Short story: “The Verdict”

by look i have opinions

“The Verdict,” by Edith Wharton

Appeared in Scribner’s in 1908; collected in The Hermit and the Wild Woman, and Other Stories the same year (on Project Gutenberg and the Internet Archive); also found online here

3,743 words

“But I forced myself to put it here; and now it’s cured me—cured me.” Somewhere around this line, or a bit earlier, it becomes pretty obvious (to me, if not to the narrator) why Gisburn has given up painting, and on my first reading I wanted the story to end there. But the recounted scene with the corpse has an unexpected savor and poignancy.

A lot of my favorite stories are very cruel. What makes them work as stories is the precise deployment of their cruelty, sort of like jokes whose punchlines simultaneously fulfill and reverse audience expectations. I’m putting this badly, but I may put it better later.

All the women in this story are remarkably empty-headed and despicable, even taking the era into account.