Welcome to my new online appendage to the Guardian's monthly book club , where I'm hoping to foster debate, gauge opinion and encourage you — the reader! This time the subject is Possession by AS Byatt, an author most critics seem to adore, but many readers love to hate. Stuart Evers recently wrote an interesting blog expressing this distaste and what he termed an " allergy " to AS Byatt. It struck a chord.

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Do you think it has more than one meaning? How can possession be seen as the theme of the book? Ash is nicknamed "the Great Ventriloquist" but this sobriquet could as easily be applied to Byatt herself.

Why does Byatt use poetry to give away so many clues to the story? Are the poems a necessary and integral part of the novel or would it have worked just as well without them? Do you find that the poems in the novel succeed in their own right as poetry?

Clues to the last three may be found in the poetry by Tennyson, Yeats, and Coleridge cited below. Do any other names in the novel seem to you to have special meanings?

How do the names help define, or confuse, the relationships between the characters? The scholars in the novel see R. Do you feel that such a classification is valid?

Do the poets themselves consciously enact masculine and feminine roles? Or that the work of the two poets is complementary? Ellen Ash wrote her journal as a "defence against, and a bait for, the gathering of ghouls and vultures" [p. What is the fine line, if any, between a ghoulish intrusion upon the privacy of the dead, and the legitimate claims of scholarship and history?

As much as the scholars have discovered, one secret is kept from them at the end and revealed only to the reader. Freedom and autonomy are highly valued both by Christabel and Maud. What does autonomy mean to each of these characters? What does autonomy mean to Roland? Why does mutual solitude and even celibacy assume a special importance in his relationship with Maud?

Yet in her way Beatrice is as much a victim of "patriarchy" as any of the Victorian women they study. What is the double standard at work among these politically minded young people? Can Beatrice be seen as a "superfluous woman," like Blanche and Val? What, if anything, do these three women have in common? Ash writes "Swammerdam" with a particular reader, Christabel LaMotte, in mind. What are its parallels with her own life? At the end of her life she wonders whether she might have been a great poet, as she believes Ash was, if she had kept to her "closed castle" [p.

What do you think? Roland and Maud believe they are taking part in a quest. This is a classic element of medieval and nineteenth-century Romance, of which they are well aware. What other genres are exploited in the novel? When he returns to his flat at the end of the novel, Roland decides there is "no reason why he should not go out into the garden" [p. What is the emotional significance of his finally entering the garden? Yeats, The Rose. Share: Share on Facebook. Add to Cart. Introduction Roland Michell and Maud Bailey, two rather unfulfilled young literary scholars, unexpectedly become figures of romance as they discover a surprising link between the two poets on whom they are authorities.

Byatt deftly plays with literary genres—Romantic quest, campus satire, detective story, myth, fairy tale—as Maud and Roland become deeply involved in the unfolding story of a secret relationship between the Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.

A knowledge of the poetry referred to in the text is not essential to a full enjoyment of the novel, but it will certainly enhance it; a few important poems are listed after the questions below. Questions and Topics for Discussion 1. About this Author A S. She has had a distinguished career as a literary critic and an academic, teaching English and American literature at University College, London, and she has published a book on the nineteenth century, Unruly Times: Wordsworth and Coleridge in Their Time ; a collection of essays and book reviews, Passions of the Mind ; and two books on the novelist Iris Murdoch.

Although her interests are manifold, she has made Romantic and Victorian poetry her specialty. Learn More About Possession print. LitFlash The eBooks you want at the lowest prices. Read it Forward Read it first. Pass it on! Stay in Touch Sign up.

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Not in a million years. Why is this funny? I think it's because it seems to play to a public idea of Byatt's austerity. It's a version of the joke that's told about the Cambridge poet Jeremy Prynne. Prynne is asked: "What's your wife's name. In England, we're in awe of intellectuals, and scared of them, and Byatt - as novelist, critic, anthologist, essayist - is an unapologetic four-star intellectual.


Possession Reader’s Guide

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Guardian book club: Possession by AS Byatt

Possession: A Romance is a best-selling novel by British writer A. Byatt that won the Booker Prize. The novel explores the postmodern concerns of similar novels, which are often categorised as historiographic metafiction , a genre that blends approaches from both historical fiction and metafiction. The novel follows two modern-day academics as they research the paper trail around the previously unknown love life between famous fictional poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte.



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