Possession develops the human need to believe in stories by portraying Roland's and Maud's desire to put together the story of Ash and LaMotte. The cyclical time frame which the Ash-LaMotte correspondence establishes rejects the construction of a dead past and instead provides "the stimulus of the 'living past' " which encourages Maud and Roland "to act" (Shinn, 179). Explaining to Maud that he took the letters from the library "because they were alive" (56), Roland introduces the idea of a living past. The desire to construct Ash's and LaMotte's story gives Roland and Maud a purpose in their present life. Despite Roland's and Maud's desire to discover the truth about the Victorian poets' love affair, Byatt, by privileging the reader to the Victorian past, suggests that the truth of the story does not matter. Roland and Maud believe they know the full truth when they open Ash's coffin, but in the postscript the reader discovers a scene that is lost to everyone but Ash, Maia, and the reader. Though Roland's and Maud's story does not involve the whole truth, it still serves a purpose by changing their present reality. The truth, however, is important because though
there are things that happen and leave no discernable trace, are not spoken or written of,...it would be very wrong to say that subsequent events go on indifferently, all the same, as though such things had never been. (552)
The fiction Maud and Roland create helps them cope with reality but the truth of the past, though unknown, still affects the present.
Roland's and Maud's development exemplifies the effect the past has on the present. Their desire to sleep alone in "white beds" (455) symbolizes their desire for simple order, but even though they live in a "time and culture that mistrust[s] love" (458), their trip together begins to take on a "marital or honeymooning aspect" (455). Despite this closeness, the text portrays them as fearful of emotional attachment because they keep "separate lives inside their separate skins" (459). The final letter from the past, which for them finishes the Victorian poets' story, allows Roland and Maud finally to admit their love for each other. Reading Christabel's letter, Maud realizes her descent from the two poets, identifies with Christabel, and emotionally attaches herself to Roland. Maud still feels "afraid" (550) to begin an intimate relationship but the story of the past has shown her the meaning that love gives to life. Though Christabel ends her life dependant and dejected she still feels "clear love" (545) for Ash and thanks "God for" (546) him. Roland's journey through the past excites him about writing again and gives him the strength to leave safety with Val for the more uncertain love with Maud. Addressing the scholars' development and its connection to their journey through the past, Giobbi comments that "through a literary discovery, Roland finds his poetic vein and a satisfying job, while Maud retraces her roots and abandons her frigid detachment" (52). Finally consummating their relationship in the white bed that each of them had slept in separately, Roland and Maud enter the orderly world they desire but with the chance to love and give meaning to both of their lives.
Other parts of this essay
- Technological Progress and Victorian Doubt
- The Contemporary Legacy of Victorian Progress and Doubt
- The Construction of a Cyclical Time in Possession