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Possession: A Romance (1990)

by A.S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
12,154272427 (4.02)805
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)
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    KayCliff: The story, "Precipice-encurled" can be seen as a sort of paradigm of 'Possession'.
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    Sibylle.Night: Both are very literary works and their authors' prose is gorgeous.
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    The Darwin Conspiracy by John Darnton (edwinbcn)
    edwinbcn: In both novels competing academics uncover autographs and written sources (diaries, letters, etc). Similar approach, widely different topics, each beautifully written.
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(see all 21 recommendations)

1990s (5)
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» See also 805 mentions

English (250)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Spanish (4)  Italian (3)  Finnish (2)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (270)
Showing 1-5 of 250 (next | show all)
I loved this book within a book. The language was also superb. Don't pay attention to those one star reviews, true readers and writers will cherish this book.

Deserves all the prizes it won. ( )
  Gumbywan | Jun 24, 2022 |
"Think of this-that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other."

"Possession" — physical, spiritual and emotional — is the focus of this Booker Prize winning novel.

When Roland Michel, an under-employed academic, stumbles upon a long forgotten letter whilst working in the British Library from renowned Victorian poet Randolf Henry Ash to a mystery woman that hints of a secret extra-marital relationship. Roland suddenly feels the urge to track down the unknown female and soon comes to suspect that the likely recipient was fellow poet Christobel LaMotte. His ongoing research leads him to meet fellow academic and distant relative of Miss LaMotte, Maude Bailey. Together Roland and Maude embark on a quest to discover the truth, piecing the story together from a variety of sources, including letters, journal entries and field trips to Yorkshire and France but soon come to realise that other forces are also keen to find out what they have unearthed.

Ostensibly this is a cross between a literary detective story where the lead characters follow a trail of clues to uncover a secret and a romance adventure tale.

"Literary critics make natural detectives."

Byatt skilfully weaves these two stories together but she also aske whether when a writer dies, should their private lives die with them? Or should they become the possessions of academics and enthusiasts, to be collected, catalogued and analysed like laboratory specimens. A question which seems to resonate even today in the social media age. Should our internet posts die with us or will they live forever in the ether?

Byatt’s employs multiple narrative voices and styles within this book including poems which she wrote herself. Unfortunately I'm no fan of poetry (unless written by Seamus Heaney) as I find them generally tedious and consequently ended up skimming over them. I also found large segments of the letters between the two Victorians really dull and skimmed over these as well. All in all whilst I can admire Byatt's versatility as an writer I cannot in all honesty say that I enjoyed this book but I did at least finish it. ( )
  PilgrimJess | Feb 15, 2022 |
I really enjoyed the way A.S. Byatt's novel "Possession" slowly unfolded the story of two Victorian-era poets -- Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash.

Two scholars who have taken a deep look at the poet's work in the 1980's and try to prove a link between the two.

The story was completely up my alley and I always enjoy the way that Byatt's writing and phrasing paints a scene. This a fun read for me, though I can see that it might not appeal to everyone. ( )
  amerynth | Oct 1, 2021 |
3.5 stars. I can see why this was the elitist novel of its day. Personally... I admire the work and the knowledgeability of Byatt. But I'm not a huge fan of the sex. It's kinda everywhere and doesn't need to be. Oh- it's handled very delicately-- but if it doesn't need to be so front page explicit then why does it need to be there at all? But then... I don't think like everyone else does.

Also- I skipped the poetry. But it was admirable nonetheless. ( )
  OutOfTheBestBooks | Sep 24, 2021 |
4.5 stars
Going into this book having only watched the 2002 movie adaptation I thought it would be a simple story about two couples from different centuries falling in love and a bunch of letters that were exchanged by the couple in Victorian England (Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash) and then discovered by the couple of scholars living in 1980's London (Maud Bailey and Roland Michell). I was, however, pleasantly surprised by the detail that was put into the story and how the author included poetry, letters and several character's points of view, each with a very characteristic voice.
The end was perfect and it was worth the time I invested in this book (I'm a slow reader, though).

Christabel and Randolph

Maud and Roland
( )
  _Marcia_94_ | Sep 21, 2021 |
Showing 1-5 of 250 (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 (40 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
בנוביץ', קטיהTranslatorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
וולק, ארזTranslatorsecondary 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
First words
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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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.

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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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