Reading Group

The Figure in the Carpet: The Short Stories of Henry James


Led by: Sheridan Hay
Time: 6 - 7:30 pm
Meets: Every Thursday; Five sessions
Dates: 4/13, 4/20, 4/27, 5/4, 5/11


Members: $125

Nonmembers: $150



Just as Henry James was moving toward a true mastery of his art and becoming more interested in complex states of thought and feeling, magazine editors began to find his short stories too long and not ‘exciting’ enough.  James foresaw, and experienced, the widening gap between what popular magazines were interested in publishing and the concerns of the serious reader. But by the early 1890s, James was writing his best stories: “I have my head, thank God, full of visions. One has never too many—one has never enough.” In many of these late stories (over one hundred were published in his lifetime) Henry James is fascinated with the epistemology of the secret that will not reveal itself. The central ambiguity, the mysterious hiddenness, at the heart of many of James’ stories compel most readers, but is this characteristic reticence an ambiguity that is more than the pleasure of endless interpretation, of the satisfying (if confusing) possibility of multiple readings? Our task will be to examine five of James’ short fictions – one each week for five weeks – and try to wrestle from his ambiguous, elegant prose just what each story might possibly be about.


For the first meeting, please read The Figure in the Carpet (1896). We will also read, The Pupil (1891), In The Cage (1898), The Middle Years (1893), and The Death of the Lion (1894)


Sheridan Hay holds an MFA from the Bennington Writing Seminars. Her first novel, The Secret of Lost Things (Doubleday/Anchor), which features a lost novel by Herman Melville, was a Booksense Pick, a Barnes and Noble Discover selection, short listed for the Border’s Original Voices Fiction Prize, and nominated for the International Impac Award. A San Francisco Chronicle bestseller and a New York Times Editor’s Choice, foreign rights have been sold in fourteen countries.