Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.)'s Reviews > Possession

Possession by A.S. Byatt
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I just finished reading A.S. Byatt’s novel, Possession, again for about the fourth time. It has been several years since I last read it, and I have to say that I saw it in a completely new light. It is a literary masterpiece that is exquisitely plotted and written.

This time around I very carefully studied the epigraphs leading off most of the chapters and all of the beautiful poetry included in the text. I don’t know that I gave much more than a cursory glance to the poetry during previous reads. This time though, I focused on Byatt’s poetry and discovered just how much it enriched and influenced the novel’s dual plots.

Regarding the epigraphs, I recommend that the reader carefully study each epigraph before reading the chapter; and then upon finishing the chapter, go back and read it again and see if you correctly figured out the true meaning of it. There are little puzzles and clues throughout the entire novel, most of them residing within the poetry sections.

This is a beautiful love story, achieving a level of romantic passion, emotion, and anguish like that of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with the Byronic or Gothic touches of the Bronte sisters. It is clear, to me, why Byatt was awarded the Booker Prize for Possession in 1990; and that this novel is clearly destined to be a classic work of literature.
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Reading Progress

05/24/2016 marked as: read

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The Book Whisperer (aka Boof) I'm so looking forward to reading this.


Captain Sir Roddy, R.N. (Ret.) Boof wrote: "I'm so looking forward to reading this."

Boof, you are so going to love this novel! It will, in all likelihood, end up in your top 10-15 most favorite novels of all time. It certainly is for me! I am totally ready for an in-depth discussion of this novel with the group. Cheers! Chris


Grace Tjan "This is a beautiful love story, achieving a level of romantic passion, emotion, and anguish like that of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, but with the Byronic or Gothic touches of the Bronte sisters."

Sounds good and I can't wait to read this for our September group read.


Sherien @chris: your review makes me want to read it even more!
@sandy: have you ever seen this book anywhere in bookstores here in jkt??? Im trying to find it.


Grace Tjan Sherien wrote: "@chris: your review makes me want to read it even more!
@sandy: have you ever seen this book anywhere in bookstores here in jkt??? Im trying to find it."


No. But I'm ordering it from Amazon.



message 5: by Rebecca (new)

Rebecca Than you for the tip Chris. I just got my copy and was briefly paging through and wondered what to do with all the poetry. I am excited to start.


Susanna - Censored by GoodReads It's a love story and a literary mystery and a historical novel, among other things.


Vincent Czyz I don’t remotely agree. While ‘Possession’ is certainly impressive in some respects, it is clearly deficient in others. Let me start with the glaring insult to Americans. The ridiculously obvious villain in this book is Mortimer Cropper. Take a good look at his name. ‘Mort’ is death (mortician, mortuary) and ‘crop’ as a verb means to cut; in short he’s the Grim Reaper. Let’s look at Byatt’s lack of subtlety in the first scene in which Cropper appears: he is wearing a “Black silk dressing gown,” over “Black silk pyjamas,” “mole-Black slippers,” and he “pushed down on a switch on his Black box.” (Capital “Bs” mine.) He had “American hips, ready for … the faraway ghost of a gunbelt.” (American hips? There’s her minor, separate, pot-shot at American gun laws.) Morty drinks Black coffee, and in case you are a dense American reader and still don’t get it, “His car was a long black Mercedes … a swift funereal car.” So there’s Cropper, death driving a hearse. [pp 104-109]
That’s not the insult. The insult is that Cropper, backed by tons of American money, is busy buying up all the “relics” of fictitious Victorian poet Randolph Ash as though the material items that belonged to Ash were more important than the poetry he wrote. This is Byatt’s way of saying Americans are not very bright (Cropper is a scholar don’t forget) and easily mistake the image for the thing itself, are so dazzled by gold foil wrapping they forget to analyze the contents of the box. It’s a clumsy perpetuation of a stereotype. Her hero, lowly Roland Mitchell, says at least twice how he’s not interested in Ash’s personal belongings, just in what Ash wrote. One just wants to reach into the book and pat him on the head.


message 2: by Joy (new) - rated it 5 stars

Joy Stephenson I love this book and your review is spot on. I'm just re-reading for the 4th time or so and this time am struck by the images of water and the fact that submersion (except I suppose for Blanche) seems to be a positive image.


Lady Shockley Just read this one recently - finally!- and I loved it! I'm going to have to reread it eventually, I think, and I don't reread! So much can be missed the first time around.

Vincent, I'm going to have to disagree with your take on Cropper. Certainly, Byatt paints him in a bad light, but "gunslinger's hips" = America's gun laws? That's a reach. The buying up of historic objects/ stuff that belonged to the famous is a big issue - witness Egyptian artifacts, mummies, etc. in the 1800's, the British Museum carting off the Elgin Marbles, or the (American) Folger Shakespeare Library buying up EIGHTY- TWO First Folios. It's a legitimate concern, I think. Could she have made him European or Asian? Sure. But I don't read any hatred of America in the character depiction. I could be missing something, I suppose.
But Byatt gave meaningful names to almost all her characters here - Roland (Chile Roland to the tower came, a quest), Christabel (Coleridge's poem of the same name) LaMotte (castle defense); Maud (Tennyson poem) Bailey (other bit of the motte- and- bailey tower defense); Ferguson Wolff (in sheep's clothing, perhaps); Beatrice Nest (whose book is called "Helpmeets" for goodness sakes!.) I don't see him as being singled out. What does Blacadder's name say about him? He's not really a snake.

Fascinating book!


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