It’s been so long it seems since I finished reading Henry James’s Aspern Papers that I am bound to forget something so please forgive me if I do. I suppose it would technically be classified as a novella since it reaches that vague in between length where it is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel. Where, exactly, is the line between the too long and too short? It’s sort of like a case of Potter Stewart-ism, we know it when we see it.
I read the book through DailyLit. My experience reading prose went a lot better than reading drama (Trojan Women). I will try something else again when work settles down a bit and I actually have time to read email. The only downside to having read it through email is that I can’t flip through the pages looking for the interesting bits. I saved all the emails and even highlighted passages in red so I could find them but I have the book broken up into 44 emails and really, who was I kidding? I’m not going to search through the emails looking for the red passages. Yes, I have a spiffy search on my computer, I have a Mac after all, but it only works when you have some notion of what you are looking for. I can’t tell it to “find all the passages that are red.” I suppose I could do that if I knew how to write scripts, but as much as I like computers, there are some things I really don’t want to know how to do. But I digress.
Aspern Papers was loads of fun. James is a master of psychology. Briefly, the story is about a man, our unnamed narrator, who is a fan of the late poet Jeffrey Aspern. The narrator collects Aspern-iana and publishes it with his partner. These two are obsessed. Rumor has it that Aspern had some kind of affair with a Miss Bordereau. There were letters and perhaps poems and who knows what else. Turns out Miss Bordereau is very old and still alive and living with her niece Miss Tita in an out of the way house in a quiet and unfashionable part of Venice. The narrator’s partner had sent a letter of inquiry to Miss Bordereau a few years prior to the story and was told there were no papers and to bug-off. But the narrator and his partner didn’t believe it. So now we have the narrator in Venice and pretending to be someone he is not, a writer looking for an out of the way place to work and a garden. There is a weedy garden at the Bordereau house and our narrator manages to convince Miss B to let him some rooms. He hires a gardener and within no time is sending bunches of flowers to Miss B and Miss Tita hoping to get in their good graces and find out about the Aspern papers.
What ensues is a game of cat-and-mouse in which we are never certain until the very end of who knows what and how much and who is playing whom. All we know is what the narrator is up to and we know it is no good. He even goes so far as to flirt with Miss Tita who we are told is elderly but I suspect is probably in her 40s. In the end even the innocent Miss Tita, in love with the narrator, tries to bribe him, offering herself in marriage in return for what the narrator wants. Does he take the bribe? What happens to the Aspern papers? What a bout Miss Bordereau? Read the book and find out!
I haven’t read Henry James since college and after reading Aspern Papers I am not sure why I haven’t read more. But you wonderful readers have offered me so many suggestions on what James novels to read I am sure to get my fill of James. Now, I just have to figure out which one to start with and find a space in my reading queue.