The Aspern Papers

Critical evaluation

James thought so highly of this story that he put it first in volume 12 of The New York Edition, ahead of even The Turn of the Screw. Critics have almost unanimously agreed with him about the tale's superb quality. Leon Edel wrote, "The story moves with the rhythmic pace and tension of a mystery story; and the double climax ... gives this tale ... high drama".[1]

The central characters are all fully realized, and James describes Venice so lovingly that the city almost becomes a character in its own right, a crumbling, beautiful, mysterious place where the incredible becomes real and the strange is almost commonplace. Critics have disagreed about the narrator's guilt and Miss Tita's complex motives, but few deny that James has presented the pair with masterful completeness.

The theme of an editor or literary biographer's search for hitherto secret information about an author was used later by, amongst others, Somerset Maugham in "Cakes and Ale" (loosely based on the life of the once popular British novelist Hugh Walpole), Penelope Lively in "According to Mark", A.S. Byatt in Possession and Alan Hollinghurst in The Stranger's Child. Most significantly, James' close friend, Edith Wharton, used this theme as the subject of her first novel, The Touchstone.

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