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The Aspern Papers

3.69  ·  Rating Details  ·  2,529 Ratings  ·  228 Reviews
In this classic 1888 novella, an anonymous narrator relates his obsessive quest to acquire some letters and other private documents that once belonged to the deceased Romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern. Attempting to gain access to the papers, the property of Aspern's former mistress, he rents a room in a decaying Venetian villa where the woman lives with her aging niece. Led by ...more
Paperback, 80 pages
Published August 20th 2001 by Dover Publications (first published September 29th 1888)
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Othello by William ShakespeareThe Merchant of Venice by William ShakespeareDeath in Venice and Other Tales by Thomas MannVenetian Love Knots by Normandie AllemanIn the Company of the Courtesan by Sarah Dunant
Books Set in Venice
11th out of 218 books — 175 voters
The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark TwainThe Brothers Karamazov by Fyodor DostoyevskyThe Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde by Robert Louis StevensonTreasure Island by Robert Louis StevensonA Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle
Best Books Of The Decade: 1880s
37th out of 197 books — 193 voters

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Community Reviews

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Mar 08, 2014 Kalliope rated it it was amazing

I generally do not like to discuss the plot in a review. And I will not in this one either. But apart from delighting in James’ prose and in his superb ability to characterize and develop personalities, reading this novella has made me think about what makes a good story.

For I was captured by the suspense James created out of a relatively simple situation.

What makes a good plot? It certainly needs a structure, a kind of frame that gives it independence and self-sufficiency. That means it demands
Glenn Russell
Nov 05, 2015 Glenn Russell rated it it was amazing

In the section of his Moral Discourses entitled ‘How a person can preserve their proper character in any situation’ the Stoic philosopher Epictetus says “You are the one who knows yourself – which is to say, you know how much you are worth in your own estimation, and therefore at what price you will sell yourself; because people sell themselves at different rates. . . . Taking account of the value of externals, you see, comes at some cost to the value of one’s own character.” I cite this quote s
Jul 28, 2009 Eric rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: themaster, ficciones
As much as it would please me to discover that my two favorite novelists form an apostolic succession, I must admit that Nabokov is completely spot-on in his criticism of The Aspern Papers, about which he complains in 1941 letter to Edmund Wilson:

Yesterday I read The Aspern Papers. No. He writes with a very sharp nib and the ink is very pale and there is very little of it in his inkpot…The style is artistic but it is not the style of an artist…He has charm (as the weak blond prose of Turgenev ha
Lynne King
I have very mixed feelings about this novella. I have never read any of Henry James’ books before but upon advice it was suggested that I start with one of his novellas. So I decided upon this book as there are only eighty pages and it seemed as good a place as ever to start.

I actually don’t like Venice as a place and so I’m sure I’ll be called a philistine. I went in the month of December, many years ago, with an aged aunt which did not auger well. It was windy, the pigeons in St Mark’s square
Ben Loory
Aug 30, 2011 Ben Loory rated it really liked it
the more i read of henry james, the more i think he may be my favorite writer. it's weird, because he seems to be exactly all those things i most despise in writers-- he's long-winded, slow-moving, mostly humorless, always deeply embedded in real places, real people, real history, the real world-- really, i don't feel like i should like him at all! but then, somehow, underneath all of that, there is always in his writing a deep sense of mystery-- not just about the events in his stories, but abo ...more
Una nouvelle maravillosa. De Henry James solo había leído The Turn of the Screw (1898), un relato de atmósfera fantasmagórica donde el retrato psicológico tiene mucho peso, igual que en The Aspern Papers (1888). Las solteronas (tía y sobrina) que viven enclaustradas cual carmelitas en un palacete en Venecia están magníficamente descritas, y su inquilino, el editor norteamericano obsesionado por conseguir los papeles del poeta Jeffrey Aspern, es su contrapunto perfecto. Ese trío forma un triángul ...more
Jun 18, 2016 Sketchbook rated it it was amazing
To get what you want, would you pay a price -- or bolt?

James handles the sexuality v sedately, as expected. But it's compelling nonetheless. And sex is a metaphor for Anything. I've now read 3xs.
Jul 02, 2015 Elena rated it it was amazing
I just re-read Henry James' novella the "Aspern Papers," again a second time after thirty years. It was first recommended to me in 1983 by Jean van Heijenoort, Leon Trotsky's secretary and, after the murder, his archivist, as the best depiction of an archivist's passion for finding the papers of a "great man." Even the first time around I certainly appreciated the fine description of a collector's monomania. While the story was written in 1887, I've seen modern archivists turn themselves inside ...more
Justin Evans
Dec 01, 2014 Justin Evans rated it it was amazing
I love late James, but there's also a lot to be said for this sweet spot in the middle period. The sentences unfurl in a slightly less complicated way, the ideas are more evident, the characters less opaque, their thoughts less interminable. The Aspern Papers is my ideal beach read: I can lie back and enjoy the plot and paragraphs, I don't have to parse the language, and at the end I still feel like I've done my brain some good and become a better person. Also a very Venetian book; I hope to rea ...more
Ben Rutter
Aug 30, 2007 Ben Rutter rated it liked it
Classic James: you climb a hundred unremarkable pages to watch a single painful, surprising scene unfold.
Sep 11, 2014 Yani rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: novela-corta
Henry James es uno de mis autores favoritos, pero la relación es complicada. Por un lado, lo amo porque convierte argumentos que parecen ser simples (sean realistas o no) en una historia de suspenso. Por el otro, lo odio por sus finales y porque siempre hay algo que no nos cuenta, algo que subyace a las palabras o se escapa entre ellas. Tengo más razones, pero estas le conciernen a la novela en cuestión. Los papeles de Aspern intriga, a pesar de que gire demasiado sobre un mismo eje (para mi g ...more
Oct 06, 2012 Everyman rated it liked it
This Roman a clef novelette is based on the posthumous pursuit of Shelley's papers from his former very close friend (and possibly lover), Claire Clairmont. In The Aspern Papers an unnamed editor of the papers of deceased poet Jeffrey Aspern weasels himself into the home of Aspern's former mistress and subject of many of his poems, seeking to obtain from her papers (the nature of which is not given but presumably means letters, diaries, unpublished poems, or the like) which she has and has for ...more
Nov 03, 2008 kabukigal rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
For once the book Blurb here on GR does a good job of prefacing this book, so I won't take the time to repeat that. If you like Henry James verbose yet provocative writing style, then you won't be disappointed. James was fond of this short novel, ranking it ahead of The Turn of the Screw.The use of Venice as the setting for this novel was a nice touch that fit this story perfectly.
Aug 06, 2008 Martine rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Recommends it for: people who think they hate Henry James
'Hypocrisy, duplicity are my only chance. I'm sorry for it, but there's no baseness I wouldn't commit for Jeffrey Aspern's sake.'

So says the unnamed narrator of Henry James' The Aspern Papers, a literary scholar who is writing a book about the fictional poet Jeffrey Aspern (loosely based on either Keats or Browning, depending on whose theories you choose to believe). At the beginning of the novella, the narrator discovers that Juliana Bordereau, to whom the poet addressed some of his most beaut
Stephen Durrant
Jul 04, 2015 Stephen Durrant rated it really liked it
I purchased a copy of this book on a recent trip to Venice. It was advertised as Henry James' description of Venice, a city he loved . . . a sort of aid to travellers. Well, not quite. "The Aspern Papers" is a brilliant novella concerning a literary biographer eager to obtain papers about a great American poet presumably left to lover well over a half century earlier. What ensues is a psychological dance between the three central characters, the narrator--i.e., the literary biographer--, the ver ...more
An enjoyable reading in a very warm afternoon.

Free download at Gutenberg Project

A movie The Lost Moment (1947) was made on this book and it is available at You Tube, with Robert Cummings, Susan Hayward, Agnes Moorehead.
Aug 02, 2011 Nalnac rated it really liked it

In 1991 a Romantic scolar named Marion Kingston Stocking, came across a series of notebooks.
Those notebooks were the transcription of the conversations (that took place in Florence) between Edward Silsbee (a retired american sea capitan) and the legendary seventy year old Clair Clairmont.

Miss Clairmont needs no introduction; her life itself is a remarkable statement to female freedom.
She was the daughter of William Godwin, step sister to Mary Wollstonecraft (who later become P.B. Shelley's secon
May 24, 2015 Eileen rated it liked it
Hmm, what to say. I guess I enjoyed the book, although for such a singular, focused plot, it could have been even shorter than it was. The narrator reminded me of fandom, of hard-core fans who are so obsessed with their object of infatuation that they'll cast aside all scruples to try to get closer to their idol. If this were set in modern day, he would have stalked the old woman on facebook, twitter, befriended any of her relations or old friends to further his imagined connection to her and th ...more
Jun 10, 2015 Carlos rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Tras leer “Los papeles de Aspern”, me parece inadmisible e insólito que el reconocimiento a las aportaciones que Henry James hizo a la literatura universal llegara muchas décadas después de que feneciera. Sergio Pitol teoriza –en el prólogo a la edición de Lectorum, en 2002– que ello se debe a que la obra de este gran autor “no tenía nada que oliera a rebelión”, que sus descubrimientos “fueron realizados sigilosa, callada, neutramente”. Aun así, no concibo que ni los propios escritores contempor ...more
Dec 16, 2010 Athena rated it really liked it
Shelves: novel
The Aspern Papers is a novella written by Henry James, originally published in
The Atlantic Monthly in 1888. It is the story or rather the quest of an American editor - he is also the unnamed narrator of the story - to obtain a collection of letters by the American Romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern.

He believes that Juliana Bordereau, an elderly and ill lady who lives in Venice in a dilapidated old palazzo, with her spinster niece Miss Tina, in “obscurity” and “almost on nothing”, is in possession of
Jul 12, 2013 Jason rated it it was amazing
Shelves: fiction, classic, novella
The Aspern Papers is an outstanding novella, not quite as spine tingling as The Turn of the Screw, but still it manages to build suspense around a simple plot of a literary critic masquerading as a lodger in the attempt to get the letters that a famous American poet, Jeffrey Aspern, wrote to an older woman living in an old palace in Venice with her niece. The novel beautifully describes the three main characters--with Venice as a beautifully described fourth character lurking not too far in the ...more
Jul 05, 2012 Ivana rated it really liked it
This is a wonderful novella, that deals with (among other things) a very contaporary theme- issue of privacy. It is filled with suspense up to the very last page. The author ability to greate suspense is quite impressive, but he does not stop at that as his writing is so much more then creating anxiety and uncertainty...There is this ambiguity to his writing that I always felt to be both attractive and repulsive. It is as if there is some message that can never be fully grasped no matter how muc ...more
Jan 19, 2010 Nick rated it it was amazing
In his preface to "The Aspern Papers" Henry James writes that he got the idea for the story from rumors he heard while living in Florence that Jane Clairmont, the cousin of Mary Shelley and the mistress of Lord Byron, now an elderly lady was residing in Florence also living a reclusive life and guarding a stash of love letters from Byron. There were also rumors of a young woman living with her who periodically had some sort of behavioural problems, though exactly what those were could only be sp ...more
Dec 23, 2014 Carol rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
What can I say, this is Henry James after all. I was surprised that this was based on a true story and think that the Venice locale is an improvement on Florence. The story retains the tinge of the eerie which sometimes flavors James. Am I wrong to think that there is a bit of Hawthorne in this novella, as James did know the work of Hawthorne well. The scenes between the narrator and Miss Tita have genuine tension. The wraith like, elderly Miss Bordereau acts the role of Greek chorus.
Dec 26, 2014 Ffiamma rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: americana
grazie a questa bellissima edizione con testo a fronte, anche stavolta mi sono goduta la raffinatissima scrittura di henry james che, sapientemente, costruisce una storia conturbante ambientata in una venezia nascosta e decadente. ho seguito con passione le mosse del protagonista, alla ricerca di un misterioso e preziosissimo carteggio e la sua lotta tra desiderio e integrità, amando i protagonisti di questo breve ma intenso romanzo.
Apr 03, 2011 John rated it really liked it
Shelves: high-drama
A powerful novella about an amateur con artist trying to scam a paranoid old woman and her pitifully naive niece out of some valuable documents once penned by a renowned poet. There's nothing complicated about the plot, but the characters are memorable and vividly rendered, and it keeps you in suspense as to who will end up taking advantage of who when all is said and done. Moral conundrums abound. James is a powerful storyteller, and thankfully his coma-inducing introduction to this piece is no ...more
Feb 02, 2016 Tony rated it really liked it
THE ASPERN PAPERS. (1888). Henry James. ***1/2.
It’s been quite a while since I had read anything by James, primarily because of the length of most of his works. I also always found it difficult to read through one of his sentences without my tongue getting caught in a glottal stop caused by several commas, a colon, or a semicolon. In the case of his shorter works, however, there seems more of an effort to tell a story rather than to punctuate it. This is true of this short novel. It’s the story
Jose Moch
Jun 18, 2016 Jose Moch rated it it was amazing
My mother died last September. She was stolen 300 dollars from a cache she had by a spic indian neighbor who offered to help us after she was released from the hospital. Only eight people attended her funeral. She was 88 years old. I was left at 46 like Miss Tita Bordereau, literally without a relation in the world. Naturally, the novel hit home. After taking care of her for several years and pushing her around in her wheelchair, a crazy uncle was the indirect cause of her death.
That the narrato
Aug 16, 2010 Suzan rated it liked it
Shelves: classics
Sort of creepy novella about a dude that goes to Venice and connives his way into renting a room with the lover of a famous deceased author. He is seeking to obtain the papers of the author so he can publish them. Disturbing morals on the part of the dude. Creepy obsessions on the part of the old ladies. Oddly, it is a very similar tale to what actually happened to the Henry James papers.
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Henry James, OM, son of theologian Henry James Sr., brother of the philosopher and psychologist William James and diarist Alice James, was an American-born author, one of the founders and leaders of a school of realism in fiction. He spent much of his life in England and became a British subject shortly before his death. He is primarily known for a series of major novels in which he portrayed the ...more
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“Her face was not young, but it was simple; it was not fresh, but it was mild. She had large eyes which were not bright, and a great deal of hair which was not 'dressed,' and long fine hands which were--possibly--not clean.” 6 likes
“That was originally what I had loved him for: that at a period when our native land was nude and crude and provincial, when the famous 'atmosphere' it is supposed to lack was not even missed, when literature was lonely there and art and form akmost impossible, he had found the means to live and write like one of the first; to be free and general and not at all afraid; to feel, understand, and express everything.” 1 likes
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