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The Aspern Papers

Henry James

Book Overview: 

One of James’s favorite short novels, the Aspern Papers tells of the efforts of the nameless narrator to procure the papers of a famous, but now dead, American poet. His attempts to secure them from the poet’s former lover and her niece, now recluses in Venice, are stymied both by them, and by his own mistakes in his quest.

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Book Excerpt: 
. . . that her own question might have looked overreaching.

"What do YOU know? You are ignorant," Miss Bordereau remarked; not with acerbity but with a strange, soft coldness.

"Yes, of money—certainly of money!" Miss Tita hastened to exclaim.

"I am sure you have your own branches of knowledge," I took the liberty of saying, genially. There was something painful to me, somehow, in the turn the conversation had taken, in the discussion of the rent.

"She had a very good education when she was young. I looked into that myself," said Miss Bordereau. Then she added, "But she has learned nothing since."

"I have always been with you," Miss Tita rejoined very mildly, and evidently with no intention of making an epigram.

"Yes, but for that!" her aunt declared with more satirical force. She evidently meant that but for this her niece would never have got on at all; the point of the observation however being lost on . . . Read More

Community Reviews

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...more

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...more

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 i...more

Sembra che siano 30 anni che non rileggo questo libro: è tempo di riprenderlo in mano, sapendo di ritrovare l’immenso piacere della prima e delle altre volte.
So che ci saranno altre scoperte, anche se ormai lo conosco bene.
Ma è un’opera che non finisce di regalare e sve...more

Though written eight years before James’ Figure in the Carpet, The Aspern Papers is a more sophisticated, richer work. Here James has set himself a larger stage in which to develop characters grown out of the intrigue of the tale. While reading I felt the stage growing, as though James was keepin...more

Giallo veneziano d'autore
"Il carteggio Aspern", breve e bellissimo romanzo, venne scritto da H. James nel 1887 durante un suo soggiorno in Italia.
Lo spunto deriva da un fatto di cui sentì parlare: un fervido ammiratore di Shelley, avendo saputo che l'ormai anziana amante di Byron (e madre di All...more

Recommended by Michael, The Aspern Papers is a remarkable short story/novela by James who wrote my favorite ghost story of all time--The Turn of the Screw. As with the Turn of the Screw, much is left unsaid, the reader has to determine through extremely minute variations of conversation and subtl...more

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-...more

What did I think?
It's really hard to think feeling weak in the presence of sheer beauty, having your breath taken away and being hypnotised!

Two weeks later
Not much has changed since I finished reading. I still feel almost as infatuated with this novella as the nameless narrator was obsessed with...more

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 wil...more

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