The great American writer Henry James (1843-1916) first visited Florence in October 1869. It was a city to which he would return again and again.
During the spring of 1887 he was staying in the Villa Brichieri-Colombi on Bellosguardo, where he began writing his fascinating novella, The Aspern Papers. James' friend, compatriot and fellow writer, Constance Fenimore Woolson (1840-94), had taken a year's lease on the villa and HJ lodged there as her guest.
In January of the same year, James had heard the anecdote which gave him the subject for his story. It concerned Claire Clairmont (1798-1879), Mary Shelley's step sister and the ci-devant mistress of Lord Byron (and the mother of his daughter, Allegra), who had been living in Florence from 1870 until her death in 1879.
The old lady had lived on Via Romana with her niece Paulina. She had in her possession some letters from Byron and Shelley, which a certain Shelley obsessive, Captain Edward Augustus Silsbee, was keen to acquire. Silsbee's plan was to lodge with the two ladies, to inveigle his way into their trust and so acquire the letters. However, things didn't quite work out according to plan!
In his novella James shifted the setting from Florence to Venice, the Clairmonts morphed into the Misses Bordereau and Shelley was transformed into the fictional American poet, Jeffrey Aspern. The Venetian Palazzo Soranzo Cappello (and its garden), which is situated on the Rio Marin, served as the model for the palace where much of the action of the novella takes place.
James completed The Aspern Papers while he was staying in Venice at the Palazzo Barbaro, the property of his Bostonian friends, Daniel and Ariana Curtis.
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