grancy and his wives, mostly his second wife who lives even after her death and is talked about till the end of the story. The names of the wives are not mentioned, both are referred to as Mrs Grancy. The story begins with the death of the first Mrs Grancy which is a big shock. She was all over Mr Grancy and very disapproving the ways of Ralph. Ralph has a group of followers, one of whom was the narrator of the story. This band of followers was fascinated with how Ralph Grancy met his life full of obstacles. “We had watched him pitted against one stupid obstacle after another —

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ill-health, poverty, misunderstanding and, worst of all for a man of his texture, his first wife’s soft insidious egotism.”

So the death of his wife was a big blow to Ralph but as always he rose from his misfortune by marrying again. All his friends were surprised at this decision. “After one such calcining most men would have kept out of the fire; but we agreed that he was predestined to sentimental blunders, and we awaited with resignation the embodiment of his latest mistake.” But all were mistaken as Mrs Grancy was one of the finest women both in looks and in character.

A lifelike painting of her is done by his friend Claydon. But she too dies soon. Mr Grancy is broken but picks again and goes out of the country on work. He comes back as a man who looks older than he actually was. When he reaches home he realises his wife looks very young and get his friend Clayon to modify the portrait of his wife to suit his looks.

Claydon does it with utter despair. While she was alive Claydon falls in love with Mrs Grancy for she is the cause of his best painting ever.


All the while Ralph carries his wife with him in his heart but behaves as if she continues to live with him. He grows sick but escapes immediate death but eventually dies much to the surprise of his doctors. Claydon had come the second time at the request of Mr Grancy and redid the portrait to send out a message that she was dying and he would die soon. In a way, Claydon played on the sentiments of Mr Grancy and killed him. Mr Grancy leaves the painting to Claydon who brings back the painting to its original look. He tells his side of the story to the narrator and puts an end to all speculations by saying “But now she belongs to me.”

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Mrs Grancy: She is a proud woman who is harsh and controlling her husband all the time.

The second Mrs Grancy: She is beautiful belying her age. She is innocent and charming too. However, she falls in love with Claydon.

Mr Grancy:

He loves both his wives. Mr Grancy is one who faces all troubles with a brave heart and bounces back to life. He is completely consumed by the beauty and love of his second wife that he continues to live with her in his mind even after her death. The painting is also another character which makes the story what it is.


Claydon is painter friend of Mr Grancy. He was true about his friendship till he meets the second Mrs Grancy and falls in love with her. From then on he becomes deceitful. He does whatever is required of him by Mr Grancy. In his second alteration to the portrait, he sends a strong suggestion that she is dead and Mr Grancy would die soon. His motive was to get his painting and make Mrs Grancy his, even though it was in death.


The setting is mostly where the painting is. It is at first at the library and when Mr Grancy falls ill it is shifted to the studio and then after the death of Mr.Grancy the painting shifts to the studio of Claydon where he places amongst his most valuable works. Mr Grancy travels but there are no details about that. So the setting of this story is around the painting.

Themes and Motifs

The theme of the story The Moving Finger is one of crazy love and deceit. Love of Mr Grancy for his second wife even after her death, love Claydon for Mrs Grancy. It is deceit too as Mr Claydon is cheating his friend Mr Grancy. Mrs Grancy is also in love with Mr Claydon which is cheating on her husband. There are no instances to show their love. The only mention is the look in the painting which was special and one when Mr Grancy comes home, a look which was full of love. There are no motifs but it is the painting that is all over the story and becomes another character of the story The Moving Finger.