Thursday, August 12, 2010

THE ASPERN PAPERS by Henry James (1888)

I came across this novella by Henry James while I was reading John Berendt's book about Venice, CITY OF FALLING ANGELS, because one of Ezra Pound's relatives gifted him a first edition of THE ASPERN PAPERS, insisting that the story therein was being played out in present day Venice through the life of Olga Rudge, Pound's longtime mistress and aging guardian of his letters and poems.

James published THE ASPERN PAPERS first in the Atlantic Monthly and then in book form at the age I am now. It is a Jamesian tale insofaras the protagonist is an American trying to insinuate his way into a European community under false pretense.

Our unnamed narrator (who has assumed a fake nom de plume complete with engraved calling cards)is on the hunt for the correspondence between esteemed poet Jefferey Aspern and his one-time love Juliana Bordereau, an aging crone living in a palazzio on an out of the way calle in Venice. He is an editor and critic and above all sycophantic admirer of Aspern's poetry. He devises a plan to pose as a writer and to rent out rooms from the Misses Bordereau, the aforementioned elderly spinster and her middle-aged niece Tina who is both in charge of her care and in her care.

Through a convenient cash agreement for leasing the space to do his work with the avaracious hope of gaining access to the private papers he so covets, this quintessentially Jamesian figure wheedles his way into the confidence of the niece, believing his gentlemanly charm will suffice. And, of course, it is simply not enough to secure the deal he desires.

It seems to me that THE ASPERN PAPERS is a story for all time. Where there is greed and opportunity, people simply can't seem to help themselves.

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