The Aspern Papers

It’s taken me days to write a review on this book – and not because I’ve been busy. I just can’t figure out what to say about it! ……………….. If I MUST, all I can say is that the book strangely led nowhere for me.

In The Aspern Papers Henry James shows the common practice of publishers to invade the private lives of public figures, how the family members or intimate acquaintances react to this invasion and the awkward situation created when a publisher schemes and lies for what he wants.

The narrator of the novella, an unnamed publisher, wants “The Aspern Papers”; papers he is sure that Juliana Bordereau, former lover of the famous poet Jeffrey Aspern, must have. He goes prepared to do whatever he must to get those papers and, under false pretences, obtains admission to the house she lives in with her niece Tina. Eventually, he is caught in an awkward position and must decide whether he will be absolutely unscrupulous or if he still has some standards of his own.

This is one of those few times that I loved the development of the story – it had me reading till the last page. The obsession for those unseen papers increases as the story progresses and the reader, along with the publisher, would do anything to just know what they contained. The interaction in the book is namely between the publisher and Tina Bordereau. Having revealed the truth to the niece, he hopes for some help from her. The ending was a shock to say the least. I, like the publisher, was unbelieving. I had invested so much in finding out what the papers were and if he would get them that I felt I had lost something myself. This is why The Aspern Papers felt like it went nowhere – because as far as the poor publisher was concerned, nowhere is where he ended.

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