Post-Modern Victorian: A. S. Byatt's Possession

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Post-Modern Victorian:

A. S. Byatt's Possession

If I had read A. S. Byatt's novel Possession without having had British Literature, a lot of the novel's meaning, analogies, and literary mystery would have been lost to me. The entire book seems one big reference back to something we've learned or read this May term. The first few lines of chapter one are poetry attributed to Randolph Henry Ash, which Byatt wrote herself. Already in those few lines I hear echoes of class, lines written in flowery Pre-Raphaelite tradition. "The serpent at its root, the fruit of gold /…At the old world's rim, /In the Hesperidean grove, the fruit /Glowed golden on eternal boughs, and there /The dragon Ladon crisped his jewelled (sic) crest…." Because of class, I was able to pick up on this poetry tradition right away. This story within a story is strengthened by Byatt's ability to write Victorians accurately. Until I read some of the reviews, I thought Byatt's Victorian characters were actual historical literary figures, when actually they are fictitious, and their journals, letters, and poetry are written by Byatt.

The action of the book takes place in two periods. The two main characters, Roland and Maud, are literary scholars living in the 1980's. Their love story is shared and played out by the diaries, poetry, and correspondence of two poets and lovers from the 1860's-Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. Although the book is modern fiction, much of it is a Victorian novel as well. Possession is characteristic of Byatt's love for intertextuality and imbedded texts. Possession is also an example of several literary genres, all written into one book. At various times it gives evidence of poetry, mythology, a romance novel, a detective story, a fairy tale, journals and diaries, and scholarly writings.

There are several themes in Possession that tie this book to earlier texts that we have read. Individual versus group identity, feminism,...
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