Jessica's Reviews > Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
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's review
Jul 17, 08

Recommended for: those interested in 19th century literature, sophisticated readers
Read in June, 2003

This is a truly beautiful book. It is erudite and dense, but that was one of the reasons I liked it.
I first read it when I was a graduate student myself, and I felt that in so many ways, it ran true to what I experienced studying the depths of the humanities (this book deals with English literature, I did art history--similar fields in many ways because much of the research is done in the same types of places). I, like Roland, felt the utter weight of work that had already been done in my field, and felt the impossibility of contributing to it in a meaningful way. I also had exeperienced the preoccupation with Freudian analysis and sexual metaphors that continue to dominate the humanities.
The story is that of two different and yet entertwining romances: 2 19th century poets have a secret romance, defying the conventional wisdom of those who study them. This affair is discovered and researched by 2 20th century scholars who learn about their own lives and desires through their research and interaction.
I feel that Byatt does a fantastic job of creating two authentic-seeming Victorian poets. Randolph Henry Ash, with his encyclopedic knowledge and very naturalistic poems, is believable as the Tennyson- or Kipling-like celebrated poet. Christabel LaMotte is arguably more unique (at least I found her so) with her unusual, quiet, short poems, more like Emily Dickenson.
The title of this book is perfect because the themes of possesion, especially the possesion of another person, are beautifully explored. Each of the characters are frightened at the thought of 'belonging' to another person, and many of them are also 'possessed' by some other person or idea that makes it hard for them to truly give themselves up to love.
The book ends on a slightly melancholy note that to some extent indicates the futility of historical research. We can truly never completely know (or possess!) all the facts about a person--too much is lost in the epemerality of daily life.
A beautiful book, but be prepared to have patience when getting into it. I often skip some of the longer sections of poetry, though of course Byatt is a genius to have written so much with such an authentic 19th century feel. sometimes, though, I'm in the mood for it and savor each word. To each his own, but the book is definitely worth wading through the poetry for.
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Emily Great review. I felt much the same as you do about Possession.

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