Possession A Romance
By A.S. (Antonia Susan) Byatt
Originally Published Chatto & Windus 1990
This cover version published Vintage 2001
This book is my third and final book for the Book to Movie Challenge. I love reading literary detective novels, although I do not particularly like poetry. However this is a search for what really happened between two (fictional) Victorian poets in England in the 1860s. A.S. Byatt made up poems, stories, diary entries and letters from both poets, and other family members and friends. These were woven throughout an excellent story of two present day academics looking for more details of the poets lives.
The two poets are Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash. Christabel is actually a lesbian - but in Victorian times, this of course was a horrible sin - so she lived quietly with her companion Blanche Glover. Ash was married to Ellen, but they did not have any children. Ash and Christabel met at a dinner party given by a colleague in 1859, where they found a common area of passion (literature and poetry) to talk about.
Roland Michell is an American scholar of the poet Randolph Henry Ash. He is in England doing a fellowship (similar to an internship) on Ash. One day in the London Library, he is looking through an old Book that used to belong to Randolph Ash. Inside this book, he finds 2 drafts of a letter written by Ash to an unknown lady. The letters begin..."Dear Madam". It's obvious that Ash is not writing to his wife. The letters mention the name of the colleague who gave the party, so Roland does more digging and eventually discovers that there were 3 women at that party. Two of them were known, and one was not. The unknown woman was a Christabel LaMotte. Ash asks a colleague for advice on who to consult regarding LaMotte and is referred to Dr Maud Bailey in Lincoln University.
Roland goes to Lincoln to visit Dr Bailey and discovers that she is Lamotte's great great neice, being descended from Christabel's sister Sophia. Sophia's daughter May Bailey, married a Bailey cousin. Maud takes Roland on a small tour, visiting the home where Christabel lived. and died. There they discover some letters, previously unknown. These letters indicate an ongoing affair with Randolph Ash - something that noone else was aware of.
The letters take Roland and Maud on a trip to Whitby, and from there to France, where eventually they discover a secret, something that will change Maud's entire life.
At the same time as I was reading the novel, I also watched the movie. Beautiful. Not having seen it before, I loved it. I think its stayed pretty true to the novel, except that it cut out a lot of the other academics. In the novel there are other academics chasing Roland and Maud, because they too want to be the first to discover something new about Randolph Ash. Its the old adage - Publish or perish. They featured quite heavily in the book, and not so much in the movie.
My DH really liked the movie. He usually prefers actions and thrillers. He says this was a great story because of the search and the mystery, and he wanted to know the answers just as much as Roland and Maud did.
If I was to write a novel, I would want to write a novel just like this - a Literary Detective novel.