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by A.S. Byatt

To: ALL Date: 03/22 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 6:24 PM POSSESSION by A.S. Byatt Well, it seems as if people are finishing POSSESSION left and right, so it seems like a good time to start this thread. I didn't do a re-read, so anything I have to say about the book is suspect. I do remembering it being very different from any other book I had read up until that time. It did plod a bit at first, at least if you compared it to John Grisham, but I think the added effort to concentrate and think paid off. I ended up loving the double story. My lasting impression is that some people will go to great lengths to find out any little crumb of information about any literary figure. Is this to really further knowledge, or it is to further one's own reputation? Okay, all you guys who just read it. Ready, set......go. Sherry =============== Reply 1 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/22 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 8:40 PM Sherry, I'm hardly the person to begin these replies, because I fought the book for weeks. Thanks to the encouragement of a few CR's, I forced myself to keep going until suddenly the book grabbed me and wouldn't let go. I finished the book just today in fact, and when I finally put it down, I felt enchanted. I need some time to settle down and assimilate a lot of what I read. Meanwhile I look forward to the insights I'm sure I'll gain from this discussion. I know it'll be a good one! Joy =============== Reply 2 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/22 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:50 PM This book was a tough one for me. I probably would have done better with it 10 or 20 years ago, when I was reading more 19th century novels. Even in some of the parts set in the present, I felt like Byatt was writing in a consciously 19thcenturyish convoluted style. Whew! I spent one evening conscientiously slogging through the first part of the book. At that point I threw in the towel and finished the book by the next evening. How? I will here admit barefacedly (is there such a word) to having (whisper) skipped all the poetry and those endless letters couched in high-falutin' Victorian prose. Now you're all gonna tell me I missed the entire essence of the book. I shall pay close attention. Ruth, in the west, where it's cooling off =============== Reply 3 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/23 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 2:06 AM Ruth, Ah, well if you, who write poetry and know far more about it than I do, skimmed the poetry, I don't feel nearly so bad that I didn't like it. But even the poetry was better than the fairy stories. I liked the parts of the novel set in the present very much, and resented some of those long digressions where the author wrote in different styles and kept quoting from the work of both past and present characters. I think Byatt is a brilliant woman and this book was something of a tour de force for her, but I wished she would have concentrated more on the plot in the first part of the book. I am guessing that there were lots of inside jokes for academics who are more familiar with Victorian literature. As Joy pointed out, Byatt's "Victorian" writing is a lot more difficult to read than the actual Victorian novels I have read. By the time I had finished with this book, however, Byatt had completely won me over. The female characters Christabel and Ellen are really haunting. What a tragic, tragic marriage. I think these sexless marriages were not that uncommon in a time when women were divided into saints and whores. Several of the literary marriages that Phyllis Rose covered in PARALLEL LIVES were never consumated. So what did you all think of the great poet Randolph Henry Ash? Ann =============== Reply 4 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/23 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 2:08 AM Sherry, I was a history major in college and compounded the error by going to graduate school. This obssessive concern with the past and the details of other peoples lives, rather than one's own, reminded me a lot of why I got disallusioned with the field. Ann =============== Reply 5 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/23 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 2:36 AM Ruth, I too skipped the poetry. (Bob said I could.) When the letters became opaque, I skimmed. The intelligible letters were lovely, though, and conveyed the overpowering feeling Ash & Christabel had for each other. The book seemed a mystery within a romance, or a romance within a mystery. SPOILER ALERT: I thought that finding out what was in the unopened letter would resolve the mystery and the story of Ash & Christabel would end there. When Byatt took it that one beautiful, unexpected step further, in the scene with Ash & his little daughter Maia, I was in heaven. It was such a tender scene. There was something so clever in the way Byatt had arranged it so that neither of the final messages had gotten thru between Ash & Christabel, and yet somehow Ash had known all along about his daughter. Those final words in the novel, "...was never delivered", left me hearing echoes of the whole story over again. Now I am left wondering how he found his daughter. Does anyone remember any part of the book which tells us this? Or did Ash just take a chance and visit Christabel's sister? Can anyone add to this? -Joy =============== Reply 6 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/23 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 2:37 AM Sherry & all, I thought the title of the book was a stroke of genius. It had so many meanings: The possession of the letters. The complete possession of a loved one. And the most overpowering meaning, the state of possession as Ash explained it to Ellen on p.492: "...I have been in love with another woman. I could say it was a sort of madness. A possession, as by daemons. A kind of blinding." SPOILER ALERT: I thought Ellen handled the whole thing as well as could be expected. Her attitude was (p.494) "I don't want to know anymore...Randolph - it is not BETWEEN US." I thought this clever point of view was what gave her strength. It was her way of blocking out the thought of Ash & Christabel together. And I agreed with her reasoning in not showing Ash the letter from Christabel. She thinks on p.490: "I cannot give him your letter, he is calm and almost happy, how can I disturb his peace of mind at this time.?" Does anyone feel Ellen should have shown the letter to Ash? Would anyone have opened the letter and read it? I don't know if I would have. I probably would. But Ellen was smarter than I am. She knew she was better off not knowing. -Joy =============== Reply 7 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/23 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 2:28 PM I would have immediately ripped open that letter. To hell with principles. I couldn't have resisted my own overly developed sense of curiosity. Ruth, eternal nosy Parker =============== Reply 8 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/23 From: BUYS59A BARBARA HILL Time: 7:28 PM I would have did what Ellen did, going by the theory that what you don't know can't hurt you. Barb Hill =============== Reply 9 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/23 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 8:32 PM Ruth, After you had opened the letter and read what Christabel had to say, would you have regretted doing that? I think I would have, because knowing the truth was more painful than not knowing it. Joy =============== Reply 10 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/23 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:14 PM Sherry, Joy, Ann, Ruth and all, I mentioned in another note that I have decided not to reread this novel, because I loved it so much that I am not ready to reread it. I loved every bit of it, from the novel that takes place in current time to the Victorian novel to the poetry. When I first read this book, I at first thought that the author of the poetry was a real person, and I kept searching the beginning and end of POSSESSION for the credits. It took me awhile to understand that Byatt had written every word. I was so impressed! Shortly after I finished the book, Byatt came to the TATTERED COVER for a reading. She read the tale of the "Little Feet", and it wasn't until I heard her reading that I realized that this tale was the retelling of what happened to the main character (the woman) in the Victorian novel. Byatt was charming and unassuming and I bought an extra copy of this novel, just so she could sign it for me. Jane who is a major Byatt fan. =============== Reply 11 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/23 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 9:30 PM No, Joy, I don't think I would have regretted. I might have wished the letter had never come. But I can't stand being in ignorance of something that affects me. To me it's worse not knowing and having to imagine. Jane, I just couldn't read that poetry. Maybe it's because I was in my novel-reading mode and plowing full speed ahead and damn the torpedos. Poetry requires a different mindset, or at least it does for me. Maybe if I met the poems in a poetry book I would have had more patience. Ruth, in dank, dreary, dismal California =============== Reply 12 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/23 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:02 PM Joy, Well, we are probably hitting on a difference in temperament here. Absolutely I would have ripped open that letter. I hate to have ANYTHING unresolved, even though later I sometimes realize that I should have let well enough alone. No, I wouldn't have regretted it because for me opening the letter would be the only option. And you know, I thought it was cruel of Ellen not to give that letter to Randolph, although I certainly understand her not doing it. She seemed to realize at the end that her whole life had been a lie. She pretended they were very happy, but in reality her frigidity and the lack of children must have been terrible for her husband. I think Randolph had a number of "outside interests", such as the maid whom he probably got pregnant. However, Christabel was the only one who was ever a threat to Ellen because she could challenge him on his own level. And yeah, I really loved that scene at the end when Randolph met his daughter. I think he told her that he had coming looking for her mother. Otherwise, it wasn't really explained how he came upon her. Ann =============== Reply 13 of Note 56 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/23 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:05 PM Jane, How interesting that you got to see Byatt in person. I imagine that most of the poetry and the stories would be more meaningful if they were reread with a knowledge of the entire story. I'm not sure I'm up to rereading them right now, however. ANTIGONE beckons on Classics Corner. Ann =============== Reply 14 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/24 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 9:01 AM Ruth (and Ann), Your reasoning is sound, that for you "it's worse not knowing and having to imagine." But there's another way to look at it. "Not knowing" allows me to imagine a scenario more to my liking. I'll go with THAT one, especially in a case where it makes no PRACTICAL difference whether I know the truth or not. Joy, seeing it both ways =============== Reply 15 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/24 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 9:01 AM Ann, I agree, in a way it WAS cruel that Ellen didn't show the letter to Randolph. But in another way, perhaps it might have upset Randolph to see that the letter caused Ellen further pain. He loved Ellen too in a way, since he had shared his whole life with her. I'm sure he was in as much pain over the way he had hurt Ellen, as he was for the loss of Christabel. What did Mark Twain say about the fact that our conscience takes all the joy out of sinning? Anyway, Randolph was a tormented man, for sure. I'm not sure the marriage of Ellen and Randolph was a complete lie. He must have felt SOMETHING for Ellen. Certainly it wasn't an ideal marriage. But how many marriages ARE ideal? Sometimes when it's good "at night", it's bad during the day.("A woman who marries a man without money has happy nights and sorry days." Just a joke.) And yes, I guess Randolph had come looking for Christabel when he found Maia, but I've just reread thru that part of the story and I don't see that it says that in so many words. Perhaps I've missed it somehow. Joy =============== Reply 16 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/25 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 1:15 PM To all: I am wondering if any of you detected a double meaning in the poem which Ash wrote to Ellen when he sent her the jet brooch. The poem is on p. 249 (hardcover) and I'll include it at the end of this post. Ash starts out by saying in his poem, "I love a parodox." That alerted me. The 4th line of the poem says, "A life in death but not funereal yet." Is that a reference to the nature of the brooch as well as the nature of their marriage and their love? (not dead yet? still alive even if seriously in danger?)("vanished light"-6th line) In the second verse he says, "So may our love, safe in your heart from harm Shine on, when we are gray, and make us bright." Does he intimate that though he is endangering their love, he hopes that she will keep it alive (in her heart, safe from harm) despite him, and help him thru his torment to brighten their lives as they grow old together? Am I imagining things? -Joy (The complete poem follows below.): "I love a paradox and so I send White Yorkshire roses carved in sombre jet Their summeer frailty fixed here without end A life in death but not funereal yet. As ancient forests in their black deaths warm Our modern hearths with primal vanished light So may our love, safe in your heart from harm Shine on, when we are grey, and make us bright." i.e., Ash has created a metaphor for their love...petrified wood, buried, but still able to create warmth. -J. =============== Reply 17 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/25 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 7:42 PM Joy, Well, for some reason I don't see Randolph as that conflicted about Ellen and Christabel. Ellen denied him sex and I think he felt fully justified in seeking it from Christabel, as long as he stayed married to Ellen. If he felt guilty for something, I would like to think it was for the effect of the affair on Christabel. He made it clear from the start that he would never leave his wife. And how about that maid? Don't you think he was her baby's father? Ann =============== Reply 18 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/25 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 7:46 PM Joy, "A life in death" .. maybe being married to Ellen made him feel like he might as well be dead. Ann, sorry she is feeling so vindicative towards Ellen tonight. I felt great pity for her while I was reading the book, but overly passive people always frustrate me in the end. =============== Reply 19 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/25 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 10:07 PM Ann, I see your point about Randolph. Guess I'm just a sentimental fool who thinks a man will love the woman he's married to, in some way, no matter what, especially if she's done the best she could. However, I guess enforced celibacy in a marriage can have some drastic effects. I think Randolph felt bad about Christabel's fate too. As I said, he was a tormented man. But then again, to be completely objective, Christabel knew what she was getting into, being attracted to a married man. She was a victim of her own weaknesses. She did try to end things before they went too far, but Randolph was very persuasive. I feel sorry for the position all three of them found themselves in. That's what the story was all about. Yes, I was suspicious about Randolph's being the father of the maid's baby, but it was never confirmed. Joy, who sounds as if she's from Missouri =============== Reply 20 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/25 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 10:07 PM Ann, "So may our love...shine on..." doesn't sound like he feels as if he might as well be dead. There's more to life than sex. However, there's always that quote: "Sex is like money. It only matters when you don't have any." Joy =============== Reply 21 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/25 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:45 PM Okay, since I skipped almost all of the "inserts" in this book, I'd like to hear from those of you who didn't. What was the author's purpose in loading the book with these lumps, like suet in a blood pudding? It certainly slowed down the action. How does all this stuff relate to the "primary" story line? Do you think the book would have worked if a strong-willed editor had weeded out all this secondary indulgence and insisted on only the one story? Ruth, who spent too much money in the nursery today, instead of the bookstore =============== Reply 22 of Note 56 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/25 From: REZG40D KARIN HANCHER Time: 11:30 PM Jane, I was so glad to read your post -- I felt very unenlightened when I started POSSESSION and saw all this wonderful poetry and had never heard of the poet! I even went to the encyclopedia. Was Byatt really into the Victorian poets to be able to create all that in such realistic form and language? I remember the longish poem about some insect, or microscopic bug thing ... that seemed so typical. And in spite of the subject matter, it was a compelling poem. Karin, who needs to locate her copy up in the (shudder) attic so I can try to participate in this thread =============== Reply 23 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/26 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 0:26 AM Ruth - Do you mean "weed out" the poems? What "one story" did you suggest weeding out? What do you mean by "secondary indulgence", the story within the story? Maud & Roland's story wouldn't have worked without Christabel & Randolph's story. The development of the relationship between C & R was an integral part of Maud & Roland's search for the letters. Each step in M & R's search revealed more of C & R's story. And each step in C & R's story, furthered the search M & R were making, and furthered THEIR love story. One was dependent on the other. As far as the long poems go, I didn't read them and it worked fine for me that way. -Joy =============== Reply 24 of Note 56 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/26 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 0:26 AM Jane, I've been meaning to ask you this. You mentioned the tale of the "Little Feet". Where will we find this tale? I searched thru the book (POSSESSION) and couldn't find it. If it's in the book, could you give us the page number? Does anyone know where this tale is? Joy =============== Reply 25 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/26 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 0:59 AM Joy, but what if Byatt had merely presented the Christabel/Randolph story as a series of interwoven flashbacks? How would that have been different? Just wondering what everyone's take on this is. I don't have an ax or even and adze to grind, just interested. BTW, did you notice how even the present day names had a 19th century Romantic bent. Maude and Roland, etc. Ruth, whose library copy of this book has a fine Pre-Raphaelite painting by Edward Burne-Jones =============== Reply 26 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/26 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 2:34 AM Ruth, I think that the Christabel/Randolph story by itself would have lacked the sense of mystery that Maud & Roland's search gave it. Perhaps we would have concentrated more on the yearning and painful ordeal of the lovers, and on Ellen's dilemma. What do you think? Did you mean that you wouldn't do it with letters, but with flashbacks instead? Any other opinions? Joy, who has the same painting ("The Beguiling of Merlin") on the cover of my library copy. I even looked up Merlin in the encyclopedia in an effort to understand the painting.-J. =============== Reply 27 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/26 From: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Time: 9:08 AM I'm jumping in here with very little remembrance of the actual events. But I do have some memory of the way the book was put together. Ruth, if it had just been flashbacks, the reader would not have had a sense of discovery. I was fascinated by the way the story unfolded. Double unfolded. I remember getting the sense that I was the one doing the research and that I was finding out all these interesting details and reading between the lines. I was amazed that I could be so swept away by something that at first seemed so foreign to me. It made me stretch. Sherry =============== Reply 28 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/26 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:42 AM Good point, Sherry. I never thought of that. The sense of the reader doing the discoveries. Ruth, who didn't do much discovering, because she cheated =============== Reply 29 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/26 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 12:38 PM Sherry, I like your term, "sense of discovery"...and your words "the way the story unfolded. Double unfolded". So well put. And your words "Getting the sense that I was... reading between the lines", also said it so well. I always love it when someone expresses something I felt but was unable to put into words. You always do it so well. Thank you! Thank you! Joy, who could only come up with the words, "sense of mystery", good, but no cigar! =============== Reply 30 of Note 56 =================  
To: REZG40D KARIN HANCHER Date: 03/26 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:42 PM Karin, I think that Byatt is a wonder! BABEL TOWER, the book I am reading has a novel within her main story, and it has a completely different style from the main story. She is so versatile. Ruth, I can't believe you think that all of the poetry and "inserts" should be taken out. That is part of the charm of this novel. Jane in beautiful Colorado =============== Reply 31 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/26 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:45 PM Joy, I will look up the story that she read and get back to you. Jane who is enjoying BABEL TOWER. =============== Reply 32 of Note 56 =================  
To: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Date: 03/26 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 10:20 PM Jane, I never, ever said that all the poetry and inserts should be taken out. I just posed a "what if" to get some discussion going as to their contribution to the book. Ruth =============== Reply 33 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/27 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 12:52 PM Ruth, I thought your "what if" question was a good one. I guess that as a teacher, you're very skilled at coming up with questions which encourage thinking. As an added benefit, the question you asked brought us Sherry's insightful and articulate post relating to why POSSESSION was such an enjoyable novel. Joy, enjoying this thread =============== Reply 34 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/27 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 12:52 PM To all: I'd like to quote some lines from the prologue of "PARALLEL LIVES - Five Victorian Marriages", which I borrowed from the library yesterday. The author, Phyllis Rose, says: P.12-I prefer to see the sexless marriages I discuss as examples of flexibility rather than of abnormality. Some people might say that they are not really marriages because they are sexless; it's a point I'd want to argue. There must be other models of marriage - of long-term association between two people - than the very narrow one we are all familiar with, beginning with a white wedding gown, leading to children, and ending in death, or, these days increasingly often, in divorce." P.14-In general, the similarities between marriages then and now seem to me greater than the differences. Then as now certain problems of adjustment, focussing usually on sex or relatives, seem typical of early stages of marriage, and others, for example, absence of excitement, seem typical of later stages. In good marriages, then as now, shared experience forms a bond increasingly important with time, making discontents seem minor. And then as now, love also tends to walk out the door when poverty flies in the window." I tend to agree. How about you? -Joy =============== Reply 35 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/27 From: FAVB99B JANE NIEMEIER Time: 9:37 PM Okay Ruth, As usual, I was in a great hurry and only skimmed all of the notes on this thread, so I must not have read yours carefully enough. You know how it is with hurried school teachers. Anyway, I can't answer your question because it has been too long since I read the book. Joy, I haven't had a chance to look up the section I meant, but I will over the weekend. Jane who wishes she had more time for CR. =============== Reply 36 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/27 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 11:51 PM Much of the discussion of POSSESSION so far has centered on the lengthy excerpts of poetry, fairy tales, and critical analysis purportedly written by Byatt's characters. Ruth and Joy skipped over a lot of them, Jane felt they were integral to the book, and I read them, but felt that they often interfered with the flow of the story. Sometimes, it almost seemed that Byatt was just showing off her ability to write in a great variety of different voices, 19th century ones as well as those of various schools of 20th century literary criticism. Awhile back when we were discussing ANGELS AND INSECTS, Dale Short was kind enough to send me an interview from Publisher's Weekly with A.S. BYATT. In this interview Byatt talked about how difficult it was to get POSSESSION published in the United States, in part because of these long inserts. Editor Susan Kamil wanted the book if she could "take out most of the poetry and many of the letters, for a start." Byatt wasn't feeling very well anyway, and when Kamil started talking about everything that would have to go, she "fainted dead away"! The book was eventually published uncut in the U.S. after Byatt won the Booker prize. At any rate, I guess we can be certain that Byatt considered these selections critical. I wouldn't begrudge her any of the letters. I loved the way they built suspense and led the reader on a journey of discovery, but I could have done without a lot of the poetry, almost all of the fairy tales, and the horrible (I guess that was the point) biographical selections by Mortimer Cropper. Lenora's feminist critique of Christabel's "Melusina" was so absolutely awful that it was almost good, if you know what I mean. Since this book was my suggestion, I did a little extra credit work and checked out the reviews of POSSESSION in Contemporary Literary Criticism. I figured these poems were imitating someone's style and I wanted to know whose. Almost all of the reviews mentioned Christina Rosetti and Emily Dickinson as models for Christabel's writing. Robert Browning was most frequently mentioned as a model for Ash. Just goes to show how little I know about Browning. I know his narrative poem "My Last Duchess" and the poem "Home Thoughts from Abroad", with the famous line "Oh, to be in England now that April's there". However, they don't seem nearly dense or obscure enough to be models for Randolph Ash. Byatt has been a professor of literature and has published literary criticism of Victorian authors. She was a contributor to THE MAJOR VICTORIAN POETS RECONSIDERED and has edited the works of George Eliot and Robert Browning. I imagine that someone who has an academic background in Victorian literature would appreciate Byatt's accomplishments in imitating it more than the ordinary reader. What did you all think of the ending? I loved it, outrageous coincidences and all. A couple of reviewers said it reminded them of Dickens, particularly BLEAK HOUSE. As those of us know who recently read this on Classics Corner, Dickens loved revealing cases of hidden identity and tying up all those loose ends. Ann =============== Reply 37 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/28 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:18 AM Well, mostly what all the letters, poetry, etc. stuff did for me was make me feel guilty for not having the patience to wade through it. I applaud those of you who did. I especially hated the literary nit-pickers arguing as to whether Ash had put on his right shoe before his left. Do you think that ghastly "feminist" criticism was a put on? I must say that the scene at the graveyard, reminded me of nothing so much as a BBC television production. It had all the elements, mystery, suspense, danger of being discovered, mistaken identity and a nice conclusional tying up of loose ends. Ruth =============== Reply 38 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/28 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 6:26 AM Ruth, What can you tell us about that painting, "The Beguiling of Merlin" on the cover of "Possession"? Can you give us some background? Joy =============== Reply 40 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/28 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 7:29 AM Ann, That was very interesting about the editor who wanted to take out most of the poetry. As you say, it's there for those who enjoy it. The reader can take it or leave it. The ending of the book did tie up the loose ends nicely. However, when I think of the end of the story, my mind goes to Randolph's meeting with his daughter. That was the nice surprise for me at the end. For me, the revealing of Maud's identity was minor compared to the revealing of Maia's existence and her meeting with her father. Joy =============== Reply 41 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/28 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:39 AM Oh, Ruth, I absolutely feel that the feminist criticism was a put on, but from what little feminist criticism I have read it is all too easy to parody. Ann =============== Reply 42 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/28 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:40 AM Joy, I have a hard time thinking of an unconsumated marriage as simply a more flexible arrangement. Of the relationships covered in PARALLEL LIVES, the lack of sexual desire or ability to perform seemed to be one-sided, if I remember correctly. Kind of rough on the other partner, especially if she wanted children. However, I think you have rightly pointed out that there are stages in marriage. Reminds me of those books I used to read when my children were very young (I've given up now) outlining the different stages of development during the first year of life, second year of life, etc. etc. Maybe someone should write one about the stages of marriage, if it hasn't already been done. Christabel would argue that intellectual compatibility rather than passion is more important in the end. I thought that the undelivered letter she wrote to Randolph when she was an old woman was beautiful. In this she regretted not those few days of passion "which might have been almost anyone's passion, it seems", but the loss of our "trusting minds which recognized each other." Randolph was an intellectually stimulating equal who understood her passion to write as no one else ever would or could. Looking back on her life, that seemed the real loss. And then she went on to say: "I would rather have lived alone, so, if you would have the truth. But since that might not be--and is granted to almost none--I thank God for you--if there must be a Dragon--that He was You." What a beautiful letter of love and forgiveness--how sad that Ellen kept it from Ash. Ann, weighing in on the side of Christabel, all the way here, as I think Byatt intended. =============== Reply 43 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/28 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 1:20 PM The painter, Edward Burne-Jones, whose painting is on the cover of POSSESSION, was a member of the self-named Pre-Raphaelite group of the mid 1800's. The Pre-Raphaelites represented a Romantic reaction against Realism. Realism (capital R) doesn't just mean realism, where things are painted in a realistic way. It was a movement in which the artists attempted to show life and things as they really were. Courbet was an early proponent of Realism. Especially striking is his famous "Stonebreakers", which is anything but a pretty painting. The Pre-Raphaelites wanted to return the look of painting to the Late Medieval and early Rennaisance days prior to Raphael, hence the name. They were heavily influenced by Botticelli (Venus Rising from the Sea, Primavera). That's where all those decorative curves come from. The forms of the Pre-Raphaelites were echoed later in the Art Nouveau movement of the early 20th century. The Pre-Raphaelites wanted beauty and Romanticism as opposed to Realism, they wanted art to elevate and instruct. Their work is filled with symbols and often has a bit of a narrative twist. I believe Burne-Jones illustrated some Tennyson. Another member of group was Dante Gabriel Rosetti, who was either the poet Christina Rosetti's father or her brother, I forget which. So you can see that this cover painting has a real tie-in to the book. As far as the story of this particular painting goes, I don't really know. I poked around a bit in my books, but I don't have much on the Pre-Raphaelites and this painting is not mentioned in any of my sources. Ruth, who hopes this isn't more than you wanted to know =============== Reply 44 of Note 56 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 03/28 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 2:17 PM Ann, I understand your point of view on every point. How true that intellectual compatiblility is so important, as well as understanding of the other's emotions and passions, (in this case for writing). Yes, Christabel's letter to Ash was beautiful. Thanks for the quotes. It IS sad that Ash never saw that letter. As you say, Byatt probably felt more for Christabel's situation than for Ellen's. That's a good point as well. At the same time there IS something to be said for Ellen's situation too. Reminds me of the old saying: "There are three sides to every story, his side, her side, and the truth." And then we're back to the oldest question of all: "What is truth?" My mom used to say, "You can't build happiness on somebody else's sadness." I guess this book proves that. Joy, wondering why they say that opposites attract when it comes to romance. =============== Reply 45 of Note 56 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 03/30 From: DHGK37A ERNEST BELDEN Time: 3:34 PM Sherry, Ann, Barb, Joy, et all. I posted a note of comments about 4 days ago and it looks to me it disappeared. I do remember that when I touched the final key the phone line failed. That's my luck. After reading a few of your comments I would just be repeating things but I will do so just the same. Fantastic book, fantastic writing, Byatt may well be one of the greatest contemporary writers. She got to a slow start, but, as Steve wrote, things were picking up after a while and I got to the point when I could not put the book down. I could understand the characters, they were well thought out. I was somewhat puzzled about Christobel but her last letter pretty much rectified that. Someone commented about the intellectual vs the physical bond that C. remarked about and how the former turned out to be more important. (I don't know if I stated that this well enough). I also liked Ellen and was rather amazed about the unconsummated marriage - namely mentioned in a literary work. I have seen a good deal of that in my work and observed one such relationship among people I know personally. All this is a rather sad state of affairs for a number of reasons. I had to skip most of the poetry, it would have taken me too long and somehow it did not touch me. The ending was very well put together and - yes _ I do like a happy ending. I was delighted that Ash saw his child and that the child turned out to be a fine person. It is hard for me to comment on the pain that Ellen and C. caused each other, whithought their fault. I will never regret having read this book, and hope that the other Slow Mo CR readers feel the same way. Ernie =============== Reply 46 of Note 56 =================  
To: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Date: 03/31 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 0:14 AM Joy, I know that you like to take notes on the books you read, so I couldn't resist posting my favorite lines from POSSESSION. Number one favorite, regarding those literary sleuths Roland and Maude : "He slept curled against her back, a dark comma against her elegant phrase." (p. 458) I also liked this description of the timid and tentative Roland: "He thought of himself as an application form, for a job, a degree, a life..." (p. 14) And the following really struck a chord of recognition: "silence was also Roland's only form of aggression." (p.16) One more, and then I'd like to hear some of them you wrote down: "A beautiful woman, Simone Weil said, seeing herself in the mirror, knows, 'This is I.' An ugly woman knows, with equal certainty, "This is not I.'" (p.64) I have also been thinking some more about the paradox poem on p. 249 which you posted. Randolph was with Christabel and sent Ellen a jet brooch. The following lines from the poem describe it: "White Yorkshire roses carved in sombre jet Their summer frailty fixed here without end A life in death but not funereal yet." I think those white roses stood for Ellen. On p. 500, we have Randoph's love letter to Ellen during their courtship, in which he goes into raptures about the beautiful white roses which Ellen gave him. They are many shades of white, snow, cream, and ivory, but as yet they are still buds. Randolph says that he is willing to wait patiently until they unfold (i.e., until he can actually possess Ellen). Later we are told that Ellen plans to carry a spray of those white, scentless hothouse roses to his funeral (p. 502). The white roses must symbolize purity, but I wonder if they don't also convey the idea of sterility (they are scentless, hothouse roses) and death ("A life in death.") However, if these white roses symbolize Ellen, I wonder what the significance is of that dead wreath of white rosebuds which Christabel keeps (p. 420). I think this is the wreath she got at the seance, supposedly from Blanche. Any thoughts? Ann =============== Reply 47 of Note 56 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 03/31 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 5:05 PM Ruth, Thanks for taking the time to reply about the art history. I always enjoy peeking into new worlds. Eventually I become overwhelmed when I delve too far, but it's fun just the same. Just takes a lot of energy, unless one is suddenly engrossed. It would be interesting to read a thread on the CR Salon concerning all the different opinions about what art should be. And how does one tell the real from the sham. I heard someone say that the real value of art is established by the price people will pay for it. -Joy, too un- informed to have an opinion...but "I know what I like!" =============== Reply 1 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/02 From: XJKD19F JOY HUOTT Time: 10:15 AM Ann, Interesting about the white roses. I haven't a clue about what the white rosebuds symbolize. I enjoyed reading all the quotes you chose. I've chosen this one to post (from my notes): p.198: "I may call myself your friend, may I not? For my true thoughts have spent more time in your company than in anyone else's, these last two or three months, and where my thoughts are, there am I, in truth..." Joy, late in replying because of the post-holiday exhaustion. =============== Reply 3 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/04 From: DHGK37A ERNEST BELDEN Time: 2:12 PM Ann, just read your comments on Possession and pretty much agree with what you said especially as pertains to the end which reminded you of Dicken's Bleak House. Ernie =============== Reply 4 of Note 5 =================  
To: WSRF10B SHERRY KELLER Date: 04/06 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:49 AM This is a maddening book to read when you can't read sections of it at a time, instead of a few pages. When we went to Florida, I could sit on the beach and immerse myself in it...much better experience. I love Byatt's attention to visual and tactile detail. There's a very sensual feel to everything she writes, even separate from the more traditional love scenes. I keep remembering her comment about Eliot in the interview I heard with her that "she gives you everything." I thought her description of Maude's apartment was fascinating. While giving you the sense of something very cold and austere, which also gave you Maude's personality and situation, it was also enjoyable to just visualize. And bathrooms! I love all of her descriptions of bathrooms, Maude's, Cropper's, the one at Sir George's castle where they stayed. Everything on the Yorkshire trip of both couples is so lovingly described. Roland and Maude took a picnic of "Fresh brown bread, white Wensleydale cheese, crimson radishes, yellow butter, scarlet tomatoes, round bright green Granny Smiths and a bottle of mineral water. They took no books....Neither of them had ever seen or smelled such extravagance of wildflowers in so small a space. The warm air brought the smell of the flowers in great gusts and lingering intense canopies." Somehow, this all contrasts with my image of Byatt with her precise, intellectual British accent. My own stereotypes crumble. I also found an excellent article about POSSESSION on Homework Helper that was in New Republic in 1991 by Ann Hulbert. One of the things she highlights is the wonderful contrast between Maude/Roland and Christabel/Randolph. We think of the Victorian age as so repressed and yet Maude and Roland in their intellectual world are far more cold. She says, "What better way to scrutinize the postmodern, post-Freudian, "knowing" attitude than to compare it with the doubting, inhibited Victorian spirt? Especially since the juxtaposition offers an unexpected twist: lives in the age of sexual ultrasophistication turn out to be frigid, and passion thrives in the age of repression." Very interesting observation, I thought, because that comparison kept slamming into me throughout the last 3rd of the book. Maude and Roland seem like deprived children discovering timidly all the joy and pain that Randolph and Christabel experience. Hubbell also points out that Byatt is a literary critic, expert on Eliot, the Romantics and Iris Murdoch, who is partially using this forum to vent a mounting frustration with modern critical rhetoric. Here, she gets to puncture it with her almost caricatures of Cropper and Leonora Stern. And, Hubbell highlights the exchange between Maude and Roland in which they say that they've never been much interested in the personal lives of the poets...he's a textual scholar and she "can be psycholanalytical without being personal." Yet, their discoveries about the poets personal lives change much of what has been assumed about their writing. Then, at the end, she still cautions against too much of that. Barb =============== Reply 5 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/06 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:49 AM Regarding the controversy about the poetry and fairy tales, I don't think I can give a definite opinion either way. They definitely made the reading go slower. But, they seemed to get better as I went along...or else I got more familiar with the style. The poetry was more difficult for me than the fairy tales. I sort of like that fairy tale style so, once I got into it, it was enjoyable. I liked Christabels' "The Fairy Melusine" probably because of all the sens=============== Note 56 ========== last section: "And she held out the cup, and he came down And took it from her and drank deep therein. All dazed with glamour was he, in her gaze. She ministered unto his extreme need And his face took the brightness of her glance As dusty heather takes the tumbling rays Of the sun's countenance and shines them back. Now was he hers, if she should ask of him Body or soul, he would have offered all. And seeing this, at last, the Fairy smiled." Hmmm...that's a pretty engulfing piece of writing for me. Throughout the book, I vacillated between feeling that Byatt had set up an intellectual exercise for herself which could detract from the story as a whole, and being amazed at the sensuality that she projects into these old forms...where I, in my ignorance, don't expect it. Barb =============== Reply 6 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/06 From: REZG40D KARIN HANCHER Time: 10:10 AM Barbara, I also took this book to the beach and was able to get into it rather quickly there. However, I wouldn't call it your typical "beach book"! Someone posted earlier about the characters' names (was it Ruth?) and I do remember somewhere hearing or reading that all the names of the characters were meaningful. The only analogy I remember was that of Childe Roland on his Quest. Any other suggestions out there? Karin, always on her own quests =============== Reply 7 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/07 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:16 AM Barb, Excellent comments, as usual. And I foolishly asked on CC if you had done any reading on your vacation. I especially liked your comment that you vacillated between feeling that Byatt had set up this book as an intellectual exercise and being taken by surprise by its unexpected sensuality. That sums up my reaction as well. Barb, I was also interested to hear that you liked the ending, as I think did all who have contributed to this thread. One of the reviews in Contemporary Literary Criticism was by Anita Brookner, who overall gave the book an excellent review. However, she didn't like the ending, writing, " is a Romance in the original sense of the word, e.e. something fictive. The concept is applied to the conclusion, which I found flurried and almost impertinently unconvincing." Oh, Anita, lighten up! I guess the notion of a happy ending is foreign to Ms. Brookner, whose books have also been discussed here on CR. You contrasted the romance of Roland and Maude with that of Randolph and Christabel, and I agree with what you said. One thing that both couples have in common, however, is a terrible fear that by giving into passion they will lose their self-possession, their control, their identity. This seemed to me a pretty strong subtheme. Christabel to Randolph: "I cannot let you burn me up." Randolph, thinking of Christabel: "He would teach her that she was not his possession, he would show her she was free." Later -- "I was possessed." And then there are the uniquely suited Randolph and Maude, who take the need for separateness one step further and both dream of "a clean bed in a clean empty room where nothing is asked or to be asked." You can understand Roland's attitude a bit. He has just come out of that claustrophobic relationship with the bitter Val, but Maude seems to be a regular ice princess. She comments about the curse of being beautiful because people want to treat you as a possession (poor, baby), and she has had that unfortunate relationship with Fergus, a character so superficial it is hard to see how he could make much of an impact on anyone. But she never seems quite alive to me, perhaps because her motivation is not that well developed. I prefer, Christabel, whose face is "not kind", but "clear, sharp, and quick," who goes off with Ash on that ill fated trip with a feeling of compulsion, of necessity. So, what did you think of Roland and Maude, Barb? Jane, if you are still reading this thread, I would appreciate your recommending another Byatt book. Although I found parts of POSESSION dense and difficult, there was so much that I liked that I want to continue reading her. Ann =============== Reply 8 of Note 5 =================  
To: REZG40D KARIN HANCHER Date: 04/07 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 9:17 AM Karin, Well, the name Ash can be a symbol of either life, if we think of the tree by that name, or of death if we think of it in terms of ashes to ashes, dust to dust. The "Ash Factory", where scholars study Randolph Ash, is jokingly referred to as "the crematorium." I think this is Byatt's way of calling attention to the way these characters bury themselves in the past, as opposed to living in the present. Ashes are also the remnants of fire, and perhaps, by extension, of passion. Blackadder (adder = viper) seems pretty obvious. In a review of this book, I read that Tennyson wrote a poem about a Maude, but I don't know enough to recognize the literary reference. Also, one of the reviewers in CONTEMPORARY LITERARY CRITICISM pointed out that there was a 19th century German poet, novelist, and writer of fairy tales and Nordic epics named Baron de la Motte Fouque, who was perhaps a model for the writing of both Christabel and Ash. I think that "cropper" is a British slang word, but I am not sure. Anyone have any ideas about that? Roland's nickname is "Mole," which seems fitting since he lives in a basement apartment and lives such a reclusive life. And do you suppose that Christabel was really a character in one of Coleridge's poems, or did Byatt just make that up? Ann =============== Reply 9 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/07 From: UHUB31A D RANDALL Time: 12:45 PM Ann -- I have been peeking in on this thread and contemplate reading Possession before too long. Intriguing info here (and I never concern myself with knowing too much about a book -- once I'm into it, all I know of it gets locked away). The 'cropper' reference you made -- there's an old saying about 'coming a cropper' -- meaning coming up short or coming to no good -- would that fit? I have my new Tennyson somewhere here -- will check that reference and let you know what I find on it. Enjoying these posts! Dottie, still turning pages in The Turning Point! =============== Reply 10 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/07 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 3:23 PM Ann, there's a line of poetry that goes "Come into the garden, Maud, sweet is the night air." I think it's Tenneyson, but I'd have to look it up to be sure. Ruth, writing while Sherry is napping in the guest room =============== Reply 11 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/07 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 9:28 PM Ann, Christabel and Maude were kind of fun for me to compare. Even though Christabel was afraid of being "burned up", she has the capacity for fire. There's so much passion in her about everything, her poetry, her independence, her ideals, and her sexuality. I wonder about Maude's capacity for any of this. I'm guessing that Byatt meant to show her as imprisoned by the discipline of her academic life and by her fear of the loss of her self to someone like Fergus. Christabel tried to withdraw from the world too but still retained that fire. Maude becomes an ice cube. I thought her encounter with Fergus was interesting too. He obviously woke up something within her, but she's sort of attracted and repelled at the same time. Leonora has somewhat the same effect on her. She seems slightly attracted and yet afraid of being engulfed. I liked Byatt's brand of feminism. She poked affectionate fun at Leonora who saw relationships to feminist issues in *everything* no matter how far she had to stretch it. But, the efforts of the other women in the story to define themselves were always articulated in interesting ways. And, yet the men were just as sympathetically presented. In general, I much preferred Ash and Christabel to Roland and Maude, but I kind of thought Byatt intended that. There's so much more life in them. Even though Roland (particularly) and Maude were in the process of "finding themselves" at the end, I didn't think that either of them were ever going to be passionate people. You know, the more I think about this, the more I realize how much I liked Christabel. BTW, Bruce (my brother) has been telling me forever how much I would like this book. I need to e-mail him and tell him my reaction. Oh, and you really got me thinking with your comment about Ash being responsible for the maid's pregnancy. I didn't catch that at all, but I'll bet you're right. Why else even introduce that fact to the story? In Hubbell's article that I got from HH, she also implies that POSSESSION is Byatt's effort to spring free from doing literary criticism. I could see that interpretation of a lot of what she says, but I had the impression that she had been writing for quite some time prior to this...maybe not anything that sold to this magnitude, but writing. Do you know? And, I liked the fun of that ending. Like Ruth said, it reminded me of a show on the BBC, but I liked the way she tied up the threads. My only question was that it sounded like Cropper found that box *outside* the coffin. Didn't you think that Ellen put the box inside the coffin? Or, am I just reading one or the other of the situations wrong? In the one Brookner book I read, her ending tended to not really be an ending. It was one of those possibly more realistic endings in which the main character is just going to "keep on keepin' on." I don't mind that sometimes, but Byatt's ending fit more with the mystery quality of the story. And, yes, I definitely read in Florida. Every morning after my walk down the beach at 8:00 AM, I settled into a beach chair and alternated chapters with long gazes out into the waves and skyline. At noon, I left to meet Tom after he finished a morning of golf and we did family things together for the rest of the day...and, of course, I read at night. It was truly heaven. I had a hard time re-entering reality at work today. Barb =============== Reply 12 of Note 5 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 04/07 From: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Time: 11:59 PM And there's another bit that goes "Come into the garden, Maude, that black bat night has flown." But I don't know who wrote it either. Theresa =============== Reply 13 of Note 5 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 04/08 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 0:40 AM Theresa, I looked it up. Your quote is indeed Tennyson. This leaves me wondering where my quote is from. Ruth, who ought to know better than to quote stuff from the sieve in her head =============== Reply 14 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/08 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:43 AM Yes, Barb, Christabel was a far more interesting character than the frigid Maude. I had trouble envisioning all that headgear Maude wore to conceal those lovely golden locks. She must have presented quite a sight. I had to return POSSESSION to the library, but I remember all those knowing looks that the maid kept giving Ellen, like she couldn't believe she didn't "get it." That's why I thought Ash was the father. I wondered about the box being buried outside the casket also. I just assumed that when you bury something with someone, you put it next to them. However, I was relieved that Byatt spared us the gory details of decomposed bodies. I agree completely with your remarks about Byatt's brand of feminism. She is interested in showing strong women, but can also present sympathetic males. (Although at one point in POSSESSION, I did make a note to myself that Randolph was something of a prig). I thoroughly enjoyed her making fun of feminist criticism. I have run into this type of criticism a few times when I have checked out books on Homework Helper, and it is hard for me to believe it is written seriously. Talk about writing with an agenda! It doesn't surprise me that Bruce, with his love or poetry and knowledge of literary criticism, liked this book. Glad you did too. Byatt's other fiction before POSSESSION includes THE SHADOW OF THE SUN (1964), THE GAME (1967), THE VIRGIN IN THE GARDEN (1978), STILL LIFE (1986), and SUGAR AND OTHER STORIES (1987). POSSESSION was published in 1990, ANGELS AND INSECTS in 1992, THE MATISSE STORIES in 1994, and THE DJINN IN THE NIGHTENGALE'S EYE in 1995. Ann =============== Reply 15 of Note 5 =================  
To: NDKB53A THERESA SIMPSON Date: 04/08 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:43 AM Dottie, Ruth, and Theresa, Thanks for tracking down those references for me. I knew I could count on Constant Readers to help me out. Ann =============== Reply 16 of Note 5 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 04/08 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 12:18 PM Ruth: Your line is from Tennyson as well -- in fact it's the line that immediately precedes the one quoted by Theresa. "Come into the garden, Maud, For the black bat night has flown, Come into the garden, Maud, I am here at the gate alone." --"Maud", A. Tennyson (1835) Dick in Alaska, where we must all pitch in on this poetry thing since Jim Heath took French leave =============== Reply 17 of Note 5 =================  
To: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Date: 04/08 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 12:48 PM Theresa gets the "black bat" credit, Dick. I said "sweet is the night air" and it's not from that poem, which I have in its entirety. I'm sure I didn't make that line up, but where did it come from? My Bartlett's CD failed on it. Haven't tried the book yet. I don't know if they have exactly the same info in the book & CD. Ruth, wondering how things get into her head sometimes =============== Reply 18 of Note 5 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 04/08 From: UHUB31A D RANDALL Time: 2:25 PM Oh Ruth -- Encouragement for me! I feel so out of my league with the discussions here but if YOU have a sieve in your head then there is hope for me yet!!! I HAVE to go get this book! I looked at it Saturday evening when I bought China Court but I didn't take it with me to the register -- silly me! TTYL - Dottie =============== Reply 19 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/09 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 7:11 PM Ann, Thanks for giving me the names of her other fiction. I thought Hubbell was a bit off base there. You know, I was somewhat sympathetic to Maude's plight as a really pretty woman. I've never had that problem myself, to say the least, but I've known women who have. It's very tempting to take the easy way out. Good looks can be such a short term ticket. And, people do act very strange sometimes around a really beautiful person, though I think women tend to be more discounted because of it than men. Maude's headpieces were supposed to be some sort of elaborate symbol of that, I suppose. Plus, I thought it was interesting that she had shorn (word?) it all off short and then got swayed by Fergus' view that this was a cop-out. I kept wondering when she was going to choose what felt best to her and just go with it. Maybe that was the point...that she was so isolated from her real thoughts and feelings that she didn't know what felt best to her. I noted one point when Roland was sort of reveling in the bathroom at Sir George's. It said that, "He was rather sorry for Maude. He had quite decided that she wouldn't have been able to see the romance of the bathroom as he could." Also, I wondered if Val was really so bad. She seemed to be reacting to what Roland was doing to himself in that frigid academic world. Once she got involved with the other man, she certainly seemed like a different person. Do you think that Byatt was using her to reflect what the academic world was doing to them all? I did want to shake her a number of times before she moved out of the apartment though. And, the repeated image of all that cat urine soaking through the certainly had the affect of letting you know how awful their life was! BTW, did anyone understand what was going on with all those cats that had been the old lady's lurking around on the apartment doorstep...and Roland deciding to try and take care of them? I couldn't understand why she would include it if it didn't have some meaning. Barb =============== Reply 20 of Note 5 =================  
To: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Date: 04/10 From: ZRPD32A RICHARD HAGGART Time: 1:04 AM Ruth: Sorry about the quotation mix-up. I didn't backdate enough to pick up the earlier part of the discussion. How about this: "A rosebud set with little willful thorns, and sweet as English air could make her, she." --"The Princess", A.Tennyson (1847) Or, if you don't like that near-miss, how about: "With thee conversing I forget all time, "All seasons, and their change; all please alike. Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet, With charm of earliest birds." --Paradise Lost, Book IV, Milton (1667) They're not your quote, but they're close! Dick in Alaska who loves sifting those reference books =============== Reply 21 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/10 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 8:54 AM POSSESSION: Regarding cats, Barbara, I thought it was another indication of the sudden thawing of Roland's indecisive, depressive personality, following the receipt of three job offers. He had felt excluded from the latest developments in the Randolph and Christabel mystery, and wondered what was to become of him. He had always felt oppressed by the cats, what with the dripping and all, so his being able to look at them with kindness is another sign of leaving his many years' funk behind. Winding down my vacation on the mountain, Felix Miller =============== Reply 22 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/10 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 10:38 AM Barb, No, I didn't think Val was that bad either. Her own academic work was never taken seriously, although she had some talent, and then she was stuck supporting a failed academic-- not a recipe for happiness. I thought it was interesting that Byatt described both her and Blanche as "superfluous" people, thus drawing attention to the fact that they were both the odd-woman out in their respective love triangles. Felix covered the cat angle well. The only thing I have to add is that it seemed so terribly ironic that those cats, with their run of the garden and absolute freedom to relieve themselves wherever they wanted, seemed to be enjoying themselves far more than Val and Roland. Ann =============== Reply 23 of Note 5 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 04/12 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 6:42 PM Felix, I think you're right about the cats. But, your note is tantalizing. What did you think about the rest of POSSESSION? We need a male's opinion in this thread. Barb =============== Reply 24 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/12 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 6:42 PM You know, Ann, I liked Blanche too. I also thought that Byatt painted her in a nicely sympathetic light when she could have blasted her. Barb =============== Reply 25 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/12 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 6:52 PM One excerpt from POSSESSION that struck me was in an early letter to Christabel from Randolph regarding the difference between novels and poetry. It seemed to draw very bright lines between them. I don't conclude that Byatt necessarily has this opinion, only that it was appropriate for the character, Randolph, to have it. However, I wondered what you all thought about it: "What makes me a Poet and not a novelist--is to do with the singing of the Language itself. For the difference between poets and novelists is this--that the former write for the life of the language--and the latter write for the betterment of the world." I don't think he's talking just about the "agendists" that we've discussed on other threads and on CC, but is he completely off base? Barb =============== Reply 26 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/12 From: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Time: 8:24 PM Barbara: Not to put too fine a point on it, but I think Randolph's full of sh**. Seems to me that for every example of a poet whose main concern is beauty of the language and a novelist who's out to change the world, you could find an example of exactly the opposite. One thing that's turned me off to a lot of poetry over the years is some poets' presumption that their form is somehow more pure, less tainted by mortal concerns than writers who are slogging away in the vineyards of narrative. But maybe I'm touchy.. Dale =============== Reply 27 of Note 5 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 04/12 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 8:55 PM Dale, I agree with you. Prose is not necessarily prosaic. Poetry can be. Both can soar. They're just different, but sometimes not as different as people think. Ruth, glad to see a couple of penny's worth from Dale =============== Reply 28 of Note 5 =================  
To: MXDD10A DALE SHORT Date: 04/12 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 10:19 PM So, Dale, I take it that you are saying Randolph *is* completely off base? I think so too and am guessing that Byatt had him saying that to illustrate the rather stuffy, judgemental side of his nature. Is this a common perception among poets? And, what about Byatt who seems to aspire to both poetry and novel writing? BTW, have you read POSSESSION, Dale? If so, what did you think of it? God, it's good to have you back. Barb =============== Reply 29 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/13 From: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Time: 0:17 AM Barb, I think the idea of writing for the betterment of the world is a Victorian idea. Makes me think of our friend George Eliot. Ann =============== Reply 30 of Note 5 =================  
To: TQWX67A ANN DAVEY Date: 04/13 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 12:12 PM And how about Shelley on this subject: "Poets are the unacknowleged legislators of the world." Not much distance in time between Shelley and Ash, so the character is speaking from his personal bias, I think. The purposes of any art, or of any communication, may be to excite either the esthetic or the political feelings of its audience. Just a matter of which side of the street the artist is working.(Or he/she may be working both sides of the street, of course. Should be, if the work is worth reading) Regards from the mountain, Felix Miller =============== Reply 31 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/13 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 12:12 PM Barbara, You asked for it, so I will put in my abbreviated digest of reactions to POSSESSION. But first, I must drag out my battered, bullet-and-metaphor-riddled soapbox a moment. You mention needing a "male's opinion" for this thread. Could you define your terms? All books, I hope, were meant to be read by people in general, and to this end have to be grounded in human nature and its universal elements. Of course, men and women are different (I have noticed this with both satisfaction and dismay on many occasions), so how the truths of existence are presented and appreciated depend to some degree on the sex of the writer/reader. But if there are some things in any book inaccessible to either sex, I would say that such things could not be what is really important about the book. Okay, I'm kicking the soapbox back under the house with the rusting tricycles and broken lawn furniture. Now, I like POSSESSION a great deal. I read it first a few years ago, and just finished re-reading it last week. I delayed saying anything about it before finishing and digesting the book. (burp). Like most of you, I just dipped into the poetry and stories, mostly to get a flavor of what Byatt was doing to establish her characters' styles. I was really interested to see in the fairy story of THE GLASS COFFIN a resemblance to Coleridge's unfinished poem CHRISTABEL. I don't remember whether Christabel had referred to her childhood encounter with Coleridge by the time this tale appeared in the book, but it interested me. The element of the spell which prevents the woman from telling her brother what is happening seems very important in both the tale and the poem. Important also in POSSESSION, where silences abound. Christabel's silence about Maia, and Ellen's silence about Christabel's letter. These are more than plot devices, I think. They have to do with the difficulties of communication in literature and in Victorian society. Women in that time had no voice outside of the home, unless they were extraordinary artists in words, like George Eliot or Christina Rossetti (I believe Rossetti is thought to be a likely model for Christabel). But, like the spellbound woman in the fairy story, they cannot tell all they know. As far as men and women and their relationships are concerned, there are few examples here of great communication, do you think? For the duration of their brief epistolary and briefer physical affair, Randolph and Christabel achieve the most open dialogue. Followed, however, by such complete silence. Merlin was enchanted by Vivien, and put under glass forever, like the enchanted princess in the fairy tale. As far as communication with Christabel is concerned, Ash is as completely mute following their idyll in Yorkshire. Christabel has reversed the Merlin story, and encased herself in glass-like silence in Seal Court. Several have remarked on the ending, which has been criticised. I like the ending of the story proper fine. Byatt should have resisted putting the epilogue in, I think. Probably she would be chagrined by my opinon. I liked the parallel stories, the unfolding of the mystery of Ash and Chistabel (I am a great fan of mystery novels), and I laughed a lot at the skewering of academics Byatt does throughout the book. When agenda dominates art, the tail wags the dog. A very good book I did not mind reading twice. May read again in a few years. Regards from the mountain, Felix Miller =============== Reply 32 of Note 5 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 04/13 From: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Time: 6:01 PM Ah, Felix, how ironic...your soapbox is much the same as mine, but I sort of contradicted my own beliefs when I asked for a male view. Actually, people have made slight in-roads on making me question my former beliefs about gender differences recently. I find myself doing casual research again. And, also, I've been somewhat surprised at the low number of participants in the POSSESSION discussion...wanted to add to the group. And, you've given me lots to think about...the silences are definitely everywhere. Is this a function of British stoicism as well? It certainly wasn't limited to the part of the story set in the Victorian era. If anything, there was even less communication between Roland, Val, Maude, Blanche and Blackadder. But, I thought that had to do with the emotional chains of academia, probably both. I take it that you *didn't* think that agenda dominated art in this one? Barb =============== Reply 33 of Note 5 =================  
To: NCSH82B BARBARA MOORS Date: 04/13 From: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Time: 9:15 PM Barbara, Contradicting one's own views is the sign of a mature mind, I think. Anybody who is without contradictions is to be viewed with suspicion. I seek out books by women writers to find out more about how the other half (or more, according to most census data) see life. So I recognize that there is a difference. As far as silences, British and otherwise, this seems to be a central problem of human interaction. We are all locked into our own little prisons, spending a lifetime trying to link up with at least a few other people, and literature provides a way to map the escape route. It is ironic, as some others in this thread have noted, that the relationship of Ash and Christabel is so much more passionate than that of Roland and Maud. Such a contradiction, the Victorians more passionate than the 90's generation. On the night before my vacation ends, on the mountain, Felix Miller =============== Reply 34 of Note 5 =================  
To: VMMN97A FELIX MILLER Date: 04/13 From: KDEX08B RUTH BAVETTA Time: 11:13 PM You know, Felix, sometimes I think the Victorians wrote a good passion, rather than living it. Ruth, recalling that most of the evidence of the Ash/Christabel passion takes the form of letters

A.S. Byatt

I thought the title of the book was a stroke of genius. It had so many meanings: The possession of the letters. The complete possession of a loved one. And the most overpowering meaning, the state of possession as Ash explained it to Ellen on p.492: "...I have been in love with another woman. I could say it was a sort of madness. A possession, as by daemons. A kind of blinding."
Joy Huott
I was really interested to see in the fairy story of THE GLASS COFFIN a resemblance to Coleridge's unfinished poem CHRISTABEL. I don't remember whether Christabel had referred to her childhood encounter with Coleridge by the time this tale appeared in the book, but it interested me.
Felix Miller

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