1998: The Aspern Papers

By Henry James
Adapted and Directed by Jonathan Holloway
Designed by Neil Irish
Music by Paul Clark


1998: The Aspern Papers

Far from the busy tourist trails, in the crumbling back-streets of Venice, an old woman lives in quiet obscurity. She is attended by her plain, earnest ‘neice’ – a middle-aged woman who has never experienced life outside the walls of their deserted palazzo. Neighbours think they may be witches, they are very rarely seen. This isolated world is shattered by the arrival of Henry James – a charming, lively and determind American academic.

Henry is obsessed by Jeffrey Aspern, a renowned poet of world stature. The old woman – Julianna – was said to be Aspern’s lover and confidante, and Henry belives she possesses a remarkable archive of the dead man’s letters and unpublished works. He wants access to those memories, contained in the tapes she listens to, the papers she pours over. Henry is there to plunder Julianna’s past, is prepared to do whatever is necessary, and once installed in the household sets about the ruthless seduction of her unsuspecting niece. It is a psychological game. Henry and the old woman manoeuvre around each other with the cunning of chess players. But who is the finer player, and can there be a winner?