In The Aspern Papers, published in 1888, Henry James explores the price of fame, the loss of privacy, and the persistent demands of an obsessed public. Written at a time when he was living in Florence in the home of Constance Fenimore Woolson (a distant relative of the American author James Fenimore Cooper), James bases his story on an account he heard of someone trying to obtain letters written by the British poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. The prospect of having details of one's life closely examined is an overwhelming prospect for any celebrity, and James brings out the inhumanity of his amoral narrator with a contempt that only the victim of the nineteenth-century “paparazzi” must have known. Juliana Bordereau's fear of having her most intimate relationship revealed by a “publishing scoundrel,” as she calls the narrator, provides the impetus for the seclusion of her life. The character of Tina, Juliana's niece, is tasked with safeguarding her aunt's privacy. Miss Tina's struggle in deciding whether to honor that request or to betray it for the possibility of marriage to a man who does not love her gives a poignant subtext to this tale of manipulation and obsession.
Did this raise a question for you?