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Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt
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Possession: A Romance (original 1990; edition 1991)

by A.S. Byatt

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9,489192306 (4.05)552
Member:Cariola
Title:Possession: A Romance
Authors:A.S. Byatt
Info:Vintage (1991), Paperback
Collections:Your library, Historical Fiction, Favorites, Read but unowned
Rating:*****
Tags:Fiction, contemporary, 18th century, given away

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Possession by A. S. Byatt (1990)

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English (178)  German (4)  Dutch (3)  Spanish (3)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Finnish (1)  All languages (191)
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
Weer een prachtig boek van Byatt, 700 pagina's genieten van mooie taal (uitstekende vertaling!), interessante gedachtes, literatuur. Knap hoe ze verhalen uit de 19e eeuw integreert met onderzoek in de 20e eeuw en een soort spiegeling aanbrengt in relaties. Het boek bestaat uit allerlei vormen, brieven, dagboek, gedichten, verhaal met alwetende verteller. Het is een speurtocht en een romance (of eigenlijk meerdere). Enige minpuntje is het einde: dat is wel veel positiviteit en toeval bij elkaar. Maar desalniettemin: een zeer mooi boek. ( )
  elsmvst | Jul 28, 2014 |
One thing that never ceases to amaze me is how much Byatt can pack into her work. So many allusions and references, but each is appropriate. I have to say that I'm a bigger fan of her short fiction, but this is by far the best of her novels. It can be a little slow at times due to all the information, but it really immerses you in the world of the novel. This is one I plan on re-reading more than once, and I'm sure I'll always find something I didn't see before. Great stuff. ( )
  bookwormam | Jul 8, 2014 |
At the very outset of the rich and delightful "Possession: A Romance" author A.S. Byatt employs quotes from two unimpeachable sources, Hawthorne and Browning. She uses Hawthorne to allude to a definition of a narrative romance, which he claims requires “a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he [the writer] would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel.” The poetic quote from Browning concludes: “‘How many lies did it require to make/The portly truth you here present us with?’”

Ms. Byatt employs a wide variety of forms as she tells her “portly truth.” Set in the late 1980s (it was published in 1990), her main framework contains the story of two British scholars, Maud and Roland, who specialize in two different 19th Century British poets. They discover an astounding and game-changing correspondence between their two favorites (both fictional) – no one thought they had had anything to do with each other. Our generous author discloses the remarkable letters, goes back in time to tell the story of the two poets, and eventually supplies a kind of closure that I certainly did not see coming. She mixes in academic jealousy and competition, some skullduggery, and even though the book runs more than 540 pages, its sustained pace is remarkable.

The title itself is fodder for the author’s full and playful treatment: can two people possess each other? Can anyone possess correspondence between two strangers from the previous century? What demons or vapors possess people in fits of passion? What do academic theories possess which makes them so compelling to their adherents? Wry answers are hinted at here, some made much more plainly than others. I found that the whole works exceedingly well.

"Possession" engages you on many levels. If you’re at all interested in academic study of poetry, or of narrative art in general, Ms. Byatt serves up plenty of meat for you, some of it extremely mocking and funny. If you want to experience two thrown-together young people, who try navigate their feelings and tentative hopes, this is for you. If you want to experience some remarkable letters between two exceedingly literate and thoughtful people, and some very tasty Victorian-style poetry, (all Ms. Byatt’s own compositions) this is the place to be.

"Possession: A Romance" serves up multifarious forms of fun, and does it with an elegant, free-flowing panache. I urge you to take it up. I enjoyed my time with it thoroughly.

http://bassoprofundo1.blogspot.com/2014/06/possession-romance-by-s-byatt.html ( )
1 vote LukeS | Jun 24, 2014 |
Original post at Book Rhapsody.

***

At least half of this book is comprehensible

Unless you have a doctorate in literature or you are a Victorian poet. Maybe some creative writing majors can fully understand the novel, every page of it, and this kind of understanding is not without whole bulks of effort, and this is most truthful for the regular reader, which happens to be me, in this case.

If you really want to know, I almost gave up on this book. I dreaded reading the parts about the poetry of Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. I wanted to caterwaul within the confines of my then claustrophobic room because I cannot process a stanza of Victorian poetry. It is that frustrating.

But wait, who are these poets? You haven’t heard of them? Of course, you haven’t, unless you live in a parallel universe. These poets are created by the author herself. And she wrote the works, at least some of them, of these two. Impressive, huh? It’s like being three, four writers squeezed inside a single body. And yes, I also have an urge to say that this is one huge intimidating read.

I began this writing task at the suggestion of my cousin, the poet, Christabel LaMotte, who said something that struck me most forcibly. "A writer only becomes a true writer by practising his craft, by experimenting constantly with language, as a great artist may experience with clay or oils until the medium becomes second nature, to be moulded however the artist may desire." She said too, when I told her of my great desire to write, and the great absence in my daily existence of things of interest, events or passions, which might form the subject matter of poetry or fiction, that it was an essential discipline to write down whatever there was in my life to be noticed, however usual or dull it might seem to me. This daily recording, she said, would have two virtues. It would make my style flexible and my observation exact for when the time came—as it must in all lives—when something momentous should cry out—she said "cry out"—to be told. And it would make me see that nothing was in fact dull in itself, nothing was without its own proper interest. Look, she said, at your own rainy orchard, your own terrible coastline, with the eyes of a stranger, with my eyes, and you will see that they are full of magic and sad but of beautifully various colour. Consider the old pots and the simple strong platters in your kitchen with the eyes of a new Ver Meer come to make harmony of them with a little sunlight and shade. A writer cannot do this, but consider what a writer can do—always supposing the craft is sufficient.

That is one of the more readable parts of the novel. But it is not always that way. In fact, there is a bit about Romance, yes, that’s capitalized, at the beginning that I didn’t get and didn’t bother to digest. I ignored it; sometimes, these prefaces and prologues do not really contribute to your understanding of the novel.

The first chapter is about a literary scholar named Roland who finds a slip of paper stuck between the pages of a Randolph Henry Ash book that he is reviewing for his dissertation. Or thesis. The paper is a draft addressed to a “Madam,” asking her for dinner. Something like that.

And that little draft sends us into a literary mystery-slash-thriller. Roland and Maud, our protagonists, set out to restructure and rewrite the biographies of the poets. But no, this is not your ordinary clue-finding novel. Just to brace yourself if you intend to read this, which I hope you would, Chapter 11, which is more or less near the end of the first quarter of the book, is eight pages of undulating Victorian poetry. It goes like this:

The more the Many were revealed to me
The more I pressed my hunt to find the One—
Prima Materia, Nature’s shifting shape
Still constant in her metamorphoses.


And there are more of such chapters, like about that “proem” The Fairy Melusine, which is supposed to be LaMotte’s magnum opus, and it goes without saying that it does not read like a fairy tale. During such chapters, I groan, but I read on. I don’t know where I drew the will and strength to make an effort. I tried my best to understand these chapters, and all the snippets of poetry here and there, and I think there’s a little success because I can still recall the image of that Fairy Melusine, which I wouldn’t describe for you.

Another factor is one of my bookish friends giving me hopes, which were not in vain, that I’ll find something beautiful in the end. He even suggested that I skip all the poetry, which he did and which I am not inclined to do because I prefer to read every word in my book, thank you very much.

And I would not want to fail to mention the letters and journals of certain characters in the novel. Really, this is like an anthology. Reading these made me feel the real letters were in my hands. Beautifully written, I admit, but in a language that I’ll never hear in everyday conversations, even with my most intellectual friends. Of course, these are from poets, what can you expect?

Overall, I decided that I would hate this novel. I just need the justification of having finished the novel. But what happened? Why am I even hoping of influencing at least one person to read this novel?

I was ecstatic when I felt that the remaining number of pages left is dwindling. I got myself a liter of beer. Red Horse, anyone? Yes, I read the last couple of chapters with beer circulating in my veins. It’s not advisable. Anticipate a jackhammering headache if you want to try it. And if you try it with this novel, expect the floodgates of tears to unlatch.

I utterly hated Christabel LaMotte! That snooty, large-toothed, pale, unclassy woman! If it weren’t for her poetic chutzpah, I doubt that Randolph Henry Ash would ever go to bed with her. The nerve of this woman to jeopardize the marriage of a respected aristocratic poet!

But in the end, I changed my mind on a lot of things. I felt that I could not really hate this novel despite the difficulties. Even if I say so, I wouldn’t be able to hide the lurking delight. Besides, I really felt for Christabel. All the hatred melted in that last letter. How could she endure protecting a truth that cannot become a known truth? And save the people she loves by what, exiling herself? I always thought what a selfish little bitch Christabel is, but ultimately, she is the only selfless character in the novel.

And perhaps the only one to have truly known how love’s flames can set temptation’s wings on fire. ( )
1 vote angusmiranda | Jun 10, 2014 |
Overall - VERY BORING and SLOW! Lots of letters and poems... Last chapter was the best - honestly. ( )
  KatieCarella | Apr 12, 2014 |
Showing 1-5 of 178 (next | show all)
This is a romance, as the subtitle suggests, but it's a romance of ideas — darkly intricate Victorian ideas and modern academic assembly-line ideas. The Victorian ideas get the better of it.
 
Shrewd, even cutting in its satire about how literary values become as obsessive as romantic love, in the end, “Possession” celebrates the variety of ways the books we possess come to possess us as readers.
 
I won't be so churlish as to give away the end, but a plenitude of surprises awaits the reader of this gorgeously written novel. A. S. Byatt is a writer in mid-career whose time has certainly come, because ''Possession'' is a tour de force that opens every narrative device of English fiction to inspection without, for a moment, ceasing to delight.
added by stephmo | editNew York Times, Jay Parini (Oct 21, 1990)
 

» Add other authors (23 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Byatt, A. S.primary authorall editionsconfirmed
Alfsen, MereteTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Alopaeus, MarjaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Baardman, GerdaTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Dugdale, RowenaIllustratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehto, LeeviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nyqvist, SannaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Polvinen, MerjaAfterwordsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Walz, MelanieTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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Epigraph
When a writer calls his work a Romance, it need hardly be observed that he wishes to claim a certain latitude, both as to its fashion and material, which he would not have felt himself entitled to assume, had he professed to be writing a Novel. The latter form of composition is presumed to aim at a very minute fidelity, not merely to the possible, but to the probable and ordinary course of man's experience. The former -- while as a work of art, it must rigidly subject itself to laws, and while it sins unpardonably so far as it may swerve aside from the truth of the human heart -- has fairly a right to present that truth under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer's own choosing or creation. ... The point of view in which this tale comes under the Romantic definition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time with the very present that is flitting away from us. -- Nathaniel Hawthorne, Preface to The House of the Seven Gables
Dedication
For Isobel Armstrong
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The book was thick and black and covered with dust.
Quotations
The book was thick and black and covered with dust. Its boards were bowed and creaking; it had been maltreated in its own time. It spine was missing,

or rather protruded from amongst the leaves like a bulky marker. It was bandaged about and about with dirty white tape, tied in a neat bow. … it had been exhumed from …
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Book description
"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.
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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0679735909, Paperback)

"Literary critics make natural detectives," says Maud Bailey, heroine of a mystery where the clues lurk in university libraries, old letters, and dusty journals. Together with Roland Michell, a fellow academic and accidental sleuth, Maud discovers a love affair between the two Victorian writers the pair has dedicated their lives to studying: Randolph Ash, a literary great long assumed to be a devoted and faithful husband, and Christabel La Motte, a lesser-known "fairy poetess" and chaste spinster. At first, Roland and Maud's discovery threatens only to alter the direction of their research, but as they unearth the truth about the long-forgotten romance, their involvement becomes increasingly urgent and personal. Desperately concealing their purpose from competing researchers, they embark on a journey that pulls each of them from solitude and loneliness, challenges the most basic assumptions they hold about themselves, and uncovers their unique entitlement to the secret of Ash and La Motte's passion.

Winner of the 1990 Booker Prize--the U.K.'s highest literary award--Possession is a gripping and compulsively readable novel. A.S. Byatt exquisitely renders a setting rich in detail and texture. Her lush imagery weaves together the dual worlds that appear throughout the novel--the worlds of the mind and the senses, of male and female, of darkness and light, of truth and imagination--into an enchanted and unforgettable tale of love and intrigue. --Lisa Whipple

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:46:56 -0400)

(see all 8 descriptions)

As a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets uncover their letters, journals, & poems, & trace their movements from London to Yorkshire-and from spiritualist seances to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany-an extraordinary counterpoint of passions & ideas emerges. An exhilarating novel of wit and romance, an intellectual mystery, and a triumphant love story. This tale of a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets became a huge bookseller favorite, and then on to national bestellerdom. Winner of England's Booker Prize, a coast-to-coast bestseller, and the literary sensation of the year, Possession is a novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. Revolving around a pair of young scholars researching the lives of two Victorian poets, Byatt creates a haunting counterpoint of passion and ideas.… (more)

(summary from another edition)

» see all 8 descriptions

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