Guide A Question of Possession - A Novel

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  2. Possession (Byatt novel) - Wikipedia
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See Featured Authors Answering Questions. Questions About Possession by A. To ask other readers questions about Possession , please sign up. Answered Questions 3. I'm considering assigning this as an option for an independent reading assignment for a class of high school sophomores all girls. Does anyone have thoughts on whether this novel would be appropriate and accessible for that age group? Marti I think we always underestimate and have such low expectations for teens. These said teens would be the people watching some pretty torrid movies, and …more I think we always underestimate and have such low expectations for teens.

These said teens would be the people watching some pretty torrid movies, and who live in the world where gender is now subdivided into so many categories I have to keep looking them up. What's wrong with reading something which expects Roland does some sleuthing and finds a potential connection between Ash and a minor poet named Christabel LaMotte. He travels to Lincoln to tell Maud about his theory, and she initially dismisses it. Finally, Roland shows Maud his stolen letters as proof, and she reluctantly sets off with him to solve the mystery. They meet Lady Joan Bailey near the churchyard when Roland saves her from a precarious situation in her wheelchair.

The two scholars are a little nervous about their invitation, because Sir George has a reputation for threatening professors with his shotgun when they come around asking about Christabel LaMotte. However, their fears seem unjustified. Sir George and Lady Joan are very cordial. The Baileys discover they are indirectly related to Maud, and they find out that Maud studies Christabel LaMotte and Roland is also a scholar.

Lady Joan talks Sir George into giving a tour of Christabel's old room in the turret. During the tour, Sir George allows the researchers to take a closer look at Christabel's things, and Maud discovers a packet of letters hidden under the mattress in a doll crib. The letters turn out to be a nearly complete set of correspondence sent to and from Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash. After some deliberation, Sir George decides to allow Maud and Roland to come to Seal Court in the winter and read the letters.

Once they do, they realize there must have been a relationship between the two poets. Maud and Roland follow clues across England and France, hiding their research from colleagues and lying to friends and lovers about their whereabouts. Their own lives begin to parallel the Victorian poets when they find they are falling in love with each other.

Eventually, other scholars catch on, and the race for clues launches into full swing. Maud and Roland find out that Christabel and Randolph did have a love affair that resulted in her pregnancy and also the suicide of Christabel's lesbian lover, but they cannot find any trace of what happened to the child. The story culminates at the gravesite of Randolph Henry Ash. An unscrupulous scholar and a greedy heir team up and attempt in the middle of the night to dig up a box that was buried with the famous poet.

They are caught in the act by their colleagues. The event happens in the middle of the Great Storm of , so all parties retreat to a nearby inn, where they are marooned by candlelight to wait out the storm. As a group they open the contents of the box and discover the final piece of the puzzle. Christabel did bear a child, a girl named Maia Thomasine Bailey.

Above all, I love a good story. Byatt has given me all of this and more. She is an intelligent and multi-talented author, and I was delighted to accompany her through the throes of Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte's love story to the last riveting moment. I have pushed this book to the back of the shelf for years, simply I am a Romantic, in Wordsworth's sense of the word.

I have pushed this book to the back of the shelf for years, simply because I saw the movie first a practice I try very hard to avoid and felt I might not be so captivated knowing the basic story already. I loved the movie, but as is so often the case, the book exceeds and fleshes out the characters in ways that only brilliant writing can do. I am so happy to have overcome my scruples and finally embraced Byatt in print. I think it is quite difficult to maintain a story within a story, span different ages, and have all the characters seems real and interesting. This book is a double story: it is the story of Randolph Ash and Christabel LaMotte, two 19th century poets who defy their circumstances and the times to have an affair of the heart, the mind and the body.

Their love is transcendent, and like most love of this kind, it demands a high price from them both. Running in parallel to this story is the story of Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, a couple of academics who study the lives of Ash and LaMotte respectively, who come upon a series of clues that tie the poets to one another and eventually reveal the depths of their true relationship.

READERS GUIDE

Roland and Maud come across as real if not as enthralling as the poets and their story drives the mystery forward to its solution. As to the poetry that Byatt includes in the book, it is both quite good and interesting in its own right and serves to furnish clues and press the unveiling of the mystery itself. The story could have been told without it, but I do think it would have lessened the impact to have had the poems discussed so frequently and never have seen any of them.

I can find no flaw in Byatt's telling and I think it is kind of laziness not to want to put in any hard work yourself for the pleasure of such a tale. I will, therefore, just record my thoughts about it. I thought it was lovely. The language flows beautifully, both in the prose and the poetry sections.


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The story itself is intriguing, the flowering illicit romance between the poet and his poetess, and the more muted one between the scholars obsessed by them. Byatt does an excellent job of leading us into the ever-deepening waters of the mystery. It starts off as mild curiosity, and she carefully feeds the fire until it is a blazing inferno and you just HAVE to know what happens!

I love how the letters reveal so much about both the characters and their deepening relationship. I did find some parts of them tedious--especially the parts about Ash's gathering of marine samples, and some of the more exhaustive description of the countryside.

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I daresay my impatience to find out what happens played a part in this. I thought she tied everything up wonderfully well at the end--especially the very last section, which laid to rest the anguished heartburnings I felt on behalf of Ash. I have to think that she was satirizing the world of literary criticism and academic focus on authors.

It's a strange career, when you think of it. Your entire life is spent studying every detail of someone else's life. Your only achievement is your depth of knowledge about someone else's achievements. It seems rather preposterous when you really think about it. Every one of the professors whose focus of study was Ash or Christabel were with the exception of Roland and Maud pretty obnoxious and unlikeable in some way. They are definitely possessed by their callings, to the point where lying, cheating, and stealing become worthwhile.

The title of the book was examined in a myriad of ways in the book: by the scholars, by the relationship between the poet and poetess, by the relationship between Roland and Maud, and a variety of others. I did enjoy this book, but think I may enjoy it a bit more on a second reading. I was also possessed while reading this time--by the desire to know how the mystery ends.

Another reading can be a bit less feverish, perhaps. Shelves: quite-good. It took me three attempts to get this one right. Something about the premise drew me in from the get go. I was destined to love this book. No way around it. I was in for an unpleasant surprise.

It didn't take long before I found myself bored to tears.

Possession (Byatt novel) - Wikipedia

The language was so outmoded. Everything about it was plain difficult. I put it aside for a couple months in the hopes that it would get easier. It was still the same. I was still the same. A couple years passed. It was always in the back of my mind It took me three attempts to get this one right. It was always in the back of my mind.

In the end, curiosity and sheer stubbornness got the best of me. There was, to a lesser extent, a hopefulness about things. A hope that despite everything I disliked, there was something here that was worthwhile, that gave it value. So with this in mind, I read until I reached the end. There are some things that won't change.

4 customer reviews

I don't love this style of poetry. Most of the letters between dead poets were eyebrow-raising at best and sleep-inducing at worst. None of that stood out to me. What did was the story. Towards the end, it become everything I'd wished for in perhaps the quietest way possible. Loose ends were tied off. The story was as rich as I always thought it would be. Down to the final sentence. I wouldn't recommend this to most people.

It's a particular book for a particular person. This doesn't take away from it. Know yourself and what you like. I personally enjoyed this and I'm glad I gave it all the chances I did. View all 8 comments. Oct 16, Kim rated it it was ok Shelves: disheartening. I picked up this book because I had seen it in a recommended reading site and then a friend said that it was really good. Yes, there's a but I should have known then By, page I felt like I was trapped. I had already invested this much time into it and felt, at that point, that I had to finish it.

I'm not saying tha I picked up this book because I had seen it in a recommended reading site and then a friend said that it was really good. I'm not saying that it probably isn't a great book. I'm sure it won awards and I'm sure that the writing is considered fair, but when I pick up a book called 'Possession - A Romance', I don't know I guess I was expecting something with a bit more passion. Maybe the fact that it had to include 'A Romance' in the title should have tipped me off.

The story centers around the discovery that two fictitious 'famous' poets had an affair and thus altered the meaning of their work to the scholars that study said poets. My problem is that I never really cared about either the poets or the scholars. There were times that I thought 'Yes, here we go'.

But, it fizzled. Maybe the writing is too 'proper' for me. I have no doubt that this book is beloved by many, just not me. Feb 02, Mona rated it liked it. Many Goodreaders really like this metafictional novel, which contains a story and poetry within a story. There is much to admire here. The author skillfully interweaves two time periods. One was close to the time the novel was written , the other nineteenth century Victorian England. She not only invents two poets, but writes a lot of their poetry. The skill and brilliance involved here is astonishing.

Most of the characters with a couple of exceptions left me cold. And I found both the Victorian romance and its poetry cloying, like overly sweet pastries, though I suppose this style was typical of the time. And the more contemporary romance was rather chilly. The book's title, "Possession", has many meanings.

It refers to the possession of romantic love, ownership of precious objects, and the almost demonic possession that can take over those on a quest. The timeline involves a gaggle of academics. All of them are scholars of Victorian poets and writers. The author gently mocks the academics and their obsessions with ideas no one else cares about. At the same time, she makes the professors believable and very human characters. The focus of the novel are two fictional Victorian poets.

The other, Christabel LaMotte, is less well known, primarily because she is a woman. Plus their looks are different. Christina, although apparently a beautiful woman, had Italian coloringdark hair and olive skin or so it seems in the pictures of her. LaMotte has very fine light blonde hair described as containing multiple shades of blonde and fair skin.

After writing each other a series of remarkable letters, which seem to be very much in the style of the time, view spoiler [ with only the coyest and most covert allusions to anything sexual , LaMotte and Randolph Ash have a brief affair, which wreaks havoc on almost everyone around them particularly in LaMotte's case. Ellen Ash figures out what happened but keeps it to herself until her dying husband tells her about it many years later. Her cousin Sabine also keeps a journal of the time. No one discovers what has become of the child until years later.

Roland Michell is an unknown London scholar. He is a quiet and reserved young man. In the London library in a book by Vico presumably Giambattista Vico, the eighteenth century Italian philosopher and historian he accidentally stumbles on some letters of Ash. They seem to be drafts of secret love letters. Roland uncharacteristically pockets the letters. He keeps his find secret. Roland lives with Val, a woman he met in college. The live in a crumby basement room that reeks of cat urine, and Val supports Roland.

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Neither of them are terribly happy with the situation or with each other. Fergus, a fellow scholar, refers Roland to Maud Bailey. Maud had a romance with Fergus. Maud is an established authority on LaMotte. She keeps her beautiful blonde hair under a head wrap. She is also a very competent scholar. Maud gets infected with enthusiasm for Roland's quest to find out what happened between Ash and LaMotte.

The two of them decide to disappear for awhile on a secret quest to find out more about the connection between Ash and LaMotte. Other scholars get involved, some at Roland and Maud's request, others simply because they "pick up the scent" of an exciting hunt. Maud enlists her help. Beatrice is a hesitant, prudish woman who is ashamed of her large breasts and big body. She's older over fifty? Beatrice feels protective towards Ellen Ash.

She's not sure she wants Ellen's secrets to be exposed to public scrutiny. Roland is irritated by Beatrice's slowness. Surprisingly, Maud takes to Beatrice. She shows up unbidden at Maud's apartment, to Maud's annoyance. Leonora has heard rumors about new discoveries on LaMotte. Leonora can be obnoxious and irritating, but still she is one of my favorite characters. She is larger than life. Proudly full figured, flamboyant, omnisexual she is mostly lesbian but seems to be open to any type of sexual partner , she is resplendent and she knows it and plays it up.

She dresses in bright colors and outrageous hippie clothing. She writes about female sexuality in LaMotte's poetry. She also tends to butt in where she isn't wanted. Of course, she is one of the characters that was not included in the Hollywood movie. James Blackadder is Roland's estwhile boss.

He is a dour Scot, who turns out to not be as curmudgeonly as he seems to be. Roland works for him at his so-called "Ash Factory" in the British Museum. He is another of my favorite characters. Of course, he was cut out of the Hollywood movie as well. The last professor is Professor Mortimer Cropper, the man everyone loves to hate.

He greedily snatches up historical objects of interest usually curios associated with famous writers. He wants all the Randolph Ash memorabilia he can get his hands on. The other professors all loathe him. He is not above using illegal and immoral methods to get his hands on objects he wants for the Stant Collection or for his own secret personal collection, which he is rumored to hide in his home. He is lean and lithe and drives a Mercedes, as he has inherited wealth.

Other characters include Sir George Bailey and his disabled wife Joan. Apparently they belong to another branch of Maud's family and may be distant relatives of hers ; and Euan MacIntyre, a solicitor British lawyer. While I admired the scholarship, work, and artistry involved in putting this long novel together, as I've already mentioned, I have some reservations about it. For one thing, I didn't think Ash and particularly LaMotte were terribly sympathetic characters. Christabel LaMotte wreaks havoc on literally everyone around her, and while she does express remorse for this, it seems like too little too late.

Her behavior completely turns off her French cousin Sabine, who is actually a more sympathetic character that Christabel is. For another thing, I wasn't wild about the poetry of either Ash or LaMotte, although part of my problem with their writings might have been the way the audio reader, Virginia Leisham, read them. Finally, I found many of the characters to be a bit chilly, although as I mentioned, Leonora and Blackadder are colorful.

Virginia Leisham's reading of the audio didn't help matters. She gave Cropper, who's from New Mexico, an inexplicable stagey Southern accent that would have been more suitable for a production of "The Glass Menagerie" than for a guy who grew up in the Southwest. She did do better with some of the other characters. Still, I think I would have preferred a different reader.

I hope my review doesn't deter Goodreaders from reading "Possession". Lots of people love this book, and certainly its treatment of the Victorian poets and of nearly contemporary scholars of Victorian literature is fascinating. Shelves: favorites , to-be-re-read.

This book is sophisticated in its construction and its literary detail. It requires a good deal of attention and focus on the part of the reader during its first half. And the details of its parts, the virtuosity of its styles, and the puzzles that it is assembles kept me fascinated. The writing is so good. And as the s It is a special treat to discover a book that ends so intelligently, so intuitively, and so emotionally beautifullyall at the same time.

And as the story began to grow around me, the characters proliferated and began to live. As a good number of these characters living more than a century apart start telling their storiesthree, four, five, and more writing styles in both prose and poetry began to multiply. And this is not simply a display of writing virtuosity. This is a means used to enter the hearts and souls of these living characters.

Possession - A.S. Byatt

Work is required on the part of the reader. But the reader is rewarded with a complex interplay between breathing and dreaming people a century and a half apart. The plot is very slowly revealed.

Possession Reader’s Guide

And the prose holds the attention. This is the first book written by A. I will certainly read more.


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She likes people; and she has a wicked sense of humor. So, complex puzzles, beautiful prose and poetic styles, lovely romances, intelligent and important enigmas, magical journeys, and much more. This book is a gift. Jan 12, T. Whittle rated it it was amazing Shelves: reviews , favourites-fiction , a-s-byatt. I first read this book when it was published back in I loved it then, but this second reading meant more to me. It's an extraordinary accomplishment, Possession. Byatt seems to know something about everything, and she is able to weave together so many delicate threads of character and story that it boggles my mind.

I cannot read her without looking up quotes and references every few pages, and I struggle to remember how I went the first time round, in the pre-Google days! There are passage I first read this book when it was published back in There are passages in which Byatt is breathtakingly eloquent in her descriptions. More frequently than is usual when I read, I found myself setting aside the book to reflect more deeply and slowly on the richness of what I was taking in. She renders so finely the subtleties of her characters' interior lives that one feels they are real people in real situations, not fictions of her own mind.

The poems within the book deserve a separate comment and much more praise than I can give them here but I do want to say this: It astonishes me that Byatt has herself written these poems which she attributes to her poet-characters, Randolph Henry Ash and Christable LaMotte, because they would stand well against any highly-regarded poetry of the era. I enjoyed them enormously, although my taste in poetry generally causes me to shy away from the overwrought High Romanticism of the Victorian poets. Some of my favourite poets are among this lot. But, to my mind, it's a type of poetry that must be executed flawlessly or avoided completely.

There is no in-between, because there's nothing worse to read than the fumbled efforts of the Romantics, which come off as sentimental gushing; the vomiting of Too Many Words, poorly chosen. Like a potentially good and rich meal in the kitchen of a bad cook, it induces nausea in all who partake. For myself, I am pleased to say that I feel that I have at last grown into Byatt's writing. I feel that I am a worthy reader of her books now, much more so than when I was younger.

If I love Possession more profoundly now than I did then and recently found The Children's Book to be a miracle in itself , it is only that I have changed, not the books. I needed to experience more, know more, and be more, before I could grasp fully the depth and breadth of Byatt's intellectual, artistic, and emotional brilliance. She writes densely and so will not be enjoyed by people who prefer minimalism or terseness or who are in a Hemingway mood. Not for the first time in my life, though, I have been longing for labyrinthine books lately.

I am very much in the C. Lewis state that lead him to say, 'You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me'. Hear, hear! But, it's even better when the book is magnificent and the tea or coffee perfectly brewed. I am glad that now I can go back and read all of Byatt's books that I've overlooked and also that she is still living and writing, so there will no doubt be more to look forward to! View all 6 comments. Jun 27, Riku Sayuj rated it really liked it Shelves: booker-winners. Ah, did you once see Shelley plain, And did he stop and speak to you?

And did you speak to him again? How strange it seems, and new! But you were living before that, And you are living after, And the memory I started at— My starting moves your laughter! Mar 13, Deea rated it really liked it Shelves: man-booker-prize. Her knight in shining armor is poet Randolph Henry Ash. Their story goes under different rules of morality than the story of the people discovering their story.

We get to explore together with Roland and Maud the traces of these two poets Victorian love story as the novel goes on and we are given clues just like in a detective story. We read together with the scholars interested in them their love letters, we are described in great fashion what they see that inspire them to create the poems they are famous for in the reality created by A. We get the feeling that we are initiated in the secrets of an arcane group of scholars and the more we read, the more we become immersed in the story that they themselves are struggling to discover and understand.

We are made to believe that just like Dante had Beatrice, Petrarch had Laura, Shakespeare had a Dark Lady, there is a hidden love story behind the biography of every great personality waiting to be discovered and Christabel is more than a character: she is rather a prototype, a symbol that art needs muses to feed inspiration of male artists. I have called you my Muse, and so you are, or might be, a messenger from some urgent place of the spirit where essential poetry sings and sings". As the secret Victorian love story begins to unravel, another love gets to be born: the love of two scholars who get to discover each other by sharing the same interests in the world of literature.

In a world where we become more and more accustomed with the desacralization of any kind of values and in a world where we become immune to feelings of all kind, people tend to avoid love: out of fear, out of commodity, out of lack of belief that it can exist in the first place. Maud and Roland learn to love by pursuing their literary interests. I finished reading this book several days ago, but ever since I turned the last page, I miss the atmosphere of romance it created in my mind.