The majority of A.S. Byatt's Possession revolves around Maud Bailey and Roland Michell as the two scholars stumble over the long hidden but passionate relationship between the Victorian poets Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Ash. The written word takes center stage throughout this novel, as both Roland and Maud share a devotion to poetry and letters which leads them on the path to their great discovery. Love letters, poetry, journal entries, and other written forms further the story along throughout the novel to its very end. Maud and Roland follow this trail of paper to what they can only assume constitutes the final answer. Byatt, however, quickly reminds the reader that not all is what it seems; even Maud and Roland, in addition to their fellow scholars, remain in the dark to a certain extent. The chapter entitled Postscript 1868 at the novel's end explores this idea:

There are things that happen and leave no discernible trace, are not spoken or written of, though it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been. Two people met, on a hot May day, and never later mentioned their meeting. This is how it was. [552]

By inserting this third person omniscient narrator at specific points within the novel, Byatt promotes the idea that the true events of the past can never be fully understood, nor can their consequences be measured. The very last words of Possession cement this concept of the known and unknown, as the events of that "hot May day" rest only within the minds of Randolph Henry Ash and his daughter Maia.

"Tell your aunt," he said, that you met a poet, who was looking for the Belle Dame Sans Merci, and who met you instead, and who sends her his compliments, and will not disturb her, and is on his way to fresh woods and pastures new."

"I'll try to remember," she said, steadying her crown.

So he kissed her, always matter-of-fact, so as not to frighten her, and went on his way.

And on the way home, she met her brothers, and there was a rough-and-tumble, and the lovely crown was broken, and she forgot the message, which was never delivered. [555]

Questions

1. Is A.S. Byatt's use of the omniscient narrator who allows the reader a peek at the Victorian era necessary within the text? What would be the result of removing the passages with this omniscient point of view from the novel?

2. Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash can easily be connected to actual Victorian poets, such as Christina Rossetti and Robert Browning. Considering these links, what is Byatt trying to say about our own knowledge of the past, of the Victorian era and beyond? Do the events that occur and "leave no discernible trace" cheapen the study of these past literary figures, or is she saying something far different?

3. What does the fact that, at the end of the Postscript, "the lovely crown was broken, and she forgot the message" do to the entire novel? If she had delivered the message, would the consequences have been different? What is Byatt trying to say with this development in the story?

4. What is the significance of the title as related to this passage? What role does possession play at the end, as Ash meets his daughter for the first and only time?

References

Byatt, A.S. Possession: A Romance. New York: Vintage International, 1990.


Victorian Overview Neo-Victorian sitemap A. S. Byatt Leading Questions

Last modified 5 April 2004