A researcher of the great poet Jeffrey Aspern comes to Venice to meet with his ex-lover Juliana Bordereau, who lives with an unmarried niece Tina in a big house, and doesn’t communicate with anyone. Juliana has the Aspern’s letters the hero of the story dreams to get, but she hides them from everybody and puts an end to all attempts of Aspern’s biographers and admirers to get acquainted with her.
Knowing that she is living in poverty, he decides to rent several rooms in her house. Obsessed with the idea to get the letters, he is willing to woo her niece, in order to achieve his goal. His old friend Mrs. Prest, who is confided in his plans, exclaims: "Oh, first have a look at her!" In order not to cause Juliana’s suspicions, the hero appears in the house as an American traveler who wants to rent an apartment with a garden, which in Venice is a rarity. Tina accepts him with a timid bewilderment, but the hero’s kindness, his assertiveness and promise to tidy the garden led to her promising to talk with her aunt. Hero with bated breath is waiting for the meeting with the legendary Juliana, who turns out to be nothing but suspicious and greedy old woman with the interested in money.
She asks from him an exorbitant fee for the room, and he is even afraid that if he agrees with this fee, he will impersonate himself: nobody would pay so much. But being sure that when Juliana speaks about money, she forgets everything else, the hero agrees. Julian proudly shows in front of impractical and helpless Tina her ability to make business. The money she intends to Tina, who adores her and devotedly takes care of her. The niece treats the protagonist with sympathy, and he hopes to find in her an assistant.
The hero settles in Juliana’s house, but has been living in the house for a month and a half, he see Tina only once – when he brings the money. And Juliana he does not see even once. He hires a gardener and hopes to conciliate of the housewives at home, sending them bouquets of flowers. One day, after returning home in an odd hour, he meets Tina in the garden. The hero is afraid that she will be embarrassed by his appearance, but she is glad to see him, and suddenly she becomes very talkative. He tries to ask Tina about Aspern and eventually admits that he works on his oeuvre and is looking for new material about that writer. Tina leaves him being turmoil. Since then, she avoids him.
One day he meets Tina in the great hall, and she invites him to talk with Juliana. The hero is worried, but Tina says that she did not say anything about his interest in Aspern. Juliana thanks the hero for the flowers, and he promises to go on sending them. The hero is always trying to find in the greedy old woman the former Juliana – Aspern’s inspirer, but sees only an old woman hiding her eyes under the ugly green visor. Julian wants the hero to entertain her niece, and he gladly agrees to walk with her around the city. Not very popular woman, Tina takes a fancy to the hero more and more. She honestly tells him everything she knows about the Aspern’s letters, but she knows only that they exist. She does not agree to take the letters from Juliana and give them away - in fact it would mean that she betrayed her aunt.
The hero is afraid that Juliana would destroy the letters. Julian offers the hero to continue his staying in their house, but he has already spent so much money, that cannot afford paying so much for the rooms anymore. She agrees to make a price lower, but the hero does not want to pay for the six months ahead, and promises to pay monthly. As if to tease him, Juliana shows a miniature portrait of Aspern she is going to sell. Hero pretends that he doesn’t know who this man is, but he likes the artist’s skill. Juliana says proudly that the artist is her father, thus confirming the hero’s guess about her origin. She says that she would not depart with the portrait for less than a thousand pounds. The hero hasn’t so much money, and he suspects that actually she is not going to sell the portrait.
Few hours later Juliana feels sick, and Tina is afraid that she is going to die. The hero is trying to find out from Tina, where Juliana keeps the Aspern’s writings, but Tina feels two feelings struggling within her - sympathy for the hero and devotion to her aunt. She was looking for the letters, but hasn’t found them, and even if she has, she would not know whether to give them away: she does not want to cheat on Juliana.
In the evening, seeing that Juliana’s room is opened, the hero enters and holds out his hand to the secretary, where, as he supposes, the letters can be kept, but at the last minute he looks back and notices Juliana on the threshold of the bedroom. At that moment he sees for the first time her unusually glowing eyes. She hissed with fury: "vile scribbler!" - And falls into the arms of her niece.
The next morning the hero leaves Venice and returns only in twelve days. Julian died, and she has been already buried. Hero solaces Tina and asks her about the plans for future. Tin is at a loss and has not decided anything yet. She presents him with the Aspern’s portrait. The hero asks her about his letters. He gets to know that Tina prevented Juliana to burn them. Tina has them now, but she does not dare to give them to the hero - because Juliana guarded them from prying eyes so jealously. Tina shyly hints the hero, if he were not a stranger, if he were a member of the family, she would give him the letters.
The hero realizes that this clumsy spinster loves him and would like to become his wife. He rushes out of the house and cannot get over it: it appears that he unwittingly inspired a poor woman of hope, which he cannot realize. "I cannot marry a pathetic, ridiculous, old provincial girl for a bunch of the letters," - he decides. But after the night he realizes that he cannot give up the treasure he had been dreaming of for such a long time, and when he sees Tina in the morning, she seems to him rejuvenated and prettier. He is ready to marry her. But before he say about it Tina, she tells him that she has burned all the letters, leaf by leaf. Everything starts to blur in his eyes. When he wakes up, the spell scatters, and he sees an unsightly, baggy-dressed elderly woman again. The hero goes out.
He writes Tina that he has sold the Aspern’s portrait and sends quite a large sum, which he could not receive, if he really dared to sell it. In fact, he leaves the portrait for himself, and when he looks at him, he has heart aches at the thought of what he has lost - of course, it refers to the Aspern’s letters.