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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 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 writing 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

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 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 how Ralph Grancy met his life full of obstacles. “We had watched him pitted against one stupid obstacle after another — 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 woman both in looks and in character. A life like 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 is 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.”


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. He 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: 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 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

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.

The Open Boat



‘The Open Boat’ is a short story written by Stephen Crane and first published in 1897 in Scribner’s Magazine. It is based on the real life experience of Stephen Crane. He was travelling to Cuba in the ship SS Commodore as a journalist in a newspaper. The ship hit a sandbar and sank and the last four who survived had a near-death experience. It is a narrative about thirty hours in sea with only a dinghy to save four people from sure death. Stephen Crane reported his story few days after the shipwreck and it was published as ‘Stephen Crane’s Own Story’. Later he wrote it in a narrative form and it became a short story. In ‘The Open Boat’, he does use the first person but he is the ‘correspondent’ in the story. ‘The Open Boat and Other Tales of Adventure’ was published in the US and England in 1898. It was praised for its literary Naturalism. Even today it is considered as one of the best of Stephen Crane’s work. H. G. Wells remarked, "The Open Boat" to be "beyond all question, the crown of all [Crane's] work.”


About the Playwright

Stephen Crane was born in 1871 in New Jersey. He had a lineage of strong-willed men who took an active role in building America. There were adventurous sailors and representatives in the pre-revolutionary War Continental Congresses. Crane was very proud of his lineage and only wanted to further it a little more.  He did not live very long; he died at the young age of twenty eight but by then he had created niche for himself and his writing. He started to write as a young boy but his Maggie: A Girls of the Streets (1893) when he was twenty two made him famous. His work always had a touch of realism and naturalism. The experience which gave the literary world an excellent short story also affected hi s health. He suffered from tuberculosis the rest of his short life and that was the cause of his death in 1900. However, Crane was not cowed down by his disease and kept travelling and reporting the grim events of his times. He travelled to Greece to report the Greco-Turkish was and it is at this he became friends with Joseph Conrad, H G Wells and Henry James. Crane also covered the Spanish-American war. Even during his hectic journalist days he continued to write poetry and fiction. Crane’s maxim for writing was “the nearer a writer gets to life the greater he becomes as an artist.”



Plot Summary

The story opens with the description of the waves that were so tall and so fast that the characters in the boat could not see the sky at all. All they could see water and waves and more water and waves. The expert sailors knew to tell the time of the day by looking at the colour of the water. There are four people in the boat and all of them other than the captain are trying to keep the water off from the boat or steer the boat with its oars. The captain is hurt and cannot physically help but he is still the on e giving directions. These four are the survivors after their ship sank. The story gives a little hope a few pages into it as they see land and even people waving to them. Unfortunately it does not turn into a rescue operation. They could not take the boat closer to the shore as they risked the destruction of the boat. So they are forced to spend the night in the rough seas again. The oiler is so tired that he requests the correspondent, who was not a sailor to take control of the boat. They take turns and finally dawn breaks and they get a little closer to land. Erelong the boat sinks and the four are forced to swim to the shore. Now they get help from the shore but it is not good enough to save one life- the oiler dies by the time he reaches the shore. There is no direct reference to his death but the following lines indicate he must have died. “In the low water, face down, lay the oiler. His forehead touched sand that was sometimes, between each wave, above the sea.”


There are four characters in this story. Crane paints each character as a microcosm of the society. The captain is the leader, the oiler is the most loyal worker, the cook is the silent follower and the correspondent who is not a sailor but is the observer and thinker of the story. He starts off being cynical but understands each of them better and realises that they are good human beings.

The captain is the head of the ship and till the last minute he puts others first. When the people at the shore come to save him he requests them to save the correspondent. Even in the turbulent sea, after being injured he is cool and collected and gives the right directions to the oiler and the cook.

The cook is a silent man whose main job was to drain the water but it is his sharp eyes that spot the light house. The oiler is the worker anyone would live to have. He never gives up till the boat is broken. He is so broken that he could not survive after that.

The correspondent is the one reporting. He is a fighter too and does not buckle under the pressure. He has full faith in the oiler and the captain. But when there is a suggestion of death he fights it mentally. “If I am going to lose my life to the sea—if 1 am going to lose my life  to the sea—why was I allowed to come this far and see sand and trees?” is the refrain that goes on in his mind and he outlives the mishap to tell the story.

Settings, Themes and Motifs

The whole story is set in the sea with a detailed description of the sea and the waves. There are references to the boat as well. Man versus Nature is the main theme of the story. The fury of nature can break the spirit but the four men held on. Survival and solidarity is another striking theme of the story. In times of trouble when people rally for each other that is solidarity. This is seen amongst the four survivors of the mishap in the mid sea.  It is the solidarity that really sees them through. Oiler held on till he saw help coming forth. Then he let go and died on the shores of the land.