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Carl Van Doren (1885–1950).  The American Novel.  1921.


Page 208

less than masterpieces, no matter how hard he tries. This group of stories may be said to end with The Figure in the Carpet (1896), with Hugh Vereker explaining to his critics how it is they must look in the whole of a writer’s work for the “primal plan,” the string his pearls are strung on, the complex figure in the Persian carpet of his art. “If my great affair’s a secret,” said Vereker, “that’s only because it’s a secret in spite of itself.… I not only never took the smallest precaution to make it so, but never dreamed of any such accident.” So Henry James might have reasoned in his own behalf. Obscurity was his destiny not his design. He had set out to record certain subtle relationships that he perceived binding men and women together in the human picture, and he would not call it his fault if his perceptions had proved more delicate than those of the reading public. He had tried to make national contrasts interesting; he had tried to diversify his matter in the great novels of the eighties; he had tried a new literary form in his plays and had, restricting himself for a time as to dimensions, written about the artistic life as no one had ever done in English. Nothing had availed him with the wider audience. He now gave up the battle, reconciled himself to his limited fate, discovered the house at Rye which was to be his permanent residence till the end of his life, and settled down to the untrammeled practice of his art.
  Nothing could be more autobiographical, in a sense, than this later work of Henry James, exquisitely reproducing as it so often does the adventures of exquisite souls among thorns and pitfalls. To robuster dispositions he appears, of course, to be making an incredible



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