Possession, A. S. Byatt

Historical and Cultural Context

A.S. Byatt's novel Possession is a captivating tale set in two distinct eras: the Victorian period (1837-1901) and the present day. The narrative delves into the lives of two sets of characters – Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte, and present-day academics Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey – whose paths intertwine in an intriguing exploration of love, loss, and the enduring power of literature.

The Victorian era, a time of great social and cultural transformation, serves as the backdrop for the clandestine love affair between Ash and LaMotte. Romanticism, a literary movement that emphasised emotion, imagination, and individual expression, permeates the Victorian world, shaping the poets' sensibilities and infusing their works with passion and intensity.

In contrast, the present-day narrative follows Roland Mitchell and Maud Bailey, two academics consumed by their research on Ash and LaMotte. As they delve into the poets' lives through fragments of letters, diaries, and poems, they begin to uncover a secret love story that has remained hidden for over a century.

By weaving together these two distinct timelines, Byatt masterfully blurs the boundaries between reality and fiction, challenging the traditional notions of truth and authority. The postmodern themes that permeate the novel invite readers to question the reliability of individual accounts and the possibility of attaining a complete understanding of the past.

A) The Victorian era (1837-1901)

B) The early 20th century

C) The mid-20th century

D) The late 20th century

2. What literary movement significantly influenced Victorian culture and the works of the poets in the novel?

A) Realism

B) Romanticism

C) Modernism

D) Postmodernism

3. Which societal expectations were Victorian women often expected to fulfill?

A) Pursuing literary ambitions

B) Engaging in political activism

C) Focusing on domestic roles and childcare

D) Owning property and voting rights

4. What academic discipline do the present-day characters in the novel pursue?

A) Literary scholarship

B) Historical research

C) Scientific investigation

D) Artistic expression

DISCUSSION: How does the story Possession make us think differently about the past and who tells us about it??

Further reading