Like Waterland, Possession establishes a cyclical narrative structure by interweaving the past and present storylines. As in Waterland, this "alternating temporal structure reveals the continual domination of the past" (Shinn, 178) over the present. Rather than presenting the cyclical time frame didactically, Byatt makes the connection between the past and present by setting up two parallel sets of characters in both time periods. The force of the past on the present becomes so strong that the reader often cannot tell to which couple the narrative refers. Using the pronoun "they" (229, 360) and "the man and the woman" (297), Byatt self-consciously introduces this confusion into the narrative to forge this strong connection between the past and present. Moreover, similarly to Waterland, Byatt also uses objects such as Christabel's brooch, which Maud wears, and Ash's pocketwatch, which Cropper owns, to weave together the two time periods.
Whereas Waterland makes past connections to the present by referring to former events in Crick's life, Possession constructs the human past as a force that affects present life. Following the mystery of Christabel and Ash's love affair, Roland and Maud trace the Victorian lovers' path while the text makes connections between the two couples. The narrator explains that Roland and Maud "paced well together" (273), and then later in the Victorian narrative, suggesting a strong parallel between the two couples, Randolph tells Christabel, " 'We walk well together. Our paces suit' " (304). Similarly, Roland refers to Maud as a "princess suffering the muffled pea" (65) and in the Victorian narrative Randolph refers to the mattresses upon which Christabel sleeps as "separating a princess from a pea" (307). Realizing the connection between the two couples, Roland, while thinking about the fate that drove Ash and LaMotte, suggests that "he and Maud were being driven by a plot or fate that seemed, at least possibly, to be not their plot or fate but that of those others" (456). The parallel of the two couples and Roland's portrayal of the past as a present-day force construct a cyclical time frame that opposes the stifling linear time frame.
Other parts of this essay
- Technological Progress and Victorian Doubt
- The Contemporary Legacy of Victorian Progress and Doubt
- The Living Victorian Past and its Effect on the Present in Possession