A Romance

Book - 1990
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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.
Publisher: New York : Random House, [1990]
Edition: First American edition
Copyright Date: ©1990
ISBN: 9780394586236
Characteristics: 555 pages ; 24 cm


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Nov 07, 2019

It’s a compulsion that appears to exist without biological, evolutionary or even economic purpose: the urge toward POSSESSION. Unique to mankind, it has been the ruin of relationships, careers, societies, even empires; and may in the end devour mankind itself. Ownership, proprietorship for its own sake. And it’s a cruel master, demanding satisfaction at the expense of any other need, whether social, financial or logical.
After reading "The Lost for Words Bookstore", I wanted to know what it was about “Possession” that made it so elementally compelling for Loveday. I now understand that. This is distinctly FEMALE literature; by that I don’t mean to imply “chick-lit” (that wretched term): far from it. What I mean is that the book is BIOLOGICLLY female in its placement in the scheme of things — never mind Roland, the protagonist, he is an appurtenance whereby the secrets and the persona of the long-dead Christabel LaMotte and her avatar Melusina may be unearthed.
And voices. Here be ventriloquism; layers of it, starting with Byatt herself, taking on the many and varied voices of researchers, collectors, Victorian poets, etc. In a CBC interview with Eleanor Wachtel, Byatt identifies the essence of writing as being the act of “making things — something that wasn’t there and now is”. The wholeness of her construction of this book is impressive, creating not just a couple of stories, but also the several quite different lots of poetry written by her own fictional characters. Byatt has created for herself an opportunity to write, at one huge gulp, both a modern-day mystery and a Victorian romance — and for added spice, a goodly dose of rather convincing Victorian poetry, in several voices. (“The Fairy Melusina” in particular is pretty darn good.)
When she “gets the bit in her teeth" so to speak, Byatt loves to reel off lists, be it states of mind, scenic artifacts, sexual terminology, whatever; in the final chapter she outdoes herself with a stunning sequence of English wildflowers. She’s able to go on at paragraph length, reveling in self-indulgent overkill. Her editor, thankfully, let her get away with it: it’s a significant attribute of her style. That said. I expect some readers will object.
Byatt presents us with a parade of memorable characters: the misogynistic Blackadder, sublimating within the oeuvre of his poetic idol, gleefully abusing his research assistants; the egomaniacal Cropper, determined to scoop up every last artifact by any means fair or foul, regardless of the cost; and best of all, the long-dead Christabel who is the real star of the piece.
There are many wonderful passages I could quote but I will limit myself to just one: “Think of this: that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.” I cannot recall having encountered a more apt summation of the experience of literature.
All in all: Masterfully written.

Nov 17, 2017

one of my favorite books. I have read it many times and always say, "This time I will only read the text and not the stories and poetry" or the opposite but I am always irresistibly pulled to read the whole things.

Aug 21, 2017

I chose to read this book because it was the 1990 Booker Prize winner. Did I enjoy it? Yes, but until I got about 150 pages into it, I found it easy to put down. But then, as a librarian, what’s wrong with a mystery that involves literary research in a university library? Boring, nerdy researchers as detectives, now that’s cool. Two, researchers, Roland and Maud, find a connection in the poets they are researching. The two 19th century poets were loves. Their relationship was only discovered as Roland perused a copy of a book owned by his research subject. What most fascinated me most was how the author could distinguish which part of the story took place in the Victorian age by the language which represents each period. That dexterity in language and the fact that the current research was done before the Internet and Google, was what made this book interesting.

Feb 14, 2016

Two time periods, two Victorian poets and two modern day academics. A big mystery and a masterful tale. Take the time to read the Victorian poetry along with an engrossing story of societal expectations, personal realities and love. Extremely clever and a literary tour de force for Byatt.

BCD2013 May 06, 2014

Byatt not only created two sets of intriguing and emotionally involving characters in two time periods, but also created two fictional characters' bodies of poetical works.l An amazing accomplishment, a moving stoy, and an interesting message.

JCLAmandaH Feb 11, 2014

"Possession" is a love letter to literature, by way of celebrating poetry, exploring the world of academia, and presenting meditations on the meaning of words and language itself. The story follows two couples, one a pair of Victorian poets and the other two modern day scholars studying said poets. When a mysterious lost letter is found suggesting a heretofore unknown link between the two poets, our present day academics embark on a literary quest to uncover the secrets of the past. A. S. Byatt weaves such a spell with the world-building for the Victorian characters, from selections of their poetry and letters to flashbacks from their own points of view, that you might repeatedly question whether they were real historical figures or not.

JCLMeganB Oct 04, 2013

This is the book that made me love reading again after that M.A. in English fiasco!

May 01, 2013

This is a complex book, with many things to comment on. In parts, it is a modern romance about contemporary (post-modern) people who don’t believe in love, but nevertheless grow into a close personal connection, with elements of possession. In others, it is a romantic passion between kindred spirits, drawn together by their feelings but forced apart by social and personal demands of the nineteenth-century middle class. This is particularly interesting when it is expressed in lengthy poems, letters and journals. At another level, it examines different kinds of academic and literary possession, with various researchers and their obsessions for understanding, reputation, completeness and personal satisfaction. And at another level, it’s a literary tour de force, looking at the joys of literature, reading and losing yourself in the creation and re-creation of literature. Byatt manages all of these in a convincing way, combining different forms of writing that give a different perspective on and relationship to each character – some creative, some academic, some poetic, some imaginative. While slow-moving in parts, there’s so much to enjoy, including even comedic and satiric bits, that its 600 pages don’t become tiresome. By the end, when it turns into a melodramatic chase story, it zips along with a what-next spirit and revelations in the salon. A post-modern work about post-modern theorists, it even manages to poke questions at post-modernism when its central figures (they are hardly heroes) fall in love while rejecting the notion of romantic love. I enjoyed this a lot, even though had I read a description of the book I might have thought it would be too literary. So, much respect to Byatt for tackling a forbidding prospect and making it a pleasure.

Mar 13, 2013

I just read this for my book club and thought I would tear out my hair in the first 100 pages or so. then I fell in love with it. not an easy read, but well worth it, covering academic research of minutia, feminism, myth and poetry.

Aug 01, 2012

A classic. This book is set in the present day and in Victorian times. It addresses the relationship between two fictious poets, complete with poems, letters, diaries, and footnotes. Byatt chooses 1869 as the point in time of great change and of loss of faith. The researchers' lives parallel that of the poets. Intelligent and wonderfully accomplished.

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Dec 04, 2009

Young girls are sad. They like to be; it makes them feel strong.

Dec 04, 2009

In his day, he said, students were grounded in spelling and had learned poetry and the Bible by heart. An odd phrase, by heart, he would add, as if poems were stored in the bloodstream.


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