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Possession: A Romance by A.S. Byatt

Possession: A Romance (original 1990; edition 1990)

by A.S. Byatt

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12,721285470 (4.01)857
Fiction. Literature. Romance. HTML:

Winner of England's Booker Prize and a literary sensation Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire ?? from spiritualist sénces to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.

Performed by Virginia Leis… (more)
Title:Possession: A Romance
Authors:A.S. Byatt
Info:Random House (1990), Edition: 1st American ed, Hardcover, 555 pages
Collections:Your library
Tags:historical fiction, lt-inspired, read 2009, literary fiction

Work Information

Possession by A.S. Byatt (1990)

  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)
  4. 62
    Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë (cometahalley)
  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'.
  6. 31
    The Djinn in the Nightingale's Eye by A. S. Byatt (aces)
  7. 10
    The Nice and the Good by Iris Murdoch (jtho)
  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
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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 22 recommendations)

1990s (5)
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» See also 857 mentions

English (264)  Spanish (4)  Dutch (4)  German (4)  Italian (3)  Finnish (2)  Swedish (1)  Portuguese (Portugal) (1)  French (1)  All languages (284)
Showing 1-5 of 264 (next | show all)
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 | Oct 24, 2023 |
This book made me work so hard for well over 450 pages of its 600 or so. To be very honest, I mostly powered through because I’m a stubborn idiot sometimes. But then, the last part suddenly picked up the pace, developed a recognisable plot, added some mystery and intrige, and even a welcome dose of humour.
This book is well written, it makes you look at difficult themes from all kinds of angles, it makes you ponder it when you’re doing other stuff. That said, I’m glad I’m finished with it. ( )
  Yggie | Oct 12, 2023 |
Two scholars, a post-doc, Roland, and a professor, Maud, research two Victorian poets. This begins with Roland's finding two unfinished letters from the male poet, Reginald Ash, to an unknown woman. This sends him on a quest, on which Maud joins him, in finding out more about the two figures. The woman turns out to be a poetess, Christobel LaMotte, which I took to be a thinly disguised Christina Rosetti, whereas Ash, an amalgamation of several Victorian poets. There are more letters, diaries, poems found, and several other scholars, professors, and a collector of Ash/LaMotte memorabilia wish to possess this "treasure trove", plus a box and its contents buried with Ash by his wife. I did skip over the poetry but did read the other writings. They revealed a love affair between Ash and LaMotte. I did like the fairy tale "The glass coffin." The writing was gorgeous and very vivid. The novel was worthwhile reading and I enjoyed it. ( )
  janerawoof | Oct 9, 2023 |
Immersive, atmospheric, moody, intriguing, romantic; this is #DarkAcademia and #NoPlotJustVibes for sure!

While “Possession: a Romance” by A S Byatt will not be for everyone (and wow could I see why people wouldn’t like this) I loved it, and for the “right” reader, you will love it too.

A recent title I could compare it to would be Catherine Lacy‘s “Biography of X“ in that it deep dives into the life and times of a person— two actually— who were great creative figures, Victorian poets. It does so to the point where it feels as if these people were real. Byatt has crafted letters and whole bodies of work and the subsequent research published on these works. If, while reading, you were intrigued to know a poem that was referenced… you’ll get to read it!

The way we are given the information is a slow, thorough unfurling. We learn alongside our scholars, Roland and Maud, and for this, their scenes take up only a third of the novel. And yet, I still found myself rooting for and feeling close to them, perhaps because I am there, a silent third wheel, nose in antique letters, and nestled in the corner of a chilly room while the snow falls.

This book is so atmospheric, with glorious scenes, both Autumnal and Wintery. The spaces we visit are fully realized and carry a distinct mood. It’s as if you can smell the pages (or is that just, actually, my book) are squinting by candlelight, able to nearly see your breath in a small room overlooking the fields. It’s a University library, it’s Maud’s Burberry trench, it’s dark, and inspired, and full of the kind of passion that comes from connection of the minds … But it’s oh so quiet, slow, patient.

We spent a ton of time in the correspondence of these two Victorian poets and an adjacent accounts from family and friends, as well as their literary works, but we do get some moments of them tucked in from a closer perspective.

The language was gorgeous. Such a worthy place to call home and to then make your entire personality when you finish. (see bio quote) It’s 555 pages and packed full of words. I read this over seven days. It was also the only work of any kind I was reading at the time. I just let myself go slow. I didn’t want it to end.

I would recommend this to someone who loves literature, specifically poetry, and actually enjoyed getting their English degree or dissecting books in school. If you’re here for a vibe and to get taken on a slow-burn journey… pick it up. I’m not kidding I’ve already bought secondhand copies of her quartet and bind up of two novellas. Her work is amazing! Let’s say if “Biography of X”, “Babel”, “The Secret History” and “How to Lose the Time War” all had a baby… and that baby was unbothered about any potential short attention spans for its readers— you’d get “Possession”. Read at you own risk! ( )
1 vote jo_lafaith | Sep 14, 2023 |
The story is interesting but slow. The characters lack depth and it is hard to get behind them - I found myself wanting to cheer for someone, anyone! The literary references are interesting but too long - you lose the plot in all the "excerpted" reading. I really wanted to finish it because one of my favorite authors seems to have used this particular book as a point of departure from his own book. Now I am just "Lost" to both. ( )
1 vote AmandaPelon | Aug 26, 2023 |
Showing 1-5 of 264 (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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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
For Isobel Armstrong
First words
The book was thick and black and covered with dust.
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)

Fiction. Literature. Romance. HTML:

Winner of England's Booker Prize and a literary sensation Possession is an exhilarating novel of wit and romance, at once an intellectual mystery and a triumphant love story. As a pair of young scholars research the lives of two Victorian poets, they uncover their letters, journals, and poems, and track their movements from London to Yorkshire ?? from spiritualist sénces to the fairy-haunted far west of Brittany. What emerges is an extraordinary counterpoint of passion and ideas.

Performed by Virginia Leis

No library descriptions found.

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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