Possession Readalong

Possession Readalong Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5

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Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5
Next week, Chapters 6 and 7

The story so far. . .

Chapter Four
The chapter opens with the first Christabel LaMotte poem we’ve seen so far, a chilling reimagining of the Rapunzel story, in which an unknown “he” watches an evil “humped one” climb Rapunzel’s hair in his place. Roland is off to meet Dr. Maud Bailey at the University of Lincoln, and he catches up on some LaMotte background while he’s on the train. He notes the change in scholarly attitude toward her: a biography from the 1940s dismisses her Melusina outright, calling it “now deservedly forgotten,” but applauds her “domestic mysticism,” her “delicate lyrics,” and her “troubled but steadfast Christian faith” (p. 37). Whereas, Roland notes, “thirty years later the feminists saw [her] as distraught and enraged,” focusing on a repressed indignation at feminine domesticity, her “occluded lesbianism,” and subversive female roles in Melusina.

Rapunzel. Anonymous artist, circa 1909.
Rapunzel. Anonymous artist, circa 1909.

Off the train, Roland meets and is immediately intimidated by Maud, who is much taller than him, is dressed impeccably with her hair wrapped in an elaborate turban, and who comes off as icily professional and somewhat condescending. She takes him on a tour of the university, which is the opposite of the Ash factory: rather than being buried in the hot, windowless bowels of the museum, the university is all white towers, brightly coloured tiles, libraries made of glass. Maud, a self-sufficient modern-day maiden, lives at the top of Tennyson Tower, and her office is glass-walled on one side, with highly organized books and not a speck of dust. Everything is opposite to Roland’s experience. She sets him up in the library with the diary of Blanche Glover, the woman with whom LaMotte lived, her close companion and possibly her lover.

Continue reading “Possession Readalong Part 2: Chapters 4 and 5”

Possession Readalong

Possession Readalong Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3

Possession Readalong banner Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3
Next week, Chapters 4 and 5

The story so far. . .

Chapter One
opens with a quote from a long poem called “The Garden of Prosperina,” written in in 1861 by one Randolph Henry Ash. Twenty-nine-year-old British scholar Roland Michell is at the London Library. His area of expertise is Randolph Henry Ash, and he works part time as a research for Professor James Blackadder, a man who has been working on the complete edition of Ash’s poems for his entire academic career. Roland is look for a copy of Vico’s Principj di Scienza Nuova —the very copy that Ash once owned himself—hoping to find links in the text of the book that might show influences on Ash’s “The Garden of Proserpina.”


Roland discovers that the book, laced with “a black, thick, tenacious Victorian dust” (p. 2) has been undisturbed possibly since Ash himself last closed the book in the 1800s. This could be a big deal for Ash scholars, since most of Ash’s belongings have been secreted out of the UK and to Robert Dale Owen University in New Mexico under the supervision of an Ash expert named Mortimer Cropper.

Continue reading “Possession Readalong Part 1: Chapters 1, 2, and 3”

Possession Readalong

Get ready! The Possession Readalong begins on January 16th!

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Ready to sink your teeth into mystery, history, romance, and scandal? A.S. Byatt’s Possession won the 1990 Booker Prize and the 1990 Irish Times-Aer Lingus International Fiction Prize and has been included in best-book lists by Time Magazine and the BBC. This complex, passionate novel interweaves the story of a forbidden affair between two Victorian poets with the two modern-day academics who set out to discover the truth of the affair. Challenging social values and ideas of sexuality, class assumptions, and the institution of academia, Possession will sweep you away into its incredibly well-imagined world.

For twelve weeks, the readalong will delve into the intricacies of this marvelous book. Want to join the fun? Pick your copy up at Random House (in Canada; in the US, and in the UK), Amazon.ca, Amazon.com, Indigo.ca, and fine independent bookstores everywhere.

The Possession Readalong: coming January 16th, 2013!

Possession Readalong

Introducing the Possession Readalong

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Love and betrayal. Living history, rife with passion and scandal. Mysteries hidden and unravelled: these form the heart of A.S. Byatt’s complex, achingly lovely, incredibly intelligent Possession. An illicit romance between two Victorian poets, and the affair’s wide-ranging consequences, remains hidden for over a century until, in modern-day England, two scholars who specialize in the works of these poets stumble onto their secret. And that secret threatens to cause just as much of a mess in 1990 as it did in the 1800s.

The eminent Randolph Henry Ash and the obscure Christabel Lamotte should barely have crossed paths, let alone conducted a dizzying affair that shook social mores and ruined lives. And how could it have stayed hidden all these years? Ash expert Roland Michell and Lamotte expert Maud Bailey go on the hunt for clues to better understand the mysterious letters Roland has discovered. But the stakes are upped monumentally when others join the chase, and when Roland’s and Maud’s very reputations could be disgraced.

From séances, theosophy, and faerie lore to the constraints imposed by imperialism, paternalism, and social class, A.S. Byatt creates a mesmerizing mystery and a sweeping love story. Told not just in third-person narrative but also through letters, diaries, and the works of the poets themselves, Byatt shows a chameleon-like ability to embody different voices in different media. This book is also at once a critique of modern academia and of notions of progress in both the Victorian and modern eras; it is an examination of femininity and masculinity and sexuality, of power and oppression, and, of course, it is about possession: of an object, of knowledge, of a lover, of a secret.

Continue reading “Introducing the Possession Readalong”