The Aspern Papers Themes

The Aspern Papers Themes

The Price for Obsession

This theme is the main topic in the story, since each character has an obsession which became the motive of their actions. The narrator has a fixed idea – to get the Aspern papers at any price. He lies to both Miss Bordereau and Miss Tita, tries to steal these documents and is ready even to marry Miss Tita in order to own these letters. He doesn’t care about other people feelings, but this obsession leads to dreadful consequences – Miss Tita burns the papers and he will never get them. That is the price he has to pay for all his deeds – never have an opportunity to achieve his goal. Miss Bordereau was obsessed with money and trying to get it she gives in rent a few rooms to a person that will try to steal her papers, Miss Tita is obsessed with the idea of loneliness, she even proposes the narrator not to stay alone after her aunt died. But we can’t always get what we want and sometimes it is even better when our desires don’t come true, because it always happens that the price for it is too high.

Self Interest

When a person needs something he or she is looking for ways to achieve it, and, as it often happens, we don’t waste an opportunity to use other people to satisfy our desires. Miss Bordereau is poor and she gives in rent her house to a strange man and wants him to marry her niece not because he is a man of honor, but because she thinks that he has a lot of money. The narrator is looking for the ways to make friends with two ladies in order to get the Aspern papers and Miss Tita proposes the narrator because she feels miserable and doesn’t want to stay lonely after her aunt dies. Self-interest is the great power that makes people lie, blackmail, mask their real individuality. But one should remember that sometimes the game is not worse the candle and the thing you longed to achieve is useless and meaningless. The most important thing here is to remain a person who cares about other people’s feelings because as you sow you may bow – the great truth of life.


It always happens that people are insincere with each other and there are different reasons of it. Among them are the desire to protect oneself, to cover up something, unwillingness to disclose or dishonest gain. The last one is about the narrator, he didn’t tell his real name, he hidden the real reason of his coming and even when he told Miss Tita the truth about it he has hidden the most important information from the poor lady – he doesn’t love her, she is even disgusting for him, but, nevertheless, he will marry her if she gives him the papers. Here we can see a contradiction between Miss Tita who always says what she feels and thinks and the narrator, who wears a mask of a man of honor. And, in the end, both suffer – the didn’t get what they wanted and there are just memories left for them – a broken heart for Miss Tita and burned papers for the narrator. Insincerity leads to lies and betrayal, and the only thing that can save a person in such a situation is the truth.

The Invasion of Privacy

This theme can be reflected inherently by Henry James’ own life, as he was supposedly extremely guarded of his personal affects (even going so far as to destroy some letters sent to him by those close to him, and asking them to do the same). Similarly, the nameless narrator pries into the private life of the famous novelist, Jeffery Aspern, and disrupts the relatively quiet life of a woman believed to be Aspern’s Mistress and her niece. In regards to the portrayal of each of the characters, the narrator is portrayed as dishonest throughout the novella because his sole ambition is to attain the papers, no matter the cost.

The Protégé vs. The Master

The idea of a young individual juxtaposed with an older, more experienced one is a theme that runs through much of Henry James’ work. The Aspern Papers, however, demonstrates this in a slightly different way. Rather than two individuals teaching the other all that they know, the narrator attempts to glean any information that he can from his beloved, dead poet, Jeffrey Aspern. In this way, then, Aspern himself is the Master and the narrator the Protégé because he continues to learn about Aspern’s private life even though the poet is long dead. His life, as it so happens, remains a mystery. Similarly, it could be said that Juliana and Tita (Aspern’s Mistress and her niece) also take on the position of the Master because they help the narrator ascertain certain aspects about Aspern’s life that he would not necessarily have otherwise.

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