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Possession (1990)

by A.S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
13,056291477 (4.01)896
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)
  1. 91
    Alias Grace by Margaret Atwood (KayCliff)
  2. 50
    The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: Both books are cited by Michael Dirda as examples of antiquarian romance.
  3. 50
    The French Lieutenant's Woman by John Fowles (bookwormelf)
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  5. 30
    Sugar and Other Stories by A.S. Byatt (KayCliff)
    KayCliff: The story, "Precipice-encurled" can be seen as a sort of paradigm of 'Possession'.
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  8. 00
    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.
  9. 00
    Bal masque by Elia Barceló (spiphany)
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    shaunie: Literary mysteries which both take place across multiple timelines.
  11. 00
    Pixeltänzer: Roman by Berit Glanz (JuliaMaria)
  12. 22
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    Vintage Fear: " The Complete Fairy Tales " , " The Bloody Chamber " (Vintage Classic Twins) by Jacob Grimm (Sibylle.Night)
    Sibylle.Night: Both are very literary works and their authors' prose is gorgeous.
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(see all 23 recommendations)

1990s (5)
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» See also 896 mentions

English (269)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Italian (3)  Finnish (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  French (1)  All languages (289)
Showing 1-5 of 269 (next | show all)
Widely-lauded (it seems), but a bit too up itself for my taste. Nevertheless, a good narrative hook, around copyright law, and a very broad canvas which includes several books (of poetry, journals, etc.) within a book; a bit of an effort to read ( )
  SunnyJim | Jun 24, 2024 |
Yes, I must confess my initial dismissal of this novel (10 years ago) has evolved quite a lot, from 2 stars to a solid 4 stars. Marvellous stuff that is far warmer than perhaps I gave it credit for in my nebbishly intellectual youth. ( )
  therebelprince | Apr 21, 2024 |
This is a real page-turner, which is almost the last thing I expected. I've no ear for poetry so I thought it might be a slog, but Byatt has crafted an intriguing mystery around research being conducted into two 19th century poets, with a layer of romance over top. Perhaps it's the echoes of my own genealogical forays that made it interesting to me, or maybe it's Byatt's incredible evocation of two entirely fictional poets (Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte), brought so vividly to life that I was at first certain they must actually have lived. I've as little ability to critique poetry as I do appreciation for it, but their fabricated work certainly sounds convincingly like what I'd expect from poets of that era.

What my compulsion could not have been due to is any kind of stakes, which I felt were practically non-existent. True, the main characters have minor personal issues to work out but it does seem as if they could carry on as-is without great harm. It also seems as though their discoveries will be preserved and shared for posterity no matter whose hands they fall into, so there's no threat there. I was forced to face the fact that I was being drawn in by the same snoopy eagerness as the modern characters have to see what they'd tripped across and what it might contain, nosing into others' private secrets. Byatt addresses this directly, challenging the reader to wonder why this is so compelling and what it says about people. From this, the stakes do emerge - and they were there all along, Byatt was only waiting for me to see it.

In retrospect, I can see that it is brilliantly constructed. It is also a romance without any of the tropes that annoy me in that genre; a romance for the non-romantically-inclined. With every page I loved it more and more, and became more and more sorry about A.S. Byatt's death last autumn. She's left us an enormous treasure. ( )
  Cecrow | Feb 26, 2024 |
This was a difficult read but I'm glad I made it through. I would characterize it as a literary romantic mystery. Two literature scholars work together to determine if two Victorian poets had an otherwise unknown romance, using letters, journals and poems to discover the truth. Some of what made it difficult for me included the poems (many quite long, covering multiple pages), which included some clues (and to be completely honest I did not completely read every poem...) and also the fact that while the scholars lived in the 80's, the way they talked made me think they were also from the Victorian era.

The mystery was worth it though, and the author managed to include some suspense by arranging a bit of UK/US competition over the rights to the discovery. ( )
  LisaMorr | Feb 12, 2024 |
Just couldn't make it through this one. Felt a bit like mental masturbation to start with. I just couldn't get a feel for the characters and the plot seemed to be stagnating. I made it more than half way through, so it isn't like I didn't give it a chance. I have too many other books to read to waste my time with this one. ( )
  njcur | Jan 20, 2024 |
Showing 1-5 of 269 (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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Wikipedia in English (1)

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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