James (a very private man) examines the conflicts involved when a biographer seeks to pry into the intimate life of his subject. James paints the nameless narrator of The Aspern Papers as, in Juliana's words, a "publishing scoundrel", but also generates sympathy for the narrator as he tries to work the papers loose from Juliana, who is presented as greedy, domineering and unappealing.
The story unwinds into the double climax of Juliana's discovery of the narrator about to break into her desk, and Miss Tita's revelation that she has destroyed the papers. Miss Tita is ashamed of her marriage proposal to the narrator, but James implies that she does exactly the right thing by depriving him of the papers. In a way, she develops into the true heroine of the story.