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Possession by A. S. Byatt
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Possession (1990)

by A. S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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10,763234366 (4.03)697
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1990s (14)
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» See also 697 mentions

English (216)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Spanish (4)  Finnish (2)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Italian (1)  All languages (233)
Showing 1-5 of 216 (next | show all)
I am a Romantic, in Wordsworth's sense of the word. I love the details of 19th Century life, the language of that time, poetry, a mystery and human tragedy and struggle. Above all, I love a good story. A.S. 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 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. 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. ( )
  phantomswife | Jul 6, 2018 |
This book took a good deal of time to read, but not for lack of interest. The language of it is beautiful, Byatt's vocabulary immense, and the story itself enthralling. Do not let the nature of the book itself fool you - for all of its pretentious trappings, the book is rather funny.

Possession tells the story of an aspiring scholar, Roland Mitchell, who discovers two drafts of a love letter written by the poet he has been studying. The story, from there, follows his quest to discover who the letters were addressed to, what was the nature of this relationship, etc. The story turns into a commentary on scholarship, on literature, on poetry, on the nature of romance itself. It is ambitious, and often self-deprecating. It is a truly wondrous work.

I would be lying if I said that the book didn't intimidate me, but around 90 pages in I got so wrapped up in it that that initial humbling feeling was lost. It is lofty, yes, but not impossibly so. Think of it as an educated Da Vinci Code. It's all about the mystery and the quest.
( )
  Lepophagus | Jun 14, 2018 |
I sent some of my smaller poems—a little sheaf—selected with trembling—to a great Poet—who shall be nameless, I cannot write his name—asking—Are These Poems? Have I—a Voice? He replied with courteous promptness—that they were pretty things—not quite 𝘳𝘦𝘨𝘶𝘭𝘢𝘳—and not always well-regulated by a proper sense of decorum—but he would encourage me, moderately—they would do well enough to give me an interest in life until I had—I quote him exactly—“sweeter and weightier responsibilities.” Now how should I be brought by this judgment to desire those—Mr Ash—how? You understood my very phrase—the 𝘓𝘪𝘧𝘦 𝘰𝘧 𝘓𝘢𝘯𝘨𝘶𝘢𝘨𝘦. You understand—in my life Three—and Three alone have glimpsed—that the need to set down words—what I see, so—but words too, words mostly—words have been all my life, all my life—this need is like the Spider’s need who carries before her a huge Burden of Silk which she 𝘮𝘶𝘴𝘵 𝘴𝘱𝘪𝘯 𝘰𝘶𝘵—the silk is her life, her home, her safety—her food and drink too—and if it is attacked or pulled down, why, what can she do but make more, spin afresh, design anew—you will say she is patient—so she is—she may also be Savage—it is her Nature—she 𝘔𝘶𝘴𝘵—or die of Sufeit—do you understand me?

—𝘗𝘰𝘴𝘴𝘦𝘴𝘴𝘪𝘰𝘯 by A.S. Byatt

This was a challenge to read aloud to the wife. I periodically would break away to look up some odd word or phrase or plant rendered in Latin. It is long and there are a lot of words. I mean, jam-packed in this thick fucker. The above passage comes from Chapter 10 titled “The Correspondence” which is entirely epistolary, composed of—I shit you not—five pages of italics, two poems, and a further forty-one pages of italics (!). This truthfully pushed me to get an eye exam and, subsequently, reading glasses. (Yes, I’m wearing them now.) The next chapter is a seven-page poem and precedes yet another poem before returning to the narrative proper in Chapter 12. Jesus Christ, talk about stories within stories within stories . . .

Which brings me to my biggest problem with this book—the story within a story device is taken so far, and into some many levels, that it feels more discursive and needlessly convoluted than is required. Kind of like that fourth level of 𝘐𝘯𝘤𝘦𝘱𝘵𝘪𝘰𝘯 where they show up in a James Bond-esque snowbound world and have a grand shootout, causing me to audibly yawn in the theater. Yeah, we get it Mr. Nolan and Dame Byatt, you’re intelligent and pasted all these disparate pieces into a decoupage that is as equally impressive as it is self-indulgent. The subtitle to this novel is “A Romance”. Well, that does come in, but way late and only after a blizzard of scholarly fencing, literary treasure hunting, and characters that seem more in love with their own words than with any human who utters those words. So, all that cleverness slowly strangles the emotive power trying to break from those serpentine coils. Air. Sometimes you just need the room to breathe. Characters, narratives, humans in a python mating ball.

The ending is fantastic, however, and truly does hit with an unexpected cross to the jaw. There are moments of humor and the entire work deflates the pomposity of any intellectual pursuit; but it reinflates that goddamn balloon on the next page. The research is astonishing. It’s empirical and anecdotal. Its ambulatory nature does have a guide, after all. I just wish there had been a Virgil or Beatrice who could’ve led us through the intertwining paths, maybe stopping once in a while at a lookout or copse or dale, and wept over lost love instead of merely acknowledging it and gluing it to foam board.

I’m being hard on this. It was amazingly well written. I couldn’t have done it. But I also can’t drive a car at two hundred miles per hour on a thirty-three-degree bank for one hundred and eighty-eight laps. I yawn at NASCAR, too.

And, goddamnit, even I chose not to put that opening paragraph to this post in italics. Who wants to read forty-six pages of that shit in one chapter? Did the editor need to get an eye exam after, too? ( )
  ToddSherman | Apr 7, 2018 |
Two literary scholars discover evidence that the Victorian poets each of them specializes in had a love affair with each other, and set about trying to uncover answers to the mysteries of the past.

This is, in many ways, a truly impressive novel. There's a bit of mystery, some romance, some feminist themes, and a lot of thoughts about poetry and life. Byatt's also carefully written out letters, journals, and poems of various lengths and kinds by her two fictional poets, and I can't even imagine the work and artistry that must have gone into all of that.

I have to say, though, that despite all the intellectual appreciation I have for it, I found this novel very slow-going. Not tedious, never that. But my interest levels in the scholars and the subjects of their investigations varied a lot. Sometimes, I was fully invested in learning more. Other times, I found myself reflecting that while I have a soft spot for people who are passionate about details nobody else cares about, I don't necessarily want to listen to them going on about it for long periods, and the specifics of the love lives of dead fictional poets aren't necessarily an exception. And, as a story, it does feel a little... all over the place. Honestly, for much of it I wasn't entirely sure exactly what I thought of it, other than that it was an impressive piece of writing and a rather odd novel. But I did appreciate it, and while I can't deny that I'm glad to finally be done reading it, I'm also glad to have read it.

Rating: This is super hard to rate, but I'm going to give it a 4/5. ( )
  bragan | Dec 22, 2017 |
Love this book. First time I read it was it OK and the next time it blew my mind! Fabulous book! ♥ ( )
  MaraBlaise | Dec 14, 2017 |
Showing 1-5 of 216 (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 (16 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
Galuzzi, FaustoTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Johansen, KnutTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lameris, MarianTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Lehto, LeeviTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Leishman, VirginiaReadersecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Nadotti, AnnaTranslatorsecondary 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 …
... the awesome Flamborough Head, where so many have met terrible deaths, in the race of water and the powerful currents - which you can almost see and hear, chuckling beneath the slap of the high waves ... The cliffs are chalky-white and carved and faceted and sliced by the elements into fantastic shapes ... One stands out to sea - raising an impotent or menacing stump -
Whitby ... a sloping town, crowding down in picturesque alleys or yards and flight after flight of stone stairs to the water - a terraced town ... The shop-fronts were old and full of romance.... There were several jewellers specialising in jet.
The Boggle Hole is a cove tucked beneath cliffs, where a beck runs down across the sand to the sea, from an old mill. They walked down through flowering lanes.... A peculiarity of that beach is the proliferation of large rounded stones which lie about ... These stones are not uniform in colour or size ...
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(Click to show. Warning: May contain spoilers.)
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Wikipedia in English (1)

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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:57 -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. Annotation. 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)

» see all 11 descriptions

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