What is The Aspern Papers?
The Aspern Papers is a novella by twentieth-century American author Henry James It was first published in 1888 and is set in Venice, Italy. The novella follows a nameless narrator who is searching for hidden letters between a famous poet, Jeffrey Aspern, and his former lover. In order to obtain them, the narrator must rent a room in an old mansion, the home of an elderly woman who has knowledge of the letters. Throughout the novella, the narrator continues to struggle with the ethical implications of his mission, including his respect for the woman’s privacy and his own selfishness as he strives to achieve his goal.
The Aspern Papers examines themes of artistic inspiration, obsession, and manipulation, as well as the power of memory and the price of fame. These themes have inspired many essay topics related to The Aspern Papers. Here are five of the best examples:
1. The Impact of Literary Fame: How does fame impact the work of Jeffrey Aspern and other characters in the novella, and what can be learned from their experiences?
2. The Ethics of Obsession: How is the protagonist’s obsession with the letters reflective of the ethics surrounding literary scholarship, and what do his actions demonstrate about human nature?
3. Creative Inspiration Versus Reality: How does the narrator’s search for the letters help shape his views of artistic inspiration and the reality of the world?
4. The Role of Memory in Art: How does the narrator’s recollection of Jeffrey Aspern’s past work shape his views of the poet and of memory’s role in creativity?
5. Manipulation and Power in The Aspern Papers: How is power affected by manipulation in the novella, and how do the characters use it to their advantage?