Possession

Possession

by A. S. Byatt

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Overview

A. S. Byatt’s beloved novel—winner of the Booker Prize and an international best seller—is a spellbinding intellectual mystery and an utterly transfixing love story.

Roland Michell and Maud Bailey are young academics in the 1980s researching the lives of two Victorian literary figures: the major poet Randolph Henry Ash and the lesser-known “fairy poetess” Christabel LaMotte. After coming across hints of a long-buried and potentially explosive secret in the poets’ letters and journals, Maud and Roland join forces to track their subjects’ movements from London to Yorkshire to Brittany, tracing clues embedded in poems and hunting down evidence in dusty archives and in a freshly opened grave. Their eagerness to uncover the truth draws the two lonely scholars together, but what they discover will have implications they could not have imagined.    
 
An extraordinary counterpoint of passions and ideas, POSSESSION is woven throughout with invented historical documents and poetry of dazzling richness and depth, bringing Byatt’s Victorian characters vividly to life. The result is both a gripping story and a brilliant exploration of the nature of love and obsession—and of what we can know about the past.


Introduction by Philip Hensher

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780679735908
Publisher: Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date: 10/01/1991
Series: Vintage International Series
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 576
Sales rank: 120,590
Product dimensions: 5.10(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

A. S. Byatt is famed for her short fiction, collected in Sugar and Other Stories, The Matisse Stories, and The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye. Her full-length novels include the Booker Prize-winning Possession and the trilogy sequence The Virgin in the Garden, Still Life, and Babel Tower.

Hometown:

London, England; France

Date of Birth:

August 24, 1936

Place of Birth:

Sheffield, England

Education:

B.A., Newnham College, Cambridge, 1957; graduate study at Bryn Mawr College and Somerville College

Read an Excerpt

Excerpted from the Introduction


 The historical novel had been one of the glories of the nineteenth-century novel, but as the twentieth century progressed, it passed into the realms of the specialist and of the genre writer. Some of the novels the Victorians esteemed most highly had taken place outside living memory, and were virtuoso reconstructions of a lost period. The historical novels of Scott, Thackeray, Eliot and Dickens were not outside their main endeavour, but were at the centre and perhaps also the peak of it. (George Eliot was paid more for Romola  than for any other novel.)

Perhaps the evocation of lost times is an occupation for a leisured and secure age. Certainly, as the twentieth century progressed, fewer and fewer novelists seemed inclined to take on the remote past as a subject, unless they were going to declare it as their specialist occupation. It was rare, by midcentury, that a historical novel would be given wide approval and serious consideration. When Evelyn Waugh broke off  from his usual field to write his remarkable Helena,  set in late Imperial Rome, audiences were nonplussed and critics largely dismissive of his seriousness. Even now, scholars of Waugh have a tendency to set it aside as less interesting than his other novels. It is a historical novel, and therefore not serious. The historical classics of the period somehow stand aside, like Robert Graves’s I, Claudius  and Claudius the God . There were some undeniably distinguished writers who worked with the remote past, such as Sylvia Townsend Warner, whose The Corner that Held Them  now seems a classic of the postwar novel. But most novelists who turned to the Middle Ages or elsewhere ran the risk of being regarded as having left the mainstream of novelistic seriousness, as one who wrote a science-fiction epic might nowadays. The field was left to specialists, such as Georgette Heyer or Waugh’s friend Alfred Duggan, whose qualities are only now starting to be assessed, or to Mary Renault, who started to find ways to discuss modern-day anxieties through the prism of the past.

 By the time A. S. Byatt published Possession  in 1990 , the mood had been changing for some time. Perhaps the first significant statement in the modern revival of the historical novel was John Fowles’s The French Lieutenant’s Woman  in 1969 . Fowles did not satisfy himself with creating a masterly fictional texture, an illusionary recreation of the nineteenth century, but concerned himself about the relationship of the present and the past. The observer’s late twentieth-century eye explicitly incorporates concerns about nuclear devastation and views a lost reality with an existentialist eye;  modern-day film actresses, bestsellers from the 1960 s (‘Victorian valley of the dolls’) and urinals which today stand where the Assembly Rooms once did;  all combine to create a clear anxiety about the 1960 s, and not a deliberate reconstruction of a past. ‘She was Victorian,’ Fowles said, ‘and since I always saw her in the same static long shot, with her back turned, she represented a reproach on the Victorian age. An outcast.’ The form of the novel, too, is explicitly of the nouveau roman , with its multiple possible endings, a statement for the age of B. S. Johnson. The famous 1981  film of the novel, scripted by Harold Pinter and directed by Joseph Losey, made an important contribution by constructing two parallel narratives, one in the past, the other in the present day. Many novels, in the decades to come, would follow the same double narrative path, present in the film of The French Lieutenant’s Woman  but not its source novel.

In the years after 1969 , a series of serious novelists began to turn to remote history as a proper subject for new, serious fiction. J. G. Farrell’s great sequence of empire had obvious applicability to current-day concerns, as well as a very modern appreciation of absurdity, as Farrell demonstrated when he denounced the Booker Prize for its sponsorship of an ongoing colonialism, even as the prize was awarded to him for The Siege of Krishnapur  in 1973 . V .S. Naipaul’s magisterial fictional endeavour, too, was starting to place historical fiction in a new light;  though Naipaul’s fiction was not historical, it had a fierce commitment to remote causes, and was always apt to place modern-day events in the context of the distant past. When, of all people,William Golding turned from the ferocious modernday fantasy of Darkness Visible  to the Regency drama of Rites of  Passage, it was not regarded as a divertimento, but as a continuing attempt to investigate the sources of man’s propensity to evil. Golding, too, added an important new element to the rehabilitation of the historical novel. Where Fowles and Farrell had written, sometimes aggressively, in their own 1960s and 1970s styles, sprung from modernity and brutal efficiency, Golding wrote in his chosen age’s own voice. ‘Pastiche’ had been a dirty word for critics, as though it were a trivial act to try to reconstruct the way subjects thought, talked and saw the world. Now, it started to seem not far from a necessity. The Sapir-Whorf hypothesis in linguistics was discredited; its claim that the speakers of a language see and understand the world in ways conditioned by the structure of their language was, to the professionals, not credible. In the years to come, novelists would differ. If the past was to be understood, and the ways we understood it were to be made clear, then it must be allowed to express itself in its own terms. The novelist writing about the 1860s should open his mouth, and allow the 1860s to speak, as if, sentence by sentence, the 1860s were still alive. Any number of historical novels could have been prefaced, as Peter Carey’s great investment in the historical voice,  True History of the Kelly Gang was in 2001, by Faulkner’s line from  Requiem for a Nun: ‘The past is never dead. It’s not even past.’ (Actually, with the compliment of memory, Carey slightly misquotes Faulkner, and says ‘the past is not dead’. Evidently, the principle was so deeply embedded in the novelist’s imagination that he felt he had no need to check its accuracy.)

As the historical novel was transforming itself, over the twenty years following the publication of  The French Lieutenant’s Woman, an English novelist of remarkable talents was making her slow way forward. A. S. Byatt came from a family of exceptional gifts; one sister was the novelist Margaret Drabble, another a distinguished art historian. Their background was Quaker, intellectual, fiercely questing and interested in the world rather than in the self. Speaking to me in an interview for the  Paris Review in 1998, Byatt said of her earliest writing days that at university ‘I sat there in most of the lectures I went to, which weren’t many, writing this novel very obsessively and extremely slowly. And knowing it was no good, and knowing  I didn’t want to write a novel about a young woman at a university who wanted to write a novel, and equally knowing I didn’t know anything else, and had  to write that sort of novel . . .’

Byatt published her first novel, Shadow of a Sun  in 1964  (later reprinted under its intended title, The Shadow of the Sun ). In the years following, she worked with great distinction as an extramural teacher and as a university lecturer. The novels came out steadily, but slowly. In 1978 , she began to publish a quartet of substantial novels with The Virgin in the Garden . Followed by Still Life  (1985 ), Babel Tower  (1996 ) and A Whistling Woman  (2002 ), the quartet, contemplated from the early 1960 s onwards, shows an unusual sensibility. The development of an individual English mind, and of the changes in society around it, are traced from the 1953  Coronation and the decades following;  realist construction is mirrored by the fantasies of the age, whether the Coronation pageantry or the 1960 s obsession with Sade and Tolkien in Babel Tower . Her imagination was rooted, like so many great novelists from Eliot to Lawrence and Bennett, in English Nonconformism;  like them, it delighted in extravagance, the allure of narrative and exact accounts of splendour. ‘I like Bunyan,’ she told me, ‘the kind of ranting, roaring, visionary English Nonconformist.’ The imagination had, too, a sometimes uncomfortable interest in finding out where things had come from, what the world was made of, and how it was changing under the human gaze. She was always well-regarded, but, as novelists who are doing something entirely new often find, the journey can be slow. ‘[Reviewers] made two sorts of things of [The Virgin in the Garden ],’ she reflected twenty years after its publication without resentment. ‘Quite a lot of the reviewers approached it in a sort of crabwise respectful way and said, This is a big book, and I haven’t yet worked out exactly what’s going on, which is reasonable. And then there were a few people who said, This is another novel by somebody rather like Margaret Drabble.’


*


Possession was published in 1990, to enormous success; it remains one of the most popular and admired winners of the  Booker Prize. It cannot, quite, be described as a historical novel, though it is profoundly concerned with the past, and engages with its period through virtuoso re-creation of that past’s writings in multiple forms – like Golding, though with incomparably more breadth and variety, it enters into its period’s styles of writing with respect and authority. It clearly believes that to talk about the past, you have to respect the past’s way of talking, and use what words it knew and used, not start upon it from a point of view which assumes it knows more, and knows better. Perhaps one influence on the novelist’s idea of the possible had been a famous volte-face in a literary career. Byatt’s admired friend Penelope Fitzgerald had written five novels of modern life, before writing an astounding biography of the Georgian poet Charlotte Mew and turning, in her last years, to historical fiction of great authority and detail – three of these were published by the time of Possession ’s publication, and it is possible to glimpse some aspects of Fitzgerald’s Charlotte Mew in Possession ’s Blanche Glover, and particularly her dreadful end. Unlike Fitzgerald, however, Possession  has only three episodes where the past is observed without the intervention of documents, with the omniscient novelist’s eye, in chapters 15 , 25  and the ‘Postscript, 1868 ’. In the rest, the past lives ferociously, irrepressibly, but through a great stack of documents, handwritten, preserved, lost, buried, published or suppressed. It is those documents that enter into, and transform the lives of its modern-day heroes, schemers, idealists, villains and innocent victims. ‘You have this thing about this dead man,’ Val says in the novel to Roland, ‘Who had a thing about dead people. That’s OK but not everyone is very bothered about all that.’ Not everyone:  but, in the world of the novel, almost everyone.

Those modern-day characters are principally scholars and academics. By the time she wrote Possession , Byatt had left the world of academia, but she did not underestimate its passions or its brutal capacities. One of the pleasures of Possession  is how exact and scrupulous are the considerations on which its most sensational drama rests:  it turns, for instance, on a very specific point in legal copyright, that the ownership of the content of a letter rests with its author or the author’s heirs, although its  physical substance may be sold like any other object by its owner, who remains the recipient. (This interesting point took on a real-life interest in the wake of the death of Diana, Princess of Wales, when a correspondent of hers sought to sell some very intimate letters;  the letters could indeed be sold, as they belonged to him, but their contents could not be reproduced by the slavering press, as the ownership of the words had passed to the Princess’s heirs, who naturally refused permission for their property to be reproduced.)

The abstruse points on which the drama rests are exactly accounted for, and quickly overcome any scepticism. A very full range of scholarly inquiry is entered into:  the scholars occupy pretty well every intellectual position, as well as expressing a wonderful range of human types. Leonora Stern, Beatrice Nest, Blackadder, the villainous Mortimer Cropper, Maud, Roland and the opportunistic Fergus Wolff  represent as varied a range of characters as any reader could wish. They also map out a convincing and gripping range of critical and scholarly approaches. For some years, the drama of dissent in university English faculties had been played out in public, since a very famous row between structuralists and historicists at Cambridge in 1981 . The gap between Beatrice’s and Leonora’s approaches to the feminine, or Wolff  ’s and Cropper’s ideas of what literature might be are, at root, detailed and potentially abstruse. They become, and remain simply thrilling because of the lives they direct, and the lives they seek to address;  also because the passions and secrets of the past have a way of leaking into the present. The present-day plot is open, unpredictable,
inconclusive and largely explicit whereas the events of the past are closed, only to be read, finished with and, at the start, completely withdrawn from anyone’s understanding. Still, as Roland reflects, the present day represents ‘a plot or fate that seemed, at least possibly, to be not their plot or fate but that of those others’.

The novel turns on suppressed and forgotten facts, surfacing through papers, misread poems, letters and diaries. The truth of the events between Christabel and Ash slowly comes to light. But the novel never forgets that the past swallows its truths, too. Perhaps its most intense moments are out of reach of  documentary reconstruction;  when Roland and Maud begin to fall in love, they take ‘a simple picnic. Fresh brown bread, white Wensleydale cheese, crimson radishes, yellow butter, scarlet tomatoes, round bright green Granny Smiths and a bottle of mineral water. They took no books.’ The assertion of freedom from literature is cunningly undermined;  we can hardly help but think of Dante’s Paolo and Francesca, who say ‘quel giorno finimmo lı' la lettura’;  we are reminded that there are moments in lives, perhaps key moments, that nobody writes down and which go beyond words. The novel ends, indeed, with an act of oblivion, and at the centre of the plot is Blanche Glover, who remains tantalizingly out of reach of the novel’s interest. The novel’s names are always interesting, whether Ash, or the fact that when we see the twinned names of (Christabel) LaMotte and (Maud) Bailey, we know they are in for something of a siege. Glover, on the other hand, is what Mallarme´ called ‘the blank paper that whiteness defends’ (le vide papier que la blancheur de´fend  ). We hear from her only in a posthumous document, her heart-rending will, and reported by others;  does she speak, to the sound of running water, quoting Goethe, at the terrifying se´ance that brings Ash and Christabel together for one last time? Her presence is protected by our uncertainty. What she does, and what she thinks, remainblank;  her large paintings – twenty-seven in the house at the time of her death, including Christabel before Sir Leoline  – are lost, reconstructed only by the fantasy of the feminist critics. Blanche, we are brutally told, ‘had artistic ambitions and painted large canvases in oil, none of which have survived’. Blanche reminds us that the past may disappear forever;  that some crucial elements are not preserved, that scholarship works always as a bulwark against oblivion, and depends on luck. In a later, superb novel that seems to me to draw on some aspects of Possession  as it reverses its tendency to recovery, Alan Hollinghurst’s The Stranger’s Child  traces the processes of forgetting, how documents are lost, displaced, forgotten, and lives sink beneath the waves of oblivion. In Possession , lives are reconstructed and rise up again. But not all of them.

Reading Group Guide

The questions, discussion topics, author biography, and suggested reading that follow are designed to enhance your group's reading of A. S. Byatt's Possession, a richly layered story of passion, mystery, and scholarship.

1. What is the significance of the novel's title? Do you think it has more than one meaning? What does the concept of "possession" mean to the novel's various characters, both modern and Victorian? How can possession be seen as the theme of the book?

2. Ash is nicknamed "the Great Ventriloquist" but this sobriquet could as easily be applied to Byatt herself. Why does Byatt use poetry to give away so many clues to the story? Are the poems a necessary and integral part of the novel or would it have worked just as well without them? Do you find that the poems in the novel succeed in their own right as poetry?

3. All the characters' names are carefully chosen and layered with meaning. What is the significance behind the following names: Roland Michell, Beatrice Nest, Sir George Bailey, Randolph Ash, Maud Bailey, Christabel LaMotte, Fergus Wolff? (Clues to the last three may be found in the poetry by Tennyson, Yeats, and Coleridge cited below.) Do any other names in the novel seem to you to have special meanings? How do the names help define, or confuse, the relationships between the characters?

4. The scholars in the novel see R. H. Ash as a specifically masculine, Christabel LaMotte as a specifically feminine, type of poet, just as Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti, the poets on whose work Ash's and LaMotte's are loosely based, were considered to be extreme examples of the masculine and feminine in literature. Do you feel that such a classification is valid? What is there about Ash's and LaMotte's diction and subject matter that fulfills our ideas of "masculine" and "feminine"? Do the poets themselves consciously enact masculine and feminine roles? Do you find that Christabel's poetry is presented as being secondary to Ash's? Or that the work of the two poets is complementary?

5. Ellen Ash wrote her journal as a "defence against, and a bait for, the gathering of ghouls and vultures" [p. 501]. Mortimer Cropper is literally presented as a ghoul, robbing the poet's grave. Beatrice Nest, on the other hand, wishes to preserve Christabel's final letter to Randolph unread. What is the fine line, if any, between a ghoulish intrusion upon the privacy of the dead, and the legitimate claims of scholarship and history? As much as the scholars have discovered, one secret is kept from them at the end and revealed only to the reader. What is that secret and what difference does it make to Roland's future?

6. Freedom and autonomy are highly valued both by Christabel and Maud. What does autonomy mean to each of these characters? In Christabel's day, it was difficult for women to attain such autonomy; is it still difficult, in Maud's? What does autonomy mean to Roland? Why does mutual solitude and even celibacy assume a special importance in his relationship with Maud?

7. The moment of crisis in the poets' lives, 1859, was a significant year, as it saw the publication of Charles Darwin's Origin of Species. The theory of natural selection delivered a terrible blow to the Victorians' religious faith and created a climate of uncertainty: "Doubt," says Christabel, "doubt is endemic to our life in this world at this time" [p. 182]. How does Byatt compare this spiritual crisis with that which has befallen Roland and Maud's generation, who are taught to believe that the "self" is illusory [p. 459]?

8. The fluffy Beatrice Nest is scorned by the feminist scholars who crave access to Ellen Ash's journal. Yet in her way Beatrice is as much a victim of "patriarchy" as any of the Victorian women they study. What is the double standard at work among these politically minded young people? Can Beatrice be seen as a "superfluous woman," like Blanche and Val? What, if anything, do these three women have in common?

9. Ash writes "Swammerdam" with a particular reader, Christabel LaMotte, in mind. Is Christabel's influence on Ash evident in the poem, and if so, how and where? How, in the poem, does Ash address his society's preoccupation with science and religion? How does he address his and Christabel's conflicting religious ideas? How does Christabel herself present these ideas in Mélusine?

10. Why is Christabel so affected by Gode's tale of the miller's daughter? What are its parallels with her own life?

11. The fairy Mélusine has, as Christabel points out, "two aspects--an Unnatural Monster--and a most proud and loving and handy woman" [p. 191]. How does Christabel make Mélusine's situation a metaphor for that of the woman poet? Does Christabel herself successfully defy society's strictures against women artists, or does her awareness of the problem cripple her, either professionally or emotionally? At the end of her life she wonders whether she might have been a great poet, as she believes Ash was, if she had kept to her "closed castle" [p. 545]. What do you think?

12. Roland and Maud believe they are taking part in a quest. This is a classic element of medieval and nineteenth-century Romance, of which they are well aware. Aside from the quest, what other elements of Romance can be found in Maud and Roland's story? In Christabel and Randolph's? What other genres are exploited in the novel?

13. When he returns to his flat at the end of the novel, Roland decides there is "no reason why he should not go out into the garden" [p. 514]. What is the emotional significance of his finally entering the garden? Poems that will enrich your understanding of Possession Robert Browning, "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came," "My Last Duchess," "Porphyria's Lover," "Caliban Upon Setebos," "Bishop Blougram's Apology," "Mr. Sludge, the 'Medium'," "Andrea del Sarto," and "Fra Lippo Lippi"; Samuel Taylor Coleridge, "Christabel"; Andrew Marvell, "To His Coy Mistress," "The Garden"; Petrarch, Rime Sparse; Christina Rossetti, Poetical Works; Alfred, Lord Tennyson, "Merlin and Vivien" from Idylls of the King, In Memoriam, "Maud," "Mariana," "The Lady of Shallott"; W.B. Yeats, The Rose.

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Possession 4.2 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 103 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I saw the movie first and was so enthralled decided to read the book. I rate both highly. One of few romance novels I've read and truly enjoyed.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Possession is an enchanting work by one of England's best contemporary authors. Having studied the works of A.S. Byatt for my undergraduate thesis, this remains my favorite of her works. I love the way Byatt intertwines past and present, and her stories/poems within the main plot are convincing enough to have us believe they were really written by 19th-century authors! While I must admit that her 20th-century characters are given short-shrift in Possession, the love story between Ash and Christabel is truly engaging. It is a novel that can be appreciated at face value or one that can be pored over to uncover the deeper metaphors and meanings the 'stories-within-the-story' possess. I would recommend this to anyone who is looking for a good love story, or who likes reading literature about literature!
Guest More than 1 year ago
Thou hast begun a quest for meaning in what pen to paper has brought. So fine a novel be, that one can only hope for more.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book takes my breath away. If you love the written word and the English language, with all its capacity and limitations in the full expression of thought, you cannot NOT read this book. You, too, will feel like this book was written FOR YOU. It is a personal gift from the author to all English majors all over the world. If all you're looking for is a plot and character development, the beauties of this book might be lost on you. It has so many more layers. This book professes to be "a novel" but is poetry and short story and critical essay and epistolary novel and diary... It is the fullest achievement of creative endeavor I have ever seen. A. S. Byatt not only gets the telling of a story right, she manufactures an entire reality in the academia of not one but TWO poets who never existed! She not only writes their material but the perceptions and criticisms and literary theory that arise from the fictional generations that afterwards read them. It is truly astounding. Not having pursued a career in academia, I can only imagine how much this book has to say about the world of academics, the lengths to which that world drives its members to go to, let alone what it says about relationships, character development, plot. What I found most surprising about this text was not the story it tells, however richly and magnificently executed, but the sheer force of creative endeavor behind it. It is a lesson in every theory of literature by example. It is the ultimate practice of literary study. It is the very reason that we write...because we can. A. S. Byatt CAN.
Lisa_RR_H More than 1 year ago
I did ultimately love this book, but it took me over half its length to warm up to it. I enjoy literate love stories, the mixing of genres, literary allusions and pastiches, and this book provides all of the above. This is a literary mystery as well as a contemporary and a historical romance: two contemporary literary scholars, Roland Michell and Maud Baily, fall for each other as they uncover the romance between the two Victorian poets they study, Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. I think part of my problem was that Byatt did too well capturing the era's style in her creations of letters and poems by her fictional poets, and I'm no fan of Victorian literature. Much of the poetry, some lengthy, bored me, then I hit a wall about a third of the way through when I reached the chapter of about fifty pages of their correspondence in the style of the era. It was just too tedious reading these characters going into raptures over each other's poetry, and after reading a few letters, I skipped the rest of that chapter, and then started skipping the poems that began the chapters. The book is also studded with diary entires, portions of Mortimer Cropper's biography of Ash, and articles of literary criticism. It's all technically impressive, but for me the poems and letters dragged down the narrative. And Byatt can count one misfire in her otherwise laudatory ability at capturing voices--Cropper is not a convincing American. Much of the first 300 pages of the book were a grind, but then after that it became for me more and more of a page-turner, and I stayed up all night to read those last hundred pages. I liked how the tales of past and present intertwined, and I grew to love the characters, the way the many meanings of possession figure in the plot in thought-provoking ways, the lovely prose, and ultimately I got caught up in the interplay of ideas and how they fit into the romances. So if you find yourself wanting to give up (and it crossed my mind at one point), all I can say is I think the book's difficulties are worth pushing through, and if you need to skip that epistolary section or the poems to keep going, I don't think it hurts the narrative to do so--and eventually you may want to go back to those parts. I found the concluding pages moving and the post-script was a lovely grace note. I could see coming back to this book for rereads someday and finding more each time. Despite finding aspects and parts of this novel amazing, I can't see giving a full five stars to a book where I slogged through or skipped so much--but what I loved here, I loved. So four it is.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I'm not sure that I would have immediately picked this book up on my own if someone hadn't pointed it out to me. Although having to read it for a class doesn't necessarily count as someone pointing it out. I think it's more like, 'you have to.' Aside from that the book is... complicated. Cliche, I know but it's true. This book takes a lot of dedication from the reader and if you're a first timer with the writing style of A.S. Byatt then you're going to have a time of it. I, in particular, am very topsy-turvy when it comes to books. Some times I enjoy slow moving books and other days, when I had to read Possession, I couldn't stand it. As much as the book annoyed me I do honestly see its appeal and after a while it grows on you. For me it was the relationship between Maude and Roland. The entire book I was frustrated with them, then I loved them. Then I hated them. Then I loved them. Then I wanted to shoot them both dead. Then I.... you understand. What's most endearing about Maude and Roland is that after a while you want them to stay in their little perfect bubble and any intrusions 'such as the likes of Leonora or Ferguson' you can't stand it. Is this review ambiguous enough for you? I can neither say that I demand everyone read it nor can I say it's not worth the effort. It's very much a love hate relationship. I'm not particularly moved that I read the book but I'm not bitter about the time I spent reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Normally I do not have time to read anything but textbooks but once I started reading Possession I could not stop until I finished it. It read so smoothly that my anticipation for what would arrive next continued to build through out. I recomemd this book to everyone. I have to say that its uniqueness compared to many novels I have recently read makes it a refreshing read and a favorite of mine.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one my favorite books that I have ever read. I enjoyed the characters and how she entwines the past with the future. It has been a little while since I read the book, but it is still fresh in my mind. I am looking forward to reading it again and for many years down the road. I believe this is a classic in its time!
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is one of those novels for which the reviews are much better than the book. Still, the book does have a good story line, probably helped along for readers who have seen the movie. The movie handles the mystery much better and shows rather than tells the romance of the 19th century poets. The character of Maud is less abrasive in the book, though Roland Mitchell is clinically depressed and English in the book, not the defiant Californian of the movie. This novel reminded me of Thomas Wolfe not only in that it combines poetry and prose but in that it seeks to include absolutely everything that happened. The poetry is better in Wolfe; the prose better in Byatt. If you like the parallel story of two romances, one present and one past, you'll also like Tears in the Rain (although the movie is much better than the book) and the novel Always, though Always has more action and more suspense.
Guest More than 1 year ago
this is one for anyone who has a genuine love for reading good solid novels with engaging plots, poetry and the lives of poets, and pure unadulterated 'will they or won't they?' romances. byatt has conceived a most beautiful book that links the love of literature with real-life romance. roland miller and maud bailey are two academics who come across a secret relationship between a couple of 19th century poets--one a famously married masogynist and the other a reclusive lesbian. byatt indulges the readers' love of poetry by including poems and letters of the two poets and injects them into the present-day story of roland and moud's love story/investigation. pick this up if you love to read and love to love. it satisfies both the reader's intellectual curiosities and his/her emotional investment.
Guest More than 1 year ago
There is so much in this book. I have read it over and over, and notice more each time. The way that A S Byatt treats her characters and recognises even the smallest details about life and relationships is unparallelled. An intellectual and emotional feast. It just gets better and better.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is book to be savoured by English majors, particularly those of us who have read extentively in the poetry of Tennyson, Browning, Christina Rossetti, and Emily Dickinson. It helped to be familiar with the Pre-Raphaelite artists. This describes me, so I felt the book was written for me. It also takes place in the present. There is an attempt to write some of the dialog in 1985 United States jargon, which is jarring but clever. I prefer Byatt to her sister Margaret Drabble, who is also an outstanding British novelist.
Guest More than 1 year ago
AS Byatt's creativity in writing this book was outstanding. She managed to break all the rules of genre in literature and put all forms into one novel with a compelling story line, and a wonderful romance. The 'historical' figures of Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash that she created seemed so real that I had to check my facts to reassure myself that they were indeed fictional. It is a deep and challenging read, but absolutely rewarding when finished. A note to anyone who reads this novel: PAY CAREFUL ATTENTION TO THE POETRY AND USE OF COLOR! It may often seem only relevant in painting pictures, but this novel is working on several levels that are tied together as harmoniously as a symphony.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was entranced by this book. Anyone who loves to get lost in the wonderful world of great literature should read this book. It will move you.
Guest More than 1 year ago
A.S. Byatt's 'Possession' is one of the most satisfying books I have read in years. It is challenging in the way of a Faulkner novel: she demands the reader's full participation. I enjoyed Byatt's intelligence and wit and came away with a feeling of real intimacy toward her, as if we had shared many long and engaging conversations.What makes the book so possessing is its complexity. It is really a tribute to the whole history of English literature. I can't wait to read another of her works!
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most beautifully written book I have ever read. Fascinating story and magical poems, like pictures painted by words.
spounds on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I listened to this audiobook. I enjoyed it very much, although sometimes it was easy to get lost with all the jumping from stories, to poetry, to prose, to...LOVED the ending.
Goldengrove on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is one of my favourite books. I love the invented works of the poets and the twining of their story and the modern story. The recurring theme of tower and guarded virtue is skilfully woven into the story through events, myth and names. I've read it several times with equal pleasure.
altivo on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Two modern graduate students find themselves entangled in a personal romance even as they unravel the mysterious life history of a 19th century poet and naturalist. This has everything from the love letters buried with the poet to secrets found in his widows effects. Very British, but a page turner nonetheless.
asallan on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Reading unfortunately after I saw the attrocity of the film several years ago, Possession perhaps did not hold the same engrossing suspense as it should for a first time reader.While Byatt meticulously includes quite plausible poems and articles written about her fictional literary lovers, a good deal of the book is rather frothy. It is, however, an intelligent bit of froth, and quite enjoying as a summer read. The dual storylines are well balanced, and are quite complimentary: the fiery passions of Ash and LaMotte suppressed by a marriage and time period, and the extremely suppressed attraction between Roland and Maud.It is, as Byatt's subtitle advertises, "a romance," playing both upon the romantic poetry themes and love stories, however, it is clearly written by an intelligent woman.
BCCJillster on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Oh please. So much hype and so little reward. Such a self-conscious writer.
pzmiller on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The kind of book you have to read to appreciate -- descriptive words can't do it justice. (And the movie version certainly didn't do the book justice.)
samantha464 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is the book that made me want to be an academic. The style of the book is immediately difficult, but the story is so captivating that you get wrapped up and the Victorian-esque moments, snippets of poetry, and heavy pastiche sort of float away, leaving you emersed in a great mystery, an irritatingly quient romance, and a world that seems, like the basement of the British Museum , covered in Ashes.
bostonbibliophile on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
One of my all time favorite novels and the only Byatt novel (as opposed to short fiction) that I love unambiguously. She takes a mystery, mixes in a modern day story of ambitious academics and swirls in two passionate love stories to make a substantial, entertaining and very satisfying literary novel which never feels heavy or heavy handed. The twist at the very end is the icing on the cake. I love this book!
samfsmith on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This novel is a wonderful treat for readers who love good reading, and it¿s a remarkable achievement. Part literary fiction, part mystery, part romance, the story follows a group of unlikely detectives - professors of English Literature. The mystery involves the romantic relationship between a pair of Victorian poets, and is traced through their letters and poems and the journals of people around them.I have to confess that I was fooled. I had never heard of the two Victorian poets featured in the novel - not so surprising, I guess. So I went to wikipedia and did a search and found out they were fictional. Not only did Byatt create the modern characters, but the historical ones as well, including writing their poetry and prose. A remarkable achievement.