Henry James visited Florence numerous times, staying in several different places. However, the residence with which he is, perhaps, most associated is the Villa Brichieri-Colombi on Bellosguardo, where he wrote The Aspern Papers.
James' friend, compatriot, and fellow writer, Constance Fenimore Woolson, had taken a year's lease on the villa and HJ stayed there as her guest. James penned the novella during the months of April and May, 1887.
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 stepsister and the ci-devant mistress of 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 the Via Romana with her niece Paulina and 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 Missess Bordereau and Shelley became the fictional American poet, Jeffrey Aspern.