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The Aspern Papers  
Author Henry James
Country United Kingdom, United States
Language English
Genre(s) Novella
Publisher Macmillan and Co., London, New York City
Publication date London: 29-Sept-1888
New York City: 10-Nov-1888
Media type Print
Pages London: volume one, 239; volume two, 258
New York City: 290
Both editions also included the stories Louisa Pallant and The Modern Warning

The Aspern Papers is a novella written by Henry James, originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1888, with its first book publication later in the same year. One of James' best-known and most acclaimed longer tales, The Aspern Papers is based on an anecdote that James heard about a Shelley devotee who tried to obtain some valuable letters written by the poet. Set in a brilliantly described Venice, The Aspern Papers demonstrates James' ability to generate suspense while never neglecting the development of his characters.

Contents

Plot summary

A nameless narrator goes to Venice to locate Juliana Bordereau, an old lover of Jeffrey Aspern, a famous and now dead American poet. The narrator presents himself to the old woman as a prospective lodger and is prepared to court her niece Miss Tita (renamed Miss Tina in later editions), a plain, somewhat naive spinster, in hopes of getting a look at some of Aspern's letters and other papers kept by Juliana. Miss Tita had denied the existence of any such papers in a letter to the narrator and his publishing partner, but he believes she was dissembling on instructions from Juliana. The narrator eventually discloses his intentions to Miss Tita, who promises to help him.

Later, Juliana offers to sell a miniature portrait of Aspern to the narrator for an exorbitant price. She doesn't mention Jeffrey Aspern's name, but the narrator still believes she possesses some of his letters. When the old woman falls ill, the narrator ventures into her room and gets caught by Juliana as he is about to rifle her desk for the letters. Juliana calls the narrator a "publishing scoundrel" and collapses. The narrator flees, and when he returns some days later, he discovers that Juliana has died. Miss Tita hints that he can have the Aspern letters if he marries her.

Again, the narrator flees. At first he feels he can never accept the proposal, but gradually he begins to change his mind. When he returns to see Miss Tita, she bids him farewell and tells him that she has burned all the letters one by one. The narrator never sees the precious papers, but he does send Miss Tita some money for the miniature portrait of Aspern that she gives him.

Major themes

In this tightly constructed work, James examines the conflicts involved when a biographer seeks to pry into the intimate life of his subject. James loathed publicity and zealously guarded his own privacy. A few years before his death he burned masses of old letters that he had received, and he often begged his correspondents not to publicize - or better yet, to destroy - the letters he sent to them.

It is not surprising that James paints the nameless narrator of The Aspern Papers as, in Juliana's words, a "publishing scoundrel." And yet he also generates sneaking sympathy for the narrator as he tries to work the papers loose from Juliana, who is presented as greedy, domineering and unappealing.

The story unwinds into the double climax of Juliana's discovery of the narrator about to break into her desk, and then Miss Tina's revelation that she has destroyed the papers. Miss Tina is ashamed of her marriage proposal to the narrator, but James implies that she does exactly the right thing by depriving him of the papers. In a way, she develops into the true heroine of the story.

Critical evaluation

James thought so highly of this story that he put it first in volume 12 of The New York Edition, ahead of even The Turn of the Screw. Critics have almost unanimously agreed with him about the tale's superb quality. James builds suspense in a way that any mystery writer would admire, and the tension is not relieved until the final page.

The central characters are all fully realized, and James describes Venice so lovingly that the city almost becomes a character in its own right, a crumbling, beautiful, mysterious place where the incredible becomes real and the strange is almost commonplace. Critics have disagreed about the narrator's guilt and Miss Tina's complex motives, but few deny that James has presented the pair with masterful completeness.

Text versions

The Aspern Papers was first published in three parts in March-May 1888 editions of The Atlantic Monthly, and published in book form in London and New York later in the same year. It was subsequently revised, with the addition of a Preface and changes including "Miss Tita" being renamed to "Miss Tina", for the 1908 New York Edition.[1]

Play and opera versions

References

  1. ^ Cornwell, Neil. 17 January 2006. "The Aspern Papers". The Literary Encyclopedia. Accessed 17 August 2008 retrieved 17 August 2008
  • Tales of Henry James: The Texts of the Tales, the Author on His Craft, Criticism edited by Christof Wegelin and Henry Wonham (New York: W.W. Norton & Company, 2003) ISBN 0-393-97710-2
  • The Tales of Henry James by Edward Wagenknecht (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., 1984) ISBN 0-8044-2957-X

External links

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Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010

From Wikisource

The Aspern Papers
by Henry James
Information about this edition
The Aspern Papers is a novella written by Henry James, originally published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1888, with its first book publication later in the same year. One of James' best-known and most acclaimed longer tales, The Aspern Papers is based on an anecdote that James heard about a Shelley devotee who tried to obtain some valuable letters written by the poet. Set in a brilliantly described Venice, The Aspern Papers demonstrates James' ability to generate almost unbearable suspense while never neglecting the masterful development of his characters. — Excerpted from The Aspern Papers on Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
PD-icon.svg This work is in the public domain in the United States because it was published before January 1, 1923.

The author died in 1916, so this work is also in the public domain in countries and areas where the copyright term is the author's life plus 80 years or less. This work may also be in the public domain in countries and areas with longer native copyright terms that apply the rule of the shorter term to foreign works.


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