Chapter 1 Summary and Analysis

The unnamed narrator, an American editor, has come to Venice to obtain letters of his idol, the American poet Jeffrey Aspern, which are said to be in the possession of one of his former mistresses, Miss Juliana Bordereau. An American expatriate of his acquaintance, Mrs. Prest, comes to his aid after he takes her into his confidence. Miss Bordereau lives in isolation with her niece (possibly, says Mrs. Prest, her grandniece) in a run-down palazzo along a smaller canal. Mrs. Prest says she knows nothing about such papers. She had tried to see Miss Bordereau after hearing that she may be in financial straits, but Miss Bordereau's niece does not allow Mrs. Prest to see her.

The narrator and Mrs. Prest try to determine the best way to get in to see the elderly lady. The narrator’s editor colleague, John Cumnor, had written previously asking for an introduction so that they could talk about the letters. He receives a curt reply from the niece, stating that they know nothing of such letters and that he should stop bothering them. Not wanting to face the same rejection, the narrator must come up with a way to infiltrate their confidence without identifying himself with Cumnor. He is not even sure that the letters exist, but because the niece refers to the poet as “Mr. Aspern,” Mrs. Prest thinks that this indicates an intimacy or familiarity that is unknown to the general public.

Mrs. Prest suggests that the best way to make an acquaintance is to become a friend. She advises the narrator to approach Miss Bordereau about renting rooms from her in her palazzo. He decides he will have to sink to dishonesty and hypocrisy to achieve his goal, but he decides that acquiring the letters is well worth the moral price he will pay.

Mrs. Prest insists on taking the narrator past the Bordereau palazzo in a gondola, though he has passed by the place many times since he arrived in Venice. It is an edifice of about two or three hundred years, having an air “not so much of decay as of quiet discouragement, as if it had rather missed its career.” Mrs. Prest suggests that he go in immediately to inquire about rooms, but the narrator hesitates. If he is going to lie, and to live a lie for an...

(The entire section is 916 words.)