Henry James’s “The Figure in the Carpet”

  • Antoine Dechêne
Part of the Crime Files book series (CF)


Part IV addresses the concept of the sublime and the feelings of madness and solitude that ensue from it. Whether described as an extremely powerful feeling, a privation, or an abyss, the sublime is a relevant trope to examine the different aporias that lie at the heart of each metacognitive quest. Accordingly, this chapter analyzes “The Figure in the Carpet” in a way that highlights the perverse and destructive curiosity of a literary critic who desperately tries to grasp a writer’s secret and is always comically and horrifyingly prevented from reaching his goal, consoling himself with the ignorance of others. James’s tale introduces the theme of madness and questions the very possibility of indisputable truths.

Works Cited

  1. Abbott, H. Porter. 2009. Immersions in the Cognitive Sublime: The Textual Experience of the Extratextual Unknown in García Márquez and Beckett. Narrative 17 (n°2 May): 131–142.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. ———. 2010. Garden Paths and Ineffable Effects: Abandoning Representation in Literature and Film. In Toward a Cognitive Theory of Narrative Acts, ed. Frederick Luis Aldama, 205–226. Austin: University of Texas Press.Google Scholar
  3. Auster, Paul. 1990. The New York Trilogy. New York: Penguin Books. Original edition, 1985, 1986, 1986.Google Scholar
  4. ———. 1997. The Art of Hunger: Essays, Prefaces, Interviews and The Red Notebook. New York: Penguin Books.Google Scholar
  5. Baudelaire, Charles. 1964. The Painter of Modern Life. In The Painter of Modern Life and Other Essays, ed. Jonathan Mayne, 1–41. London: Phaidon Press.Google Scholar
  6. Beckett, Samuel. 2009. Three Novels: Molloy, Malone Dies, The Unnamable. New York: Grove Press. Original edition, 1959.Google Scholar
  7. Bernstein, Stephen. 1999. ‘The Question Is the Story Itself’: Postmodernism and Intertextuality in Auster’s New York Trilogy. In Detecting Texts: The Metaphysical Detective Story from Poe to Postmodernism, ed. Patricia Merivale and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, 135–153. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  8. Bertrand, Jean-Pierre, and Michel Delville. 2016. Eurêka: du poème en prose au roman métaphysique. In Le Thriller métaphysique d’Edgar Allan Poe à nos jours, ed. Antoine Dechêne and Michel Delville, 43–55. Liège: Presses Universitaires de Liège.Google Scholar
  9. Bolaño, Roberto. 2010. Monsieur Pain. Trans. C. Andrews. New York: New Directions Book. Original edition, 1999.Google Scholar
  10. Brooks, Peter. 2011. Enigmas of Identity. Princeton/Oxford: Princeton University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Burke, Edmund. 1958. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of Our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful. London: University of Notre Dame Press. Original edition, 1757. A Dictionary of Literary Terms: York Press.Google Scholar
  12. Gray, Martin. 1990. Negative Capability. In A Dictionary of Literary Terms, ed. A.N. Jeffares. Beirut: York Press. Original Publication 1984.Google Scholar
  13. Halter, Peter. 1984. Is Henry James’s ‘The Figure in the Carpet’ ‘Unreadable’? SPELL 1: 25–37.Google Scholar
  14. James, Henry. 1964. The Figure in the Carpet. In The Complete Tales of Henry James. London: Rupert Hart-Davis. Original edition, 1896.Google Scholar
  15. Kant, Immanuel. 1991. Analytic of the Sublime. In The Critique of Judgement, 90–203. New York: Oxford University Press. Original edition, 1790.Google Scholar
  16. Lock, Peter W. 1981. ‘The Figure in the Carpet:’ The Text as Riddle and Force. Nineteenth-Century Fiction 36 (2): 157–175.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Lyotard, Jean-François. 1984. The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge. Trans. G. Bennington, B. Massumi and R. Durand. Vol. 10. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. Original edition, 1979.Google Scholar
  18. ———. 1991. The Sublime and the Avant-Garde. In The Inhuman: Reflections on Time, 89–107. Stanford: Stanford University Press. Original edition, 1988.Google Scholar
  19. Meindl, Dieter. 1996. American Fiction and the Metaphysics of the Grotesque. Columbia. London: University of Missouri Press.Google Scholar
  20. Melville, Herman. 1856. Bartleby. In The Piazza Tales, 19–50. New York: Aegypan Press.Google Scholar
  21. Merivale, Patricia. 1978. The Esthetics of Perversion: Gothic Artifice in Henry James and Witold Gombrowicz. PMLA 93 (5): 992–1002.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Merivale, Patricia, and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney. 1999. The Game’s Afoot: On the Trail of the Metaphysical Detective Story. In Detecting Texts: The Metaphysical Detective Story from Poe to Postmodernism, ed. Patricia Merivale and Susan Elizabeth Sweeney, 1–24. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press.Google Scholar
  23. Miller, J. Hillis. 1980. The Figure in the Carpet. Poetics Today 1 (3): 107–118.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Mussil, Stephan. 2009. A Secret in Spite of Itself: Recursive Meaning in Henry James’s ‘The Figure in the Carpet. New Literary History 39: 769–799.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Nancy, Jean-Luc. 1993. The Sublime Offering. In, ed. Jean-François Courtine et al., 25–53. Albany: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  26. Plato. 1991. The Republic of Plato. Trans. Allan Bloom. New York: BasicBooks.Google Scholar
  27. Poe, Edgar Allan. 1975. The Man of the Crowd. In The Complete Tales and Poems of Edgar Allan Poe, 475–481. New York: Vintage Books. Original edition, 1840.Google Scholar
  28. Shaw, Philip. 2006. The Sublime. London/New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  29. Todorov, Tzvetan. 1973. The Structural Analysis of Literature: The Tales of Henry James. In Structuralism: An Introduction, ed. David Robey, 73–103. Oxford: Clarendon Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  • Antoine Dechêne
    • 1
  1. 1.University of LiègeLiègeBelgium

Personalised recommendations