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The story ostensibly concerns a young literary critic who greatly admires the writer Hugh Vereker. A meeting with Vereker, however, shows him that he — and all other critics — have in fact missed the great point of Vereker’s work, and the critic (and his editor) thereupon devote themselves to trying to unravel the mystery. James’s story, however, almost certainly has an autobiographical side to it, perhaps itself criticizing those critics who couldn’t see, or wouldn’t see, the figures lost in the carpet of his own writing.
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