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Having reviewed Hugh Vereker’s latest fiction in The Middle, a literary weekly (this a result of the kind offices of his friend George Corvick), the nameless narrator is invited to a country-house weekend, during which he encounters Vereker. The novelist reads the narrator’s notice and comments derisively on it, only to relent when he learns the identity of the author. In a gesture of compensation (one supposes), Vereker confides to the narrator that his fictions are all linked by a single idea or scheme that no critic has ever noticed but that is the very secret of all of his work. This is the famous “figure in the carpet” of the story’s title, and it is what Vereker sets the narrator to discover.

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On his return to London, the narrator sets about his work of investigation and analysis, to no avail. He confides his secret to Corvick, who in turn (and with the help of Gwendolen Erme, herself a novelist) pursues the same goal of discovering the elusive design in Vereker’s writings. Baffled and unsuccessful, Corvick departs for India, ostensibly on a journalistic assignment, but (one learns later) in actuality with the intention of distancing himself from the immediate engagement with Vereker’s books, the better to discover their secret. Corvick succeeds, or so he asserts, as a cable from Bombay to Miss Erme informs her that he has discovered the “general intention” in Vereker. Corvick rushes to visit Vereker in Rapallo, Italy, where (once again the news is cabled to London) Vereker confirms that Corvick has indeed stumbled onto the secret of the fiction. Corvick immediately proposes a long, definitive piece on Vereker but not before demanding of Miss Erme that she become his bride as the price for his revealing to her the treasure that he has discovered. She consents, her mother (who has consistently opposed the union) conveniently dies, and the two are wedded, while the narrator is called away to Germany to assist an ailing relative.

Corvick’s marriage to Gwendolen proves ill-fated, for on their honeymoon, he is killed in a cart accident in the country. The grieving Mrs. Corvick returns to London, where the narrator inquires of her whether Corvick had written his essay on Vereker. He had merely begun it, she admits, but he had nevertheless confided to her the secret itself. The narrator presses her for it, and when she refuses to reveal its nature or even to hint at it, he expresses doubts that Corvick had in fact ever known. Insulted, Gwendolen departs, thus enforcing a more or less permanent break with the narrator.


(The entire section contains 676 words.)

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