The Verdict

tutorial, critical comment, plot, and study resources

The Verdict first appeared in Scribner’s Magazine, number 43 for June 1908. The story was subsequently included in Edith Wharton’s collection of short fiction, The Hermit and the Wild Woman and Other Stories published by Charles Scribner’s in 1908.

The Verdict

cover design by Parish Maxfield

The Verdict – critical comments

Like her good friend Henry James, Edith Wharton was very fond of writing stories about artists – particularly painters, sometimes writers, but very rarely musicians. And like James she was confronted by the difficulty of rendering an account of a visual medium such as painting in the very different medium of words. It is not easy to say why or how a painting is great or a failure by merely describing it.

This story is essentially a critique of bad art. Gisburn has been a popular success, but the implication is that his work is second rate. Rickham thinks him a ‘cheap genius’. In the absence of any other evidence, we are forced to take Rickham’s word for it that Gisburn is a bad painter:

all the hesitations disguised as audacities, the tricks of prestidigitation by which … he managed to divert attention from the real business of the picture to some pretty irrelevance of detail.

And eventually even Gisburn is forced to recognise his lack of genuine artistic talent when confronted by the (dead) Stroud and his donkey sketch. That is the ostensible subject of the story – the reason why Gisburn gave up painting. But the ironic twist to the tale is that instead of completing the commission to paint Stroud, he recommends another young artist, Victor Grindle – and thereby passes on to him the reputation of fashionable (and shallow) success. As he remarks to Rickham:

the irony of it is that I am still painting – since Grindle’s doing it for me. The Strouds stand alone, and happen once – but there’s no exterminating our kind of art.

The Verdict – study resources

The Verdict Edith Wharton Collected Stories – Norton Critical – Amazon UK

The Verdict Edith Wharton Collected Stories – Norton Critical – Amazon US

The Verdict - eBook edition The Descent of Man and Other Stories – Project Gutenberg

Red button A Historical Guide to Edith Wharton – Amazon UK

Edith Wharton The Cambridge Introduction to Edith Wharton – Amazon UK

The Verdict – story synopsis

The narrator Rickham hears that his friend Jack Gisburn has suddenly given up his successful career as a fashionable portrait painter. The move is regretted by his sitters, but not by fellow painters.

Three years later Rickham visits Gisburn on the Riviera to find out why he gave up painting. Gisburn has married a rich widow and enjoys collecting works of art. But none of his own work is on display in the villa. His wife attributes this to his modesty, but she shows Rickham a portrait of herself which Rickham describes as ‘false virtuosity’.

Gisburn then takes Rickham to his private study where there is a small painting (of a donkey) by a famous artist, Stroud. Gisburn explains it was a gift from the Mrs Stroud, presented to him when he went to paint Stroud’s portrait immediately following his death. Mrs Stroud wanted her husband’s reputation vindicated by a fashionable artist – which was pre-eminently Gisburn at the time.

However, whilst Gisburn was attempting the commission he felt as if Stroud was watching him critically, and he realised that his famous ‘technique’ was just a sham. This is the reason why he gave up painting. Mrs Stroud is disappointed, so Gisburn recommends an upcoming portrait painter Victor Grindle, who completes the commission successfully, and thus takes over Gisburn’s reputation where he has left off.

Principal characters
Mr Rickham the narrator
Jack Gisburn a fashionable portrait painter
Mrs Gisburn his wife
Victor Grindle the next young upcoming fashionable painter

The Verdict

first English edition – Macmillan 1908

Further reading

Louis Auchincloss, Edith Wharton: A Woman of her Time, New York: Viking, 1971,

Elizabeth Ammons, Edith Wharton’s Argument with America, Georgia: University of Georgia Press, 1982, pp.222. ISBN: 0820305138

Janet Beer, Edith Wharton (Writers & Their Work), New York: Northcote House, 2001, pp.99, ISBN: 0746308981

Millicent Bell (ed), The Cambridge Companion to Edith Wharton, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1995, pp.232, ISBN: 0521485134

Alfred Bendixen and Annette Zilversmit (eds), Edith Wharton: New Critical Essays, New York: Garland, 1992, pp.329, ISBN: 0824078489

Eleanor Dwight, Edith Wharton: An Extraordinary Life, New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1994, ISBN: 0810927950

Gloria C. Erlich, The Sexual Education of Edith Wharton, California: University of California Press, 1992, pp.223, ISBN: 0520075838

Susan Goodman, Edith Wharton’s Women: Friends and Rivals, UPNE, 1990, pp.220, ISBN: 0874515246

Irving Howe, (ed), Edith Wharton: A collection of Critical Essays, London: University of North Carolina Press, 1986,

Jennie A. Kassanoff, Edith Wharton and the Politics of Race, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004, pp.240, ISBN: 0521830893

Hermione Lee, Edith Wharton, London: Vintage, new edition 2008, pp.864, ISBN: 0099763516

R.W.B. Lewis, Edith Wharton: A Biography, New York: Harper and Rowe, 1975, pp.592, ISBN: 0880640200

James W. Tuttleton (ed), Edith Wharton: The Contemporary Reviews, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp.586, ISBN: 0521383196

Candace Waid, Edith Wharton’s Letters from the Underworld, London: University of North Carolina Press, 1991,

Sarah Bird Wright, Edith Wharton A to Z: The Essential Reference to Her Life and Work, Fact on File, 1998, pp.352, ISBN: 0816034818

Cynthia Griffin Wolff, A Feast of Words: The Triumph of Edith Wharton, New York: Perseus Books, second edition 1994, pp.512, ISBN: 0201409186

Edith Wharton's house - The Mount

Edith Wharton’s 42-room house – The Mount

Other works by Edith Wharton

Edith Wharton - The Custom of the CountryThe Custom of the Country (1913) is Edith Wharton’s satiric anatomy of American society in the first decade of the twentieth century. It follows the career of Undine Spragg, recently arrived in New York from the midwest and determined to conquer high society. Glamorous, selfish, mercenary and manipulative, her principal assets are her striking beauty, her tenacity, and her father’s money. With her sights set on an advantageous marriage, Undine pursues her schemes in a world of shifting values, where triumph is swiftly followed by disillusion. This is a study of modern ambition and materialism written a hundred years before its time.

Edith Wharton - The Custom of the Country Buy the book from Amazon UK

Edith Wharton - The Custom of the Country Buy the book from Amazon US


Edith Wharton - The House of MirthThe House of Mirth (1905) is the story of Lily Bart, who is beautiful, poor, and still unmarried at twenty-nine. In her search for a husband with money and position she betrays her own heart and sows the seeds of the tragedy that finally overwhelms her. The book is a disturbing analysis of the stifling limitations imposed upon women of Wharton’s generation. In telling the story of Lily Bart, who must marry to survive, Wharton recasts the age-old themes of family, marriage, and money in ways that transform the traditional novel of manners into an arresting modern document of cultural anthropology.

Edith Wharton - The House of Mirth Buy the book from Amazon UK

Edith Wharton - The House of Mirth Buy the book from Amazon US

Edith Wharton – web links

Edith Wharton Edith Wharton at Mantex
Biographical notes, study guides to the major novels, tutorials on the shorter fiction, bibliographies, critiques of the shorter fiction, and web links.

The Short Stories of Edith Wharton The Short Stories of Edith Wharton
This is an old-fashioned but excellently detailed site listing the publication details of all Edith Wharton’s eighty-six short stories – with links to digital versions available free on line.

Edith Wharton Edith Wharton at Gutenberg
Free eTexts of the major novels and collections of stories in a variety of digital formats – also includes travel writing and interior design.

Edith WhartonEdith Wharton at Wikipedia
Full details of novels, stories, and travel writing, adaptations for television and the cinema, plus web links to related sites.

Edith WhartonThe Edith Wharton Society
Old but comprehensive collection of free eTexts of the major novels, stories, and travel writing, linking archives at University of Virginia and Washington State University.

Edith WhartonThe Mount: Edith Wharton’s Home
Aggressively commercial site devoted to exploiting The Mount – the house and estate designed by Edith Wharton. Plan your wedding reception here.

Edith WhartonEdith Wharton at Fantastic Fiction
A compilation which purports to be a complete bibliography, arranged as novels, collections, non-fiction, anthologies, short stories, letters, and commentaries – but is largely links to book-selling sites, which however contain some hidden gems.

Edith WhartonEdith Wharton’s manuscripts
Archive of Wharton holdings at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

© Roy Johnson 2014

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