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In The Aspern Papers, a cold and ruthless literary biographer travels to Venice on the trail of personal letters belonging to the deceased American poet Jeffrey Aspern. His journey takes him to a dilapidated, rambling house belonging to an elderly woman named Juliana Bordereau and her lonely niece, Miss Tina. Just how far will he go to get what he wants? Will morality confront his personal ambition and literary curiosity?
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- Tad Davis
A strong plot
I’m not a fan of Henry James, but I’m trying to fill in some gaps in my education. This is the third of his novels I’ve read recently. The other two were Washington Square and The Europeans. The Aspern Papers, with its strong and focused plot, makes an interesting contrast with those two novels. (I found them to be diffuse, a bit drab, oddly structured.)
The narrator of The Aspern Papers has a very specific goal, and the story ends when that goal is finally resolved. He starts out as a likable, intense man, more than a little obsessed with a poet from a previous generation. He is editing the works of Jeffrey Aspern, and he has reason to believe that an old flame of the poet’s still possesses a great many of Aspern’s papers. What he does to obtain them quickly loses him any sympathy (at least from me). But there’s no question that he, and the other two main characters, are drawn convincingly and with nuance. He has the decency to feel guilty about his actions.
Adam Sims (not Adams Sims, listed as the narrator as I write this) is a good match for Henry James. All in all, this is an enjoyable listen.