PossessionPossession by A.S. Byatt
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

‘Possession’ is a strong word. In literal sense it refers to the state of having, owning, or controlling something.

Lovers are generally associated with this term as they are often inflicted with the tendency to own their muse. To be controlled by desires, whims and fancies of their lover which reigns over everything else that makes sense.

But, to love is not to possess, to love is to set free and that is what Asbyatt succinctly tells us through her work in Possession which is a literal masterpiece of sorts.

In her novel Possession, A.S. Byatt uses the term throughout the progression of her story. The desire to possess the unidentified letters, the possession of lovers by each other, the possession by feelings , the possession of secrets , the possession by a need to solve the mystery behind the letters, to learn more about the relationship and keeping it to themselves , and even the envy of being de-possessed is glorious.

It makes the reader want to collect all the jewels strewn over the story in terms of symbolism, parallelism, Gothicism, symmetries, analogies, myths and legends, the past and the present , romance, precision , intertwining of two eras in a beautiful maze of relativism, mystery, coincidences, revelations, satire, truth and falsity, wit and intelligence, of finding oneself and losing oneself.

The story shifts beautifully between two eras. One that is contemporary and is inhabited by two academicians Roland Michell and Maud Bailey who through a series of events join each other in the quest and reconstruction of the mysterious romance between two 18th century poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel La Motte.

These two set of characters progress simultaneously in the story in a concurrence and move alternately in their respective eras through means of letters, poems, biographies, entries, fairy tales that make excessive use of art, symbolism and the narrative that unfolds their quest through their journey together.

The parallelisms are everywhere.

They are seen between Randolph and Roland Michell who had quiet, dissatisfying lives with Ellen and Val respectively. Ellen is Randolph’s wife whereas Val is Rolan’s live-in mate.
In the same way Christabel and Maud also have a similarity in their physical appearance. Both are obsessed with the color green and wan’t to be known for their literary capabilities. They both have a close relationship with their female friends.
Randolph brings Christabel out of her state of not wanting to be friendly, to being friends and then lovers finally. Roland is obsessed with Maud and wants to reach out to her but her own insufficiency stops him from doing that.

Possession is sonorous with the beauties that make its reading a pleasure.
It shimmers with the beautiful inputs of poetry of the Victorian era that make this work of fiction an art which is for the readers who enjoy the literary work of such precision and glimmer.


Randolph Henry Ash

And is love then more
Than the kick galvanic
Or the thundering roar
Of Ash volcanic
Belched from some crate
Of earth-fire within?
Are we automata
Or Angel-kin?

Christabel LaMotte

Gloves lie together
Limp and calm
Finger to finger
Palm to palm
With whitest tissue
To embalm
In these quiet cases
With hands creep
With supple stretchings
Out of sleep
Fingers clasp fingers
Troth to keep

What is beautiful is to see how the personalities are shown clearly in each of their poetry. Randolpd’s poetry is masculine, Spartan and strong in its nature whereas that of Christabel depicts feminism, rhyme and metaphors.

Feminism rules the prose and it’s shines like a diamond. A few experts from an assortment of precious gems:

The best we may hope is—oh, it is excellently done—for a woman. And then there are Subjects we may not treat—things we may not know. I do not say but that there must be—and is—some essential difference between the Scope and Power of men and our own limited consciousness and possible weaker apprehension. But I do maintain, as stoutly, that the delimitations are at present, all wronglydrawn—We are not mere candleholders to virtuous thoughts—mere chalices of Purity—we think and feel, aye and read—which seems not to shock youin us, in me, though I have concealed from many the extent of my— vicarious—knowledge of human vagaries. Now—if there is a reason for my persistence in this correspondence—it is this very unawareness in you—real or assumed—of what a woman must be supposed to be capable of.
And what surfaces of the earth do we women choose to celebrate,who have appeared typically in phallocentric texts as a penetrable hole, inviting or abhorrent, surrounded by, fringed with—something? Women writers and painters are seen to have created their own significantly evasive landscapes, with features which deceive or elude the penetrating gaze, tactile landscapes which do not privilege the dominant stare.

With her literary genius A.S. Byatt has managed to create a distinctive style for each of them which makes these
fictional characters come to Life.

When the secrets are finally revealed and the story comes out all together it makes the coming together of a jig-saw puzzle that reinstates the intricacy of its details.

Pieces finally fit together when the readers know that Ash was aware of his child through Christabel his wife Ellen so tried to hide from him which shows that events of life cannot be controlled and shouldn’t be controlled too. Nothing but suspicion and betrayed comes out of it and even that is insufficient to hide the truth.

This book cannot be justified as a one-time read. It has to be read and re-read to fully capture its essence that is satisfying, enlightening and on so many levels that the readers who have the calibre to identify such pieces of treasures cannot keep themselves from it after giving it one look.

They will be compelled to savour it again, probably with a much leisurely use of time at their hands that can be duly committed to this brilliant work of art.

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