The Figure in the Crypt

Michael Wood

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Abstract :
A character in Henry James’ story “The Figure in the Carpet”; answers a friend who is sceptical about his pursuit of an author’s hidden meaning by saying that “if we had had Shakespeare’s own word for his being cryptic he would at once have accepted it”;. We do have Nabokov’s word for his being cryptic, notably in “The Vane Sisters”;. And even without his word, his fiction is haunted by a sense of riddle and game, of the ‘problem’ as we understand it in the context of chess. What are we to do with this haunting? Do we seek to solve the riddle or do we see the unsolved riddle as a literary form in its own right? Is the author cryptic or chronically absent? What difference does it make? This paper will explore both possibilities, and ask what the consequences are for reading and commentary of our accepting either view. The obvious test case is Pale Fire, and I do not wish to ignore the wonderful ongoing discussion of this novel. But in the hope of being a little less obvious, or not only obvious, I shall concentrate mainly on Bend Sinister.
Published : 2008-03-20


Michael Wood, « The Figure in the Crypt », Cycnos, 2008-03-20. URL :