In this classic 1888 novella, an anonymous narrator relates his obsessive quest to acquire some letters and other private documents that once belonged to the deceased Romantic poet Jeffrey Aspern. Attempting to gain access to the papers, the property of Aspern's former mistress, he rents a room in a decaying Venetian villa where the woman lives with her aging niece. Led by his zeal into increasingly unscrupulous behavior, the narrator is faced in the end with relinquishing his heart's desire or attaining it an an overwhelming price.
Inspired by an actual incident involving Claire Clairmont, once the mistress of Lord Byron, this masterfully written tale incorporates all those elements expected from James: psychological subtlety, deft plotting, the clash of cultures, and profoundly nuanced representation of scene, mood, and character. This volume also contains James's celebrated Preface from the New York edition of his collected works.