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The Aspern Papers

The Aspern Papers

Written by Henry James

Narrated by David Thorn


The Aspern Papers

Written by Henry James

Narrated by David Thorn

ratings:
3.5/5 (9 ratings)
Length:
4 hours
Released:
Jan 1, 2009
ISBN:
9780982185384
Format:
Audiobook

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Also available as bookBook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook

Description

Henry James' short but much acclaimed suspense novel. Set in Venice, it's the story of an American editor's determination to acquire a collection of unpublished letters at any cost.

The letters are to the former mistress of a famous, deceased poet, Jeffrey Aspern. The mistress, Miss Bordereau is now very elderly, living modestly in a dilapidated old palazzo with her shy, awkward and uncomely niece Tita, an unwitting 'pawn' in the plot.

The strong characterizations of the three main players in the story make for a compelling story of lies, betrayal and psychological warfare. James' gift for building suspense is evident, the tension builds until the very last moment.
Released:
Jan 1, 2009
ISBN:
9780982185384
Format:
Audiobook

Also available as...

Also available as bookBook


About the author

Henry James (1843–1916) was an American writer, highly regarded as one of the key proponents of literary realism, as well as for his contributions to literary criticism. His writing centres on the clash and overlap between Europe and America, and The Portrait of a Lady is regarded as his most notable work.

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What people think about The Aspern Papers

3.7
9 ratings / 8 Reviews
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Reader reviews

  • (4/5)
    This is a novella of 130 pages, set in 1880's Venice. Our protagonist is a writer and critic who studies among other things the works of Jeffrey Aspern, a famous deceased American poet. He is on the trail of Aspern's undiscovered papers, which he believes to be in possession of one of his more obscure past lovers, who now at an advanced age is infirm and confined to a secluded dusty Venetian palazzo. The story tells of our hero's efforts to inveigle his way into the household of the elderly lady in order to gain possession of the papers. It is a story of obsession, tension, and psychology. Henry James is a fine writer who not only knows how to write good prose, but also how to pace a story and tell a good tale.
  • (5/5)
    I just re-read Henry James' novella the "Aspern Papers," again a second time after thirty years. It was first recommended to me in about 1985 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. I've seen archivists turn themselves inside out to ingratiate themselves with the "keeper of the flame" in hopes of scoring the spoils, and at time resorting to flattery, lies, deceptions, phoney friendship, and non-existent jobs. Looking at a small miniature painting of Aspern, the narrator thinks that it is not very well painted, but talking with the old lady, Juliana,the owner of the painting, he praises it highly, and then learns that it was painted by her father. The narrator's relief that he avoided a misstep by avoiding the truth is almost palpable. I've seen this kind of hypocrisy in action many times. Re-reading the story at leisure, I realize that the story is about much more, all about the treacherous moral ground that a biographer or really any historian treads, invading private lives and exposing them to the world. Who has the moral right to do such a thing? James was writing just as emerging technology enabled newspaper photographers to print photos without the permission of the subjects and expose unsuspecting people to the uncaring scrutiny of the masses. James himself was secretive about his private life and his many intense friendships with women as well as men as he roamed Europe. He knew the terrain. The act of publishing is a violation of privacy as Juliana, the owner of the letters accuses the narrator:"Ah you publishing scoundrel!" The narrator is willing to lie, cheat and steal to see the content of the great poet Aspern's private love letters. The narrator knows to keep his own privacy: his real name is not revealed and not even the fictitious name he uses to gain entrance to Juliana's Venetian Palazzo. So he is definitely immoral. But there is more. From start to finish, the unnamed biographer makes snide gratuitous comments denigrating women, particularly Juliana's niece Miss Tina: "It was impossible to allow too much for her simplicity." It's up to the reader to decide what actually causes his defeat. There is an ironic, self-aware soap opera technique at work in the novella, with a cliff hanger or shocker at the end of each chapter, a relic I suppose of the way the book was serialized in its initial publication over several months in "The Atlantic." Chapter two ends in a parody of the serial style: "My emotion keeping me silent she spoke first, and the remark she made was exactly the most unexpected." Chapter ends. This understated self-aware humor is a sheer delight. He wrote under the spell of Florence and Venice, the initial impetus being an ancient English resident in Florence with letters of Byron and Shelley. He shifted the scene from Florence to Venice with all that eerie Venetian light and crumbling grandeur. And he shifted the subject from a fine English poet to a non-existent American, knowing well there never was an American poet in 1820 of the same stature as Byron. Ironic wishful thinking here.There is clear foreshadowing, this is not a spoiler it's early in the story, that the papers turn to ashes...but the tension is in why and how....I love it...but then I'm an archivist. Then in a case of life imitating art, some years after writing the story one of his close friends, Constance Fenimore Woolson, the great niece of Fenimore Cooper, committed suicide, jumping out of the window of her Venetian apartment. Earlier James and Fenimore had shared the same cook and shared meals every night in Florence for weeks. It's known that she had wanted a closer relationship, rather like Miss Tina and the narrator. After her suicide, James ingratiated himself with her family by spending weeks sorting her papers. And her letters from James disappeared along with most of hers to him. Anita Feferman wrote a fine biography of my friend Jean van Heijenoort entitled "Politics, Logic and Love," but she published it after Jean's death. Privacy in legal terms is supposed to end at death. Editing his stories and his own papers, James ensured his privacy and his fame way into the future.
  • (3/5)
    This story began at an excruciatingly slow pace and then improved as it went along. Basically, this is a tale of greed in several forms and the battle between it and higher principles. Quite derogatory towards women if you ask me. The problem is that is is really well written.
  • (3/5)
    The first person narration leaves the reader in questionable company as the main character unswervingly but increasingly recklessly seeks the object of his passion (the papers of famed poet, Aspern, that provides the title). The self-justification and maneuvers of the narrator, as well as the dialogue that leaves us feeling neither person was understanding the other, is expertly drawn. You can see why James is considered a master.
  • (5/5)
    I really liked this one. Having never read any Henry James before, I figured it was best to start out with a novella, just to see if I would like the writing style. Not only did I like the writing style, I really enjoyed the calm, serene manner in which the story unfolds in that wonderful Italian city, Venice. James does a first rate job communicating the experience of Venice as a warm, delightful one to behold while at the same time shrouding the elderly Miss Bordereau and her spinster niece, Tina under a darkened veil of mystery. The story has no jarring elements to it. Instead, it has a beautiful fluidity to it that made me want to curl up in a chair and just let the story wash over me. Keeping in mind that the story was written well over 100 years ago, the increasingly unscrupulous behavior of our narrator would probably not even cause an eyebrow to be raised today but James does a great job conveying how inappropriate our narrator's thoughts and actions are, making me resent his almost single-minded mission to inveigle his way into the Misses Bordereau's home and lives. It wasn't until the very end before I realized what a wonderful game of cat and mouse has played out in this story. This story is praised as being a brilliant work of psychological fiction, and I believe it is exactly that. A perfect introduction to Henry James' works, for me anyways, and I am now quite happy to add him to my list of classic authors I am slowly working my way through.
  • (4/5)
    When a literary editor discovers that the Juliana who inspired long-dead poet Jeffrey Aspern is still living in Venice and may have letters and other papers relating to the poet, he schemes to get access to the papers. He meets the woman and her niece under an assumed name and insinuates himself into their lives. Soon he's involved in a battle of wits with the old woman as he attempts to get her to disclose the existence and location of the poet's papers without revealing his true identity to her. To what lengths will he go to gain his prize?The novella is said to have been inspired by an incident concerning Claire Clairmont, Byron's mistress who long outlived him and who was believed to have papers related to the dead poet. The story suggests that celebrity journalism has a long history, and only the methods have changed. It also provides a snapshot of expatriate life in late 19th century Europe. The unnamed literary editor serves as the first person narrator, and I enjoyed hearing the story read by Adrian Cronauer.
  • (5/5)
    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 background.

    The narrator is in many ways very unsympathetic, in that he is lying to his hostess and even pretending to be in love with the hostesses niece just to get his hands on papers they do not want to deliver. But he is also obsessed, serving the higher purpose of the poet Jeffrey Aspern, and also fully honest and transparent with himself about his motives and his means.

    The older woman, who is believed to have had an affair with the famous poet in her youth, is in some ways even more interesting--cagey, mercenary, but also deeply private and protective of her legacy.

    And then there's her niece, an elderly spinster who is portrayed as naive, loyal to her aunt, but also intrigued and excited about the new stranger who moves in with them.

    All three of these characters are increasingly intertwined as the tension builds to a well constructed conclusion.
  • (4/5)
    Der namen- und alterslose Erzähler dieser Geschichte reist aus Amerika nach Venedig, weil er erfahren hat, dass die ehemalige Geliebte des von ihm angebeteten (fiktiven) Dichters Jeffrey Aspern - der selbst schon seit vielen Jahrzehnten tot ist - noch lebt und - so vermutet er - zahlreiche Briefe und weitere Schätze des Dichters hütet. Der Wunsch des Erzählers, diese Schriften in seinen Besitz zu bringen und für seine literarischen Forschungen zu analysieren, wird zur Besessenheit. Also mietet er sich unter Verschleierung seiner Identität in dem alten Palast in Venedig, in dem die alte Dame und ihre Nichte sehr zurückgezogen leben, als Untermieter ein. Zwischen den drei Personen entwickelt sich ein zunehmend spannendes Katz- und Maus-Spiel um diese Papiere, das Henry James auf gewohnt hohem literarischem Niveau beschreibt.