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Possession: A Romance (1990)

by A.S. Byatt

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
11,717264407 (4.02)780
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: Both books are cited by Michael Dirda as examples of antiquarian romance.
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    KayCliff: The story, "Precipice-encurled" can be seen as a sort of paradigm of 'Possession'.
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    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 (9)
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» See also 780 mentions

English (243)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Spanish (4)  Italian (3)  Finnish (2)  French (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  Swedish (1)  All languages (263)
Showing 1-5 of 243 (next | show all)
This is one of those books that's so compelling on several different levels that I got lost in it. The story weaves through letters, fairy tales, biographies, academic studies and poetry purportedly written by long-dead Victorian poets, and brings together two researchers, both possessed by their subjects. ( )
  dcvance | May 4, 2021 |
Meh... ( )
  RosanaDR | Apr 15, 2021 |
The agonizing search for old manuscripts that would eventually lead to a striking discovery, colorful characters (both the modern and the Victorian ones) including two romances - two couples, both in circumstances not exactly prone to easy relationships, as well as quite an engrossing plot with a spectacular denouement - all this should have been right up my alley, but it wasn't for some reason, not completely at least... Can't put a finger on it... It's as if there was something superfluous there, overinflated, maybe the poems that A.S.Byatt attributed to her two invented Victorian poets/lovers (?)..

There is a lot to admire, of course. I was moved by the suicide note of Christabel's lady friend, also the diaries were written in a genuinely Victorian way, among other things. But as a whole, it just didn't work for me. And yet - Byatt's effort in this novel was very ambitious, to say the least. I have to admit that. ( )
1 vote Clara53 | Apr 2, 2021 |
After attempting to read a few new books that I picked up on a whim and abandoned, I figured that I was due for a good old re-read. I haven't read Possession since my undergraduate degree and haven't delved into any historial fiction from my collection in a while, so I thought that this would be a good change of pace. That it definitely was, considering that it took me almost three weeks to get through it... It's definitely an interesting read and specifically appeals to me because ot the archives research and literary mystery, but the Victorian era focus and slow story pacing really slowed me down through some sections. Byatt does an excellent job of painting a clear picture of both sides of the story (contemporary and historical), but it could have used some finessing when we get into pages and pages of dense Victorian correspondence. What I liked most is that Byatt essentially created two completely new poets, who to the reader seem absolutely real, for the contemporary characters to investigate, which lends the book a surprising amount of realism, even aside from her historical accuracy. Having come back to this book after years away I find it less engaging than I originally did, but mostly because I no longer seem to have the patience for Byatt's dense and convoluted style of writing. That being said, this was still a good read and it's thusfar my favourite of her novels. ( )
1 vote JaimieRiella | Feb 25, 2021 |
Oh boy, it seems Virgin in the Garden wasn’t large enough of a stage for Byatt to perform her one-woman show of intellectual capacity. 12 years later, she’s back with Possession a Booker-winning novel about writers infatuated with writers.

There’s a story here so that Byatt has an excuse for her unabashed attempt to be clever. A mediocre scholar, languishing in the pits of academia and personal finance discovers documents about a the life of a famous poet which lead him on a trail through literature and landscape. On the way, he teams up with a female scholar of much higher standing, by which plot device, he has access to all sorts of things he otherwise wouldn’t.

Implausible hunches turn out, in pretty much every case, to be correct and of course there are some rival academics who are far less virtuous who they have to beat to the holy grail. The ending is all tied up nicely in very few pages which is entirely predictable for a novel which is after all, not really about the plot, but an opportunity for the novelist to dabble in a wide range of literary genres while parading her impressive grasp of the breadth of English literature.

The result of constructing the foundation of a thriller and then proceeding to build a metaphysical paeon to poetry was, for me, less than satisfying. The thriller is a bit of a mess with characters who are really no more than charicatures and a denouement which is extremely contrived. The life and loves of Henry Ash, the poet that Byatt creates, would have sufficed on its own even with the long-winded and tedious poetry that litters the book. But the two parts together simply get in each other’s way.

There’ll be a lot in here that the die-hard literature fan will go for. I found it overblown. ( )
1 vote arukiyomi | Dec 27, 2020 |
Showing 1-5 of 243 (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 (17 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
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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