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Reading Widdershins: a study of romance and A.S. Byatt’s Possession: a romance Kirkness, Catherine Jane 1994

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READING WIDDERSHINS: A STUDY OF ROMANCE ANDA. S. BYATT ‘S POSSESSION. A ROMANCEbyCATHERINE JANE KIRKNESSB.A., The University of Toronto, 1989A THESIS SUBMITTED IN PARTIAL FULFILLMENT OFTHE REQUIREMENTS FOR THE DEGREE OFMASTER OF ARTSinTHE FACULTY OF GRADUATE STUDIES(Department of English)We accept this thesis as conformingto the required standardTHE UNIVERSITY OF BRITISH COLUMBIAFEBRUARY 1994© Catherine Jane Kirkness, 1994In presenting this thesis in partial fulfilment of the requirements for an advanceddegree at the University of British Columbia, I agree that the Library shall make itfreely available for reference and study. I further agree that permission for extensivecopying of this thesis for scholarly purposes may be granted by the head of mydepartment or by his or her representatives. It is understood that copying orpublication of this thesis for financial gain shall not be allowed without my writtenpermission.(Signature)Department of &TVG-L I S (1The University of British ColumbiaVancouver, CanadaDate 3DE-6 (2188)IIAbstractIn this study I consider A. S. Byatt’s Possession: a Romance as both an example ofand a commentary on its genre. In the first chapter, I explore some reviews of Byatt’sromance, with an emphasis on critical approaches to the book’s genre, and introduce the criticalmaterial, including studies of fairy tales, which informs my discussion of romance. In Chapter2, I analyse the assertion that “Romance is a proper form for women” (Possession 404) andsuggest that the form of romance may promote new kinds of social organization by liberatingthe imagination of writers and readers alike. I build on the theme of romance as a subversivegenre in Chapter 3 with a discussion of animal transformation and a comparison of Byatt’ sversion of “The Glass Coffm” with Grimm’s more traditional version of the same tale. Chapter4 includes a discussion of different styles of reading; I concentrate on the relationship betweencuriosity and faith in Possession in order to suggest some of the implications of thisrelationship for readers and critics of romance.ifiTABLE OF CONTENTSAbstract iiTable of Contents iiiAcknowledgement WChapter One Romance, Reviewers, and Possession: 1Chapter Two Romance, Women and Confusion 17Chapter Three Crossing the Line from Convention to Innovation:Animals and Insubordination in Byatt’s Romance 33Chapter Four The Rewards and Perils of “Greedy Reading” 49Works Cited 63Book Reviews andArticles Consulted 66Works Consulted 71ivAcknowledgmentsAs you can probably imagine, the writing of this thesis involved many differenthelpers. I am grateful to all of the friends (and friends of friends) who contributed somehow,whether they did so knowingly or not. I offer special thanks to these:Professor Kröller, for seeing a stubborn thesis through a number of drafts withpatience, insight, and style. Professor Daiziel, for responding with good cheer andencouragement whenever I asked for help. Professor Sirluck, for offering inspiration, support,challenges, and advice with such wit and generosity.Beth, for setting a fme example, sharing celebration and commiseration, keeping faith,and helping me to sneak away from the Ivory Tower without too much regret. Elaine, forincluding our thesis support group at her wedding and thus providing a fitting romanticconclusion to our series of weekly meetings. Kathy, for demonstrating that theses can be madeto disappear by magic, and for being who she is.Julie, for valuable Possession discussions and welcome social invitations.My colleagues at the Vancouver Public Library, for doing their best to put the groundunder my feet and for being there when the books were awfully heavy.Janey and Lorna, for their healing hands and hearts and their conspiratorial laughter.Jen, for being able to see the green velvet book and beyond, and for rowing beside mein friendship, however high the waves.John K., for seeing me through from nursery school to gradual school and remainingenthusiastic, however disgruntled I became.Elisabeth, for being fiercely loyal as well as cooking, cleaning, sewing, talking, andproving that love and wisdom are alive in the big woods.John, strong and true, for untold hours of practical help and for building ladders whenmy hair was not long enough for climbing.In memory of Shelley Robinson, Dave Bums, and Peter Marinelli.1Romance, Reviewers, and Possession:“And then there is the whole question of what kind of Truthmay be conveyed in a wonder-tale” (Possession 181).When I first read Possession: a Romance, by A. S. Byatt, I lived in a basement likeRoland and Val’s. I read quickly, looking for revelations and resolutions. I found Rolandfrustrating but endearing, and Cropper frightening. I identified with Maud and felt certain thatshe was not actually cold, but seemed that way because she was afraid of being trapped byother people’s stereotypes. I identified with Beatrice and admired her refusal to produce anedition of Ellen Ash: “I wasn’t sure it was right. If she would have liked what I was doing”(241). I wept with Ellen when Randolph was dead. I felt great relief when Maud and Rolandfinally became lovers. I wept at the end of the book because the experience of reading it for thefirst time was over and because Christabel never knew that Maia and Randolph met I marvel atByatt’s ability to involve readers in such an intimate way with her story.Since Possession first appeared in 1990, a number of reviewers have discussed it, butapart from these book reviews, critical responses to the novel are not widely available in print.I consulted a range of book reviews in periodicals from Britain, Canada and the United States,and found reviewers apparently divided over Possession. In one review, Anne Smith(Listener) links Byatt’s romance to a scathing description of “campus novelists,..writingfiction for deconstruction by their own seminar groups.” In her view, reading Possession islike “reading the second draft of a PhD thesis. ‘Knowledge’ (i.e. research) is paraded for itsown sake.” She refers to Byatt, indirectly, as an exponent of “pre-quantum theoryintellectualism. It stifi regards the emotions as a minor intrusion which comes between himself[the intellectual] and the pure truth or the ultimate perception of a logical mega-pattern of being.It is superior in its detachment, smug in its ignorance, a highly refined stupidity.” She impliesthat such predominance of analysis over ‘story’ makes Possession a failed example of theromance genre; “Possession falls with a leaden thump as a romance; it succeeds as an2exposition malaise.” The tenns of her criticism point to a conflict betweenromance and academic writing and suggest that these two genres are incompatible, at least inPossession. As you have seen, her response to the book differs strikingly from my own.Other reviewers, however, express opinions which are closer to mine: “romance andfairly-tale [sic] motifs are intertwined with contemporary academic and sexual politics” inByatt’s “depiction of the small world of literary criticism” (Karlin 17) as well as in herdepiction of the world of nineteenth-century poetry. Robert Sandiford (Montreal Gazettereview of PM) sees Possession as “preoccupied with how art and literature are not merelypossessed by us all— they also possess the intellect and imagination as can few other forces inour lives, and bring people together.” He believes that Byatt “follows her art. ..with body,heart, mind and soul.” His comments point to the kind of interweaving and blurring ofboundaries that I associate with Possession itself. Smith argues that romance and literarycriticism are incompatible genres and blames Byatt for juxtaposing them; Karlin and Sandifordcredit her with bringing elements of literary criticism into her romance in an effective way.Several other reviews contain similarly confficting matter. Christina Koning claims thatByatt warns of the dangers of theoretical dogma: “Byatt has a great deal of fun at the expenseof assorted Freudians, feminists and deconstructionists, and points up the danger of imposingdoctrinaire readings on multi-levelled and elusive texts.” Michael Dirda seems to agree:Byatt, a former British academic as well as a novelist, aims to show how someliterary professionals, obsessed with textual questions, Lacanian psychology ordeconstruction, may blind themselves to the sheerly human, the actual feelings,in poems: They get the meaning and miss the poetry. Sometimes they even missthe meaning. (C7)Judith Thurman (New Yorker), on the other hand, sees Byatt herself as a deconstructionist:“the modem politics of knowledge forces academic writers to develop strategies for placing3themselves beyond criticism. The trick, apparently, is to deconstruct one’s own textdefensively rather than surrender any fertile passage to an invading analyst.” For Smith,romance and literary criticism do not belong together, and for Thurman, “the artist and thedidact within Byatt seem to compete for possession of her work” (155). Both of thesereviewers suggest that Byatt fails to observe boundaries between her separate roles as fictionwriter and literary critic. Karlin, Sandiford, and Dirda, by contrast suggest that Possessionargues for the dissolution of these same boundaries or for the value of story as well ascriticism. I admire Possession precisely because Byatt’s romance seems to encourage a readernot to become “an invading analyst”; she frees readers to respond on a range of different levels.Some reviewers accuse Possession of being didactic or pedantic, yet others admireByatt’s method of conveying scholarly details and exploring how readers and critics look atliterature. Anita Brookner may suggest reasons for this apparent contradiction: “Possession isinordinate, but not indiscriminate; it is unfashionable; it is generous, teeming with more ideasthan a year’s worth of ordinary novels. An occasional unpruned sentence cannot diminish thehigh style of the whole.” Her choice of words like “inordinate,” “generous,” “unpruned,” and“teeming” supports the idea that Possession does overflow boundaries, perhaps including thedistinctions between romance and literary criticism, practice and theory which some reviewersseek to defend.In an interview with Juliet Dusinberre (published in Women Writers Talking 1983),Byatt expresses her point of view about the relationship between literature and criticism:I need to write a theoretical book at the same time as I write a novel. The gapbetween creative writers and critics has closed markedly in the last ten or twentyyears, partly through the influence of structuralism. There are now academictheorists, novelists who are academics, and critics like Harold Bloom who thinkcriticism is a form of creative writing. I don’t. I think critical writing is a way of4fmding out how to write well. I had to throw off the burden of Leavis’ whothought that to write any book of criticism, however second-rate, was betterthan to write a second-rate novel. I always put novel writing higher. (Todd 193)Although Byatt sees a clear distinction between writing criticism and writing literature she saysthat the gap between them is closing, and also suggests that criticism is ancillary to creativewriting, a means by which to learn a “higher” form. Although she examines different criticalmethods in Possession, she argues for the primacy of story.2Throughout her oeuvre, Byatt seems concerned with concepts which are traditionallydefined as ‘opposites’ such as body and soul (Angels and Insects), heart and mind (Passionsof the Mind), one person’s space and another’s (Virgin in the Garden), reality and fiction (TheGame), creation and criticism (The Shadow of The Sun), form and content (Possession). Sheshows that the boundaries between the elements of these pairs are often permeable, shifting,uncertain. According to Bytt, “Possession actually began with the word ‘possession.’ It’swhen two or three things that are separate appear to be a part of the same thing” (Canton 8). Inher romance, she interweaves many apparently antithetical elements, and thus explores theinterstices between supposedly clearly-defined realms, the tensions and complexities of in-between places. In addition to those listed above (all of which figure in Possession), these aresome of the pairs in which I am interested: constraint/freedom, wild/civilised, men/women,imaginary/factual, ordinary/unusual, faith/questioning, confusion/order, critics/writers,metaphoric/literal, human/animal, theory/practice, education/delight, innovation/convention.If Byatt does examine the relationship between literary criticism and literature inPossession by incorporating the one into the other, then I am inclined to read her romance asboth an example of and a commentary on its genre. Before I undertake such a reading,however, I will consider some of the other defmitions of romance which inform mydiscussion.5In Modern Romance and Transformations of the Novel, Ian Duncan delineates the fullbreadth of the term ‘romance’:In the last fifty years it has signified a courtly or chivafric fiction of the lateMiddle Ages, a fanciful or erotic or sentimental enhancement of a situation orevent, any unlikely story, a love affair, highly conventionalized mass-marketednovels read by women, a narrative with a quest in it, four of the last plays ofShakespeare, the American novels of Poe, Hawthorne, and Melville, and asuper-genre containing all fictional forms and figures that is ultimately the formand figure of a transcendental human imagination. (10)Possession offers examples of most, if not all, of these kinds of romance. Roland’s name, forexample carries associations with The Song ofRoland, a medieval French romance, as well aswith Childe Roland, son of King Arthur and the subject of a poem by Robert Browning whosetitle comes from King Lear: “Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came.” In a critical essay,Byatt expresses a predilection for “fanciful or erotic or sentimental enhancement”: “I’d ratherhave cloth-of-gold wedding dresses, quotations from Urne Buriall and tigerish passion incrime writers acquitted of murder, than brown frocks, knitted socks in clerical grey, andcauliflower cheese” (Passions of the Mind 270). Roland and Maud’s discovery of lettersconnecting two famous poets is an “unlikely story,” as many historical scholars can attest.There are plenty of love affairs in Possession, such as those between Christabel and Randolph,Roland and Maud. In common with popular mass-market romances, a third-person narrator inPossession tells of a socially and economically challenged protagonist (Roland) falling in lovewith an attractive but cold and unattainable colleague (Maud); the two survive numerousmisunderstandings and ultimately confess mutual love.3 The narrator of Possession statesoutright that the romance plot includes a “Quest” (460). Like Shakespearean romances such asThe Tempest or The Winter’s Tale, Possession features false death and rebirth, mistaken6identities, ocean voyages, escapes to the wilderness, long-lost relatives. A quotation fromHawthorne serves as an epigraph to Possession. These selected examples help to illustrate thatByatt’ s romance covers a range of romance conventions comparable in their breadth to therange of meanings which Duncan attributes to the word ‘romance.’The Oxford Companion to the English Language says of ‘romance’ that “the history ofthis word provides a strildng example of semantic change from specific to general referenceand from one to many senses” (McArthur 872). Perhaps because such semantic change impliesgreat breadth and complexity of meaning, many books about romance concentrate on specificauthors or periods in the history of the genre (ie. Medieval Romances). Many critics, includingNorthrop Frye (AC 33), include fairy tales in the category of romance; some works which dealwith fairy tales alone (see Estés, King, Zipes) have enhanced my understanding of Possessionand contributed to my study of Byatt’s romance.Gillian Beer,4 in The Romance, states that “because romance shows us the ideal it isimplicitly instructive as well as escapist. By removing the restraints of rationalism it can reachstraight to those levels of our experience which are also re-created in myth and fairy-tale” (9).Her comment suggests that critics identify with the genre of romance a ‘reconciling’ capacitywhich I identify with Possession in particular; while some critics may label works of literatureas either ‘instructive’ or ‘escapist,’ others see that romance can be both at once. This generalpattern coincides with the specific case of some reviewers seeing Possession as the site of aconffict between Byatt’s didactic and artistic voices, while others see that such voices can singtogether. Criticism of fairy tales, much of which examines their role in the lives of children,often recognizes the complementary relationship between education and delight.Our views of the purpose of literature have a significant impact on what kinds ofliterature we choose to study, as well as on what we write about our reading. I have claimedthat Byatt examines and questions dichotomies in her fiction, and now I want to suggest that7critical responses to her work may vary according to the critics’ attitudes towards romance.Frye uses dichotomy as a “large simplifying device” in an effort to “give us some perspectiveon the shape of a big subject”; he suggests that critics fall into two broad categories: “interest inliterature tends to center either in the area of tragedy, realism, and irony, or in the area ofcomedy and romance.” He argues that such a distinction is “implied in the traditional view ofthe function of literature as twofold: to delight and to instruct” (NP 1). His own implication isthat romance is identified with delight rather than instruction. According to him, criticsinterested in comedy and romance are a “furtive and anonymous group who have not much of atheory, implicit or explicit, to hold them together. It is much more difficult to say what thisapproach to literature does when it becomes serious: when, so to speak, it stops readingdetective stories and gets Out of bed” (NP 2-3). His own solution is a theory of comedy andromance based on genre. Perhaps Possession is Byatt’s solution, a book which is concernedwith serious theories about literature yet suitable to read in bed. She finds ways of approachingromance literature from within the genre itself.Byatt’ s use of a subtitle for Possession: a Romance clearly invites readers to approachthe book as an example of its genre. Although the designation ‘romance’ may guide readers’sexpectations in some directions and not others, it does not tell us precisely where to go; therange of meanings for the word (see above) suggests that Byatt’s subtitle may invite an equallybroad range of critical approaches. As though in anticipation of the questions her subtitleraises, Byatt uses a quotation about romance from Hawthorne’s preface to The House of theSeven Gables as an epigraph. This passage suggests that a writer’s right “to claim a certainlatitude” distinguishes “a Romance” from “a Novel.” If anything, such latitude frees the writerfrom the strictures of simple generic definition. Hawthorne says, “the point of view in whichthis tale comes under the Romantic defmition lies in the attempt to connect a bygone time withthe very present that is flitting away from us” (Hawthorne vii). Byatt’s use of Hawthorne’s8words not only establishes a connection between Possession, in the present, and The House ofthe Seven Gables, a romance from the past, but also connects Byatt’s book with the manycritical books (including The Romance and The American Novel and its Tradition) whichquote Hawthorne’s preface in their definitions of romance. One distinction here betweenromance and criticism is that Byatt need not explain how Hawthorne’s definition infonns herown version of romance; this responsibility falls to the readers of her work. Hawthorne insists,as Byatt does by quoting him, that readers take into account the writer’s intentions with respectto genre.Since an understanding of genre emerges as one of the keys to reading romance, I plannow to consider how some reviewers of Possession approach this topic. Most reviewers differfrom each other in their definitions of romance; almost all propose some generic label todescribe Possession. In London Review ofBooks, Danny Karlin writes: “the book’s genre ishard to pin down — teasingly so, I imagine” (17). Given that the subtitle does, in a sense, “pindown” the genre of Possession I think that Karlin may share my sense that romance issomehow inherently undefmed, as well as my impression that Byatt’s kind of romance invitesreaders to be aware of the qualities of its genre.Thomas D’Evelyn (Christian Science Monitor) is one of many reviewers who seePossession as a composite of several genres, including mystery, historical novel, and academicsatire (see also Dirda Cl; Stafford 452). According to him, the “novel combines Shakespeareanromance... detective novel suspense... satire on academic fashions... and a pastiche of styles.”He believes that “this postmodern romance tells us much about why we read romances,” andhis defmition implies that romance is but one of several generic labels applicable to Possession,not an encompassing designation (such as Duncan’s “super-genre”) which includes all of theseelements. Other reviewers also suggest some variation on the mixture of genres Karlinproposes. Claire Harrison (Globe and Mail), for example, sees Possession as “a delightful9mixture of literary mystery, Victorian tragedy, vaudeville farce and plain old romance.” Mostof these descriptions are consistent with my hypothesis that Byatt’s particular kind of romanceincludes a mixture of different voices, such as those of critic and story teller. In The ResourcesofKind: Genre-therny in the Renaissance, Rosalie Colie suggests that “the imitation of formalmodels.. .was in spite of its inbuilt conservatism a factor for literary change and imaginativeexperiment” (8). She proposes that “literary and generic experimentation by mixing kinds”leads writers towards “new areas of expression” (76). Perhaps Byatt experiments withcombining “conservatism” and “change” in her combination of romance with other genres. Shemixes “old-fashioned” story-telling techniques with current literary theories to create a romancewhich some readers see as a tribute to Victorian values and others see as a challenge to currentacademic practices. Critics who write about romance are themselves divided over whetherwriters in this genre intend to reinforce or to subvert the status quo; critical conclusions,however, depend upon context-specific versions of what that status quo is.Not surprisingly, reviewers vary significantly in their beliefs about Byatt’s intentionsand use of genre, and by extension, the success of her experiment. Christina Koning(Observer), for example, considers irony as outside the romance genre: “while appearing towrite a faithful imitation of a romance...the author in fact subverts the form. The reader issimultaneously beguiled by traditional narrative expectations and made aware of the author’sdeconstruction of them.” In the course of my study of Possession, I plan to consider howByatt does both beguile her readers and make us aware of the process, but instead of a conflictof “tradition” and “deconstruction,” I see Possession as an expression of the subversivepotential that romance always has, but does not always realise. Anita Brookner attributes thereversals of expectations that she experienced in reading Possession to the relationship betweenwriter and reader which romance often creates:the subtitle is.. .ambiguous. This is not a romantic novel, or not primarily a10romantic novel: it is a Romance, in the original sense of the word, i.e.something fictive. The concept is applied to the conclusion, which I foundflurried and almost impertinently unconvincing. Here the canny author remindsthe dazed reader that a Romance is what it says it is, and need not necessarily bebound by the familiar laws of logic.Once again, Brookner’s words suggest that Byatt’s romance transcends boundaries. “Thefamiliar laws of logic” to which she refers echo Beer’s reference to “the restraints ofrationalism” and perhaps freedom from such bonds is the basis of Hawthorne’s “latitude.”Many critics point out that “the romance has always flourished in periods of rapid change”(Beer 78) or that the romance is “naturally a more revolutionary form than the novel” (Frye AC305). Byatt certainly strikes me as concerned with this aspect of her chosen genre, but she alsocontends with the opposing view of romance in Possession.Some critics believe that popular romance novels, to their discredit, uphold the normsof patriarchal society. In a study of formula fiction, John G. Cawelti claims “there seems littledoubt that most modern romance formulas are essentially affirmations of the ideals ofmonogamous marriage and feminine domesticity” (42). His comment matches many commonobjections to fairy tales. Marcia K. Lieberman, in “Some Day My Prince Will Come’: FemaleAcculturation through the Fairy Tale,” writes that fairy tales “serve to acculturate women totraditional social roles” (185) and in “Feminism and Fairy Tales,” Karen Rowe agrees “even inmodern society where romance co-habits uncomfortably with women’s liberation, barelydisguised forms of fairy tales transmit romantic conventions through the medium of popularliterature” (209).What these critics fail to take into account is that they are themselves readers of fairytales and romance. These forms inspire such critics to question the roles of women in literatureand society. For example, Lieberman writes:The Princess on the Glass Hill is the prototype of female passivity. The whole11story is in the title; the Princess has been perched somehow on top of a glasshill, and thus made virtually inaccessible. There she sits, a waiting prize forwhatever man can ride a horse up the glassy slope. So many of the heroines offairy stories, including the well-known Rapunzel, are locked up in towers,locked into a magic sleep, imprisoned by giants, or otherwise enslaved, andwaiting to be rescued by a passing prince, that the helpless, imprisoned maidenis the quintessential heroine of the fairy tale. (192)In fairy tales, Lieberman finds depictions of a society in which female oppression is a centraland obvious problem. She chooses to value the supposed “activity” of the prince over the“passivity” of the maiden, and therefore to condemn the tale as itself a tool of patriarchaloppression. Yet I see any story which vividly depicts oppression and thus invites a range ofinterpretations and arguments as potentially subversive; the story has sufficient emotionalimpact to provoke discussion about the roles of the characters and the values of the society inwhich they live. Such provocation stirs readers from their “magic sleep” into activities such aswriting academic essays or imagining worlds of freedom for the prince and princess alike.The “universal” significance of fairy tales stems not from their promotion of a set ofsupposedly universal values, but from their openness to interpretation, their capacity to supportnot one meaning, but many. Lieberman uses fairy tales in order to give shape to her discussionof her own time, culture, and personal agenda. Bruno Bettelheim, a commentator on fairy taleswith another point of view, discusses similar stories in the context of a very differentargument. According to him, “on an overt level fairy tales teach little about the specificconditions of life in modern mass society.. ..more can be learned from them about the innerproblems of human beings, and of the right solutions to their predicaments in any society” (TheUses ofEnchantment 5). The juxtaposition of these varied claims on behalf of fairy tales doesnot suggest who is right and who is wrong, but rather implies that the meaning of such talesdepends upon who interprets them. The form of romance allows, and perhaps encourages,12interpreters to find a meaning that will serve their purposes.I do believe, however, that romance is fundamentally concerned with gender politics.Although Caroline Lucas describes the male author of an Elizabethan prose romance as“appropriating women’s discourse and attempting to use it to oppress other women” (94), sheadvocates” ‘reading against the grain’,” an active process in which readers defy overt authorialintentions in order to enjoy what latitude these romances do seem to offer women (4). Criticslike Lieberman and Rowe decry models of female passivity in fairy tales, yet assume thatcomparable passivity infects all women (except themselves) who read them. I do not believethat literature can “transmit” meaning to readers; instead, readers actively participate in creatingtheir own understandings of what they read. Even readers who do not have a self-consciouslycritical approach to texts (young children, for example) are not passive receivers of meaning;our understandings of literature and of language itself are based on who we are and what weknow and feel.Possession offers many instances of proof for this assertion. In her journal, Sabine deKercoz records an argument about interpretation that she has with Raoul (her father) andChristabel. She explains her anger with Christabel for asking the meaning of Raoul’s tale ofMerlin and Vivian: “we do not talk of meanings in this pedantic nineteenth-century way, on theBlack Nights, we simply tell and hear and believe.” But Raoul interprets the tale for Christabel:It is one of many tales that speak of fear of Woman, I believe. Of a male terrorof the subjection of passion, maybe — of the sleep of reason under the rule of —what shall I call it — desire, intuition, imagination. But it is older than that — inits reconciling aspect, it is homage to the old female deities of the earth, whowere displaced by the coming of Christianity. (384)Dashes and qualifications draw attention to his search for a way to articulate his interpretation.Christabel reads the tale differently: “As a tale of female emulation of male power — she wantednot him but his magic — until she found that magic served only to enslave him— and then,13where was she, with all her skills?” Sabine objects to their argument and interjects:I said, “Too much meaning is bad at Toussaint.”“Reason must sleep,” said Christabel.“The stories come before the meanings,” I said.“As I said, reason must sleep,” she said again.I do not believe all these explanations. They diminish. The idea of Woman isless than brilliant Vivian, and the idea of Merlin will not allegorise into malewisdom. He is Merlin. (384)Christabel’s words (“reason must sleep”) echo Raoul’s (“the sleep of reason”); she makes aconnection between his interpretation of the story and Sabine’ s rejection of interpretation.Sabine wants to believe in the story without diminishing it with explanations; she wantsimagination to take precedence over reason. Raoul interprets the story and in so doing pointsout that patriarchy fears the power of imagination over reason. Christabel uses language todraw attention to the overlap in their comments. She disagrees with Raoul, or perhaps simplyreads the gender implications of the tale from her own female point of view. In this section ofPossession, Byatt draws attention to Raoul and Christabel’s search for meanings and makestheir interpretations of the story relevant to a discussion about whether or not to interpret it. Irecognize that my belief that reason “must sleep” is inextricably linked with my rational searchfor a way to read romance. Metafictional awareness and “desire, intuition, imagination” gohand in hand. Passages such as this are part of the story of Possession, but they may alsocontribute to the way in which readers choose to read Byatt’s romance.The argument quoted above may take place in the nineteenth century, but the effects ofdifferent kinds of interpretation on literature, as some of the reviews of Possession that I havealready cited can attest, are an issue of present concern to Byatt (see Dirda and Todd). BetsyHeame, “a former storyteller and librarian” and current faculty member at the University of14Chicago, seems to echo Sabine: “In this introspective era, the study of a story’s meaningsometimes overshadows the story itself. We must remember that the story is fundamental andirrepressible, the meaning secondary and chameleon in that it shifts with time and culture”(Hearne xiv). The conventional narrative structure of romance is in keeping with this sense thatstory is primary:The romance writer’s mediating presence allows us to accept what he shows.He will intervene to comment and interpret, controlling the tone in such a waythat he seems to bestow upon us a certain grace and dexterity of response andabsolve us from the need to make full-scale ‘interpretations’. The matter of theromances [sic] is open: its system of values is set before us within the poemsthemselves; its mythic levels of suggestion require no arcane knowledge. Thecentral delight offered us is that of being told a story. (Beer 17)Some critics of Possession associate Byatt’ s “mediating presence” with literary critical methodssuch as deconstruction (see Smith and Thunnan). Yet Byatt subsumes such methods into theconventions of romance; story is primary because it includes models for interpretation andexceeds them. Interpretations are limited by their exclusiveness, whereas romance is defined byits inclusiveness. In her treatment of Sabine’s argument with Raoul and Christabel, Byatt doesnot exclude interpretation; she demonstrates that interpretations are part of the story from whichthey derive.One of the delights of the story of Possession is that it includes a critical awareness ofthe ways in which readers make interpretations. A belief in the power of art to transformsociety complements an awareness of fiction as fiction in Byatt’ s romance, and the narratorencourages active participation, critical as well as credulous, from readers. For example:[Novels] do not habitually elaborate on the.. .intense pleasure of reading. Thereare obvious reasons for this, the most obvious being the regressive nature of the15pleasure, a mise-en-abIme even, where words draw attention to the power anddelight of words, and so ad infinitum, thus making the imagination experiencesomething papery and dry, narcissistic and yet disagreeably distanced, withoutthe immediacy of sexual moisture or the scented garnet glow of good burgundy.And yet, natures such as Roland’s are at their most alert and heady whenreading is violently yet steadily alive. (What an amazing word “heady” is, enpassant, suggesting both acute sensuous alertness and its opposite, the pleasureof the brain as opposed to the viscera— though each is implicated in the other,as we know very well, with both, when they are working.) (511)This passage is both learned (three languages, abstract ideas) and, in a sense, didactic (notes onthe connotations of “heady”). The narrator reflects on the process of reading— a process inwhich we are likely to be engaged with Possession — in terms suitable for literary criticism.Yet, at the same time, she evokes sensual details and encourages readers to recognize our ownawareness of the bond between thought and feeling. Throughout Possession, passages likethis one interweave with stories and poems. Education and delight, like thought and feeling,are not separate aspects of Byatt’s romance, but rather “each is implicated in the other.” Criticsof romance often deride the genre’s inclusion of sensual and emotional experience (ofcharacters and readers), but this “heady” balance is one of the vital features of Byatt’ s romance.Much criticism is based on a thinking approach to literature, whereas romance often takesfeeling into account as well. Byatt combines critical and narrative strategies in order to examinesome of the ways in which both thought and feeling contribute to the processes of writing andreading. She interweaves metafiction with fairy-tale motifs and thus encourages readers tothink about literature, as well as to feel the strength of stories.161. In Possession, “Leavis did to Blackadder what he did to serious students: he showed himthe terrible, the magnificent importance and urgency of English literature and simultaneouslydeprived him of any confidence in his own capaèity to contribute to or change it” (32). Byattstudied with Leavis, and I see the following comment as related to the quotation above. In aninterview with Jeffery Canton, Byatt said “the whole of my life, the most important thing to mehas been reading and I think I’m trying to sort out whether I’m a freak or whether there actuallyis such depth in reading that it can, in fact, change the world” (6).2. In an interview with Jeffrey Canton, Byatt asserts:I feel that modem literary theory and the modem academic study of English hasin many ways moved away from reading and writing into.. .social and politicaltheory. And the basic structure of why one reads and why one writes has gotsomehow lost. (6)3. In popular romances, the protagonist is almost invariably female. Byatt subverts thistraditional structure. Maud is taller, older, wealthier, and higher in social standing than Roland.4. The Romance (Critical Idiom) by Gillian Beer brought home to me how many of thecharacteristics of romance seemed to be in keeping with my own version of feminism. Beerorganizes her analysis chronologically, and her comments about romance through the agesoften fit very well with my sense of Byatt’ s use of the genre in the present. Byatt seems todraw on romance conventions from throughout the breadth of the genre. Recently, I discoveredthat Byatt and Beer know each other; Byatt thanks Beer on the acknowledgments page ofAngels and Insects for making “crucial suggestions for reading” (292).17Romance, Women, and Confusion:“We do this together. I know his work,and you know hers.... This is all madness.” (Possession 258)Critics of romance often insist on creating a dichotomy between romance and reality intheir discussions of the genre (see Tompkins 102). In Possession, Byatt examines the closerelationship between the two; she shows that romance and real life are interconnected ratherthan separated by a fixed boundary. Fairy tale and romance patterns both shape and are shapedby the lives of the characters. In this chapter, I will explore some of the implications of thisassertion. First, I will cite some references to the word “romance” in Possession and suggestways in which these references may guide readers of Byatt’ s romance. Second, I will analyzein detail Christabel’s proposal that “Romance is a proper form for women.” Finally, I will lookat confusion as a necessary and desirable aspect of the romance reading experience. These threetopics may seem unconnected at first, but I urge readers to be aware of how they are integratedin Possession and in this chapter of my thesis; one of my goals is to “consider problemsobliquely” (King 160).In Possession, the narrator describes Roland’s images of Maud and his conclusions:All that was the plot of a Romance. He was in a Romance, a vulgar and a highRomance simultaneously; a Romance was one of the systems that controlledhim, as the expectations of Romance control almost everyone in the Westernworld, for better or worse, at some point or another.He supposed the Romance must give way to social realism, even if theaesthetic temper of the time was against it.In any case, since Blackadder and Leonora and Cropper had come, ithad changed from Quest, a good romantic form, into Chase and Race, twoother equally valid ones. (460)On one level, this passage draws attention to the writer’s own use of genre, and on another, it18demonstrates how an individual (Roland) uses generic patterns in order to make sense of thesocial world,’ and claims that “almost everyone in the Western world” feels the influence ofthese patterns.Byatt uses the word ‘romance’ throughout Possession to reinforce the idea thatromance is not only a literary genre, but also a way to describe life. The word occurs in severaldescriptions of nature: “Leonora would be very shocked at the state of this graveyard,’ saidMaud. ‘She would not find it romantic. I think it’s all right. A slow return to nature andoblivion”(80). Cropper describes a fountain which Randolph visited as “a sight awesome andsublime enough to satisfy even the most romantic traveller” (120- l).2 Roland sees Seal Courtas “romantic,” whereas Lady Bailey calls it “dark and damp” (83). These examples reveal someof the physical characteristics associated with “romantic” landscapes, and also refer tosubjective assessments of a given environment (Leonora might be shocked; romantic travellersmight be satisfied; Roland sees an imaginatively enhanced version of Lady Bailey’s home).Each example suggests that different people define romance in different ways, or see varyingdegrees of romance in their surroundings.The widely recognizable vocabulary of fairy tales, like the word ‘romance,’ drawsattention to generic conventions in everyday discourse. As I pointed out in the introductorychapter, fairy tales and romance are open to a range of interpretations. Throughout Possession,Byatt creates a pattern of fairy-tale images which connects nineteenth- and twentieth-centurycharacters to one another; common images from fairy tales form indirect links among many ofthe layers of Byatt’ s romance. In her diary, Ellen Ash interprets herself at eighteen as “aprincess” (500). Randolph remembers Christabel as “distant and closed away, a princess in atower” (301) and thinks of the princess and the pea when he sees the bed that they will share(307). Similarly, Roland thinks of an unattainable Maud as “the Princess on her glass hill”(459). He sees19an incapable sleeper somewhere in his mind, a sleeper bruised and tossing onheaped feather mattresses, the Real Princess, suffering the muffled pea.Blanche Glover called Christabel the Princess. Maud Bailey was a thin-skinnedPrincess. (65)His thoughts move from a specific story (“The Princess and the Pe&’) to a general fairy-talearchetype (the princess) which readers have undoubtedly met outside Possession ; the patternof his thoughts encourages readers to shift their awareness from specific characters to generalcharacter types. Randolph and Roland are connected by their shared image of the princess andthe pea. Byatt shows how fairy tales offer her characters a vocabulary with which to interprettheir surroundings, both literary and actual, and creates an opportunity for readers to considerour own methods of finding patterns in literature.The instances in the paragraph above also demonstrate how fairy-tale images allowcharacters to project their expectations onto others, just as we have seen these characters projectromantic expectations onto their surroundings: Maud does not define herself as a princess, butRoland’s image of her influences her behaviour (549). Through Roland, Byatt draws attentionto her own repetition of fairy-tale motifs, and thus reminds readers that our own expectationsof romance affect our responses to her story. The narrator does endow Maud with some of thecharacteristics of a fairy-tale princess: she has golden hair and lives “at the top of TennysonTower” (45). Yet Byatt’s portrayal of Maud is fraught with complexity and subtlety; the towerMaud inhabits is a university building, an “ivory tower,” and she seems able to enter and exitthis tower at will. In her essay on “Female Acculturation through the Fairy Tale,” Liebermancondemns the simple stereotype of the princess in the tower as an inappropriate role-model foryoung women (see Chapter l).3 In Possession, Byatt explores some of the implications of“type” — stereotype, archetype, prototype, typecasting—and in so doing suggests that in life asin art, “the expectations of Romance control almost everyone.”420Byatt draws on each reader’s pre-existing associations with fairy tales and romance, butalso creates patterns of association that are specific to Possession. Women in her romance arenot only princesses but also witches. Beatrice Nest uses the following image to articulate herfeeling of being excluded from academic society, trapped by the perceptions of others: “Thereis an age at which, I profoundly believe, one becomes a witch...through simple ageing — asalways happened in history — and there are witch-hunts” (241). The traditional stories whichreflect this history do not always encourage readers to see things from the witch’s point ofview, but Byatt does. Thus she uses romance conventions in order to suggest the emotionalimpact on individuals of archetypal patterns of oppression. Christabel, like Beatrice, definesherself as a fairy-tale character: “an old witch in a turret” (543). She says:I have been Melusina these thirty years. I have so to speak flown about andabout the battlements of this stronghold crying on the wind ofmy need to seeandfeed and comfort my child, who knew me not....She sees me as a sorcière, a spinster in a fairy tale, looking at her withglittering eye and waitingfor her to prick her poor little finger and stumble intothe brute sleep ofadult truth. And ifmy eye glittered with tears she saw themnot. (544)Christabel’s language of metaphor suggests that she identifies strongly with the mythicalMelusina that she has helped to create. Romance motifs, in this instance, create a system ofmetaphors which operates on several different levels. The image of Christabel as a witchexpresses the mother’s awareness of her child’s feelings, the horror of being old enough andwise enough to experience the pain of their separation. Christabel sees her child as the heroinein the tale of Sleeping Beauty, innocent but trapped by dread. “Adult truth” is both “brutesleep” and the wakefulness of Melusina who flies at night instead of sleeping.What I find most striking in these examples is the depth of emotion they may evoke.21My own eyes “glitter with tears” whenever I read these words. Gillian Beer claims that thegenre of romance invites unconscious responses from readers, since “romance writers drawupon archetypal patterns which meet an understanding in the reader without necessarilyformalizing into consciousness. In this aspect the romance is akin to fairy-tale” (19). Byatt notonly evokes empathy for those who suffer, but uses images to do so which affect readers on aprofound personal level.Now that I have examined some of the ways in which Byatt deals with the concept ofromance within her own example of the genre, I would like to move on to a discussion of theparticular value of romance to some of Byatt’s female characters. The examples aboveemphasize the value of emotion, intuition, and personal response in the romance world.Creativity, especially female creativity, is a related theme in references to romance inPossession. In the letter quoted above, Christabel refers to herself as “a romancer” (544) whoarranged “a lie more appropriate to a Romance than to ... [her] previous quiet life” (543).Although she creates her own romance, she sees herself as a character within the story as well.She writes, “women in childbirth cry out exceedingly against the author as they see it of theirmisfortunes” (543). Although she is a mother, a creator, she views Randolph as the maleauthor of her situation. In the unsent letter from Randolph to Christabel which Ellen finds andburns after his death, the poet expresses his torment with an allusion to romance:Ifeel I stand accused. your actions, ofhaving loved you at all, as though mylove was an act ofbrutalforcing, as though I were a heartless ravisher out ofsome trumpery Romance, from whom you had to flee, despoiled and ruined.(495)In his guarded declaration of love he seems again to want to avoid being cast in romance: “Iloved you entirely then; I will not say now, I love you, for that would indeed be romance, and amatter at best of hope” (495). He resists the treatment that he attributes to the perception that he22is a romance villain, yet Christabel feels that she must treat him thus in order to give herselfauthority over her own life story: “Ifound a place to go... where I should make no one butmyself responsible for ourfate — hers and mine” (543). Christabel uses romance conventionsto describe herself, and these conventions seem related to the social conventions which defineher position in the world. She sees her choice of roles as severely limited; she takes on a rolefrom romance for the sake of freedom, then lives the sad life that this role entails. Socialconventions do not constrain Randolph in the ways that they do Christabel, and for himromance offers not freedom but uncertainty.In Ellen Ash’s diary there is an explicit reference to the inter-relationship of art and life,and a discussion of the different effects of this relationship on male and female definitions ofcreativity. She writes:My recent reading has caused me for some reason to remember myself as I waswhen a young girl, reading high Romances and seeing myself simultaneouslyas the object of all knights’ devotion— an unspotted Guenevere—and as theauthor of the Tale. I wanted to be a Poet and a Poem, and now am neither....It may be that this is the desire of all reading women, as opposed toreading men, who wish to be poets and heroes, but might see the inditing ofpoetry in our peaceful age, as a sufficiently heroic act. No one wishes a man tobe a Poem. (135-6)Her reading releases memories of how reading in the past affected her desires. She identifiesher wish to be (like Christabel) both creator and created image as an issue of gender: hercomments imply that to be a heroine is to be an image created by men, and that her own wish tobe a poem is externally imposed (by whomever does not wish men to be poems). She stiflesher thoughts about such topics with an image of Randolph, huge and powerful, mocking herperceptions. The image of a woman as either a poem or a poet has broad significance in the23context of Byatt’ s discussion throughout Possession of gender and genre. As Christabel does,Ellen sees Randolph as the author, the man of authority who controls not only her self-definition but her ability to define the world through expressions of her own creativity.Romance emerges as the setting in which Christabel and Ellen feel their potential to plot theirown stories, and Randolph feels uncomfortable.The connection between reading literature and reading the world5 that is implied in theexamples above is for Rosalie Colie a rationale for a study of literary genre.Systems of genericorganization are a means of describing the patterns of our lives, as well as the patterns that wemay identify in literature. She says:patterns, kinds, mental sets organize for us the lives we individually lead, muchas these kinds, sets, patterns organized the vast body of literature. Experiencecan be seen as searching for its own form, after all: the kinds may act as mythor metaphor for a man’s new vision of literary truth. (30)The structure of Colie’s comments emphasizes the connection between experience andliterature. In the letter quoted above, Byatt depicts Christabel as a woman who uses imagesfrom romance as metaphors for her life experience.Christabel proposes that “Romance is the proper form for women.” Byatt comments inthe content of Possession on its form. In the following passage from Sabine’ s journal,Christabel alludes to many of the qualities of romance, including its implications for gender,which Byatt explores in her own example of the genre. Perhaps for both Byatt and hercharacter, romance is conducive to symbolic liberation. Sabine writes:[Christabel] talked of Melusina and the nature of epic. She wants to write aFairy Epic, she says, not grounded in historical truth, but in poetic andimaginative truth— like Spenser’ s Faerie Queene, or Ariosto, where the soul isfree of the restraints of history and fact. She says Romance is a proper form for24women. She says Romance is a land where women can be free to express theirtrue natures, as in the Tie de Sein or Sid, though not in this world. (404)Christabel makes a distinction here between “historical truth” and “poetic and imaginativetruth,” and sets up a parallel between “the soul” — “free of the restraints of history and fact” —and women— “free to express their true natures” — in romance. Her words seem to echoHawthorne’s mention of “latitude” for writers of romance, “the right to present ...[the truth ofthe human heart] under circumstances, to a great extent, of the writer’s own choosing orcreation” (vii). Thus, through Christabel, Byatt suggests that the creative freedom which theform of romance offers to writers is similar to the freedom of expression that the land ofromance offers to women. In a sense, romance liberates women as both poets and poems. Inboth instances, romance allows participants to move beyond the boundaries of “this world” or“the probable and ordinary course of man’s experience” (The House of the Seven Gables vii).The reader’s freedom to move beyond reality into a world created with different valuescontributes to the subversive potential of Possession. James Roy King6 explores some of theways in which journeys to the paradoxical “bright-shadow world” of fairy tales are of value topresent readers. According to him, fairy tales evokea world where knowing depends upon one’s ability to think in metaphors,consider problems obliquely, exercise one’s imagination, enter boldly into themost bizarre view points. All this adds up to an experience of knowing that isradically different from what our world offers us, a way of knowing that oftenmoves people far from their starting places, their normal assumptions, and thuspromises to enrich their lives in all sorts of surprising ways. (160)7As I have a]ready suggested, romance is one system of metaphors which characters inPossession use to think about their world. Byatt includes this system in her creation of amixture of genres; her emphasis on the connections between story and interpretation, feeling25and thought, challenges the common critical assumptions that literature and criticism areseparate genres, that any given interpretation can be the ‘right’ one, that a reader’s thoughts areworthy of consideration and feelings are not. At the same time, she suggests that both men andwomen create themselves and each other according to paradigms (such as romance) which alsoinfluence and derive from art. A romance paradigm can challenge normal assumptions and thesocial structures which these assumptions support; in romance, characters leave their familiarsurroundings and journey into the unknown.In my discussion of Christabel’ s view of romance, I suggested that the genre offerssimilar freedom to women and to writers. In the following passage (the continuation ofChristabel’s comments on women cited above), I see a related connection between readers andmen:She said in Romance, women’s two natures can be reconciled. I asked,which two natures, and she said, men saw women as double beings,enchantresses and demons or innocent angels.“Are all women double?” I asked her.“I did not say that,” she said. “I said all men see women as double.Who knows what Melusina was in her freedom with no eyes on her?” (404)Through Sabine’s misunderstanding, Byatt stresses the assertion that “men see women asdouble.” According to Christabel, this male perception constrains women by diminishing theirfreedom to define themselves. The dichotomy of demon/angel does not express thecomplexities of “women’s natures.” The potential of romance to reconcile this duality, on theother hand, helps to liberate women from a system of interpretation which defines them aseither demons or angels. Similarly, readers (such as some of the reviewers of Possessionalready cited) who see Byatt’s romance as “double,” an unacceptable juxtaposition of literaryand critical writing styles, or a battle between delight and instruction, may be imposing asystem of dichotomies onto a form which strives for the freedom to abolish such distinctions26and bring about reconciliation and change.Physical images of division reinforce the impact of Christabel’s complaint against menand society. Sabine continues:She spoke of the fishtail and asked me if I knew Hans Andersen’s storyof the Little Mermaid who had her fishtail cleft to please her Prince, and becamedumb, and was not moreover wanted by him. “The fishtail was her freedom,”she said. “She felt, with her legs, that she was walking on knives.” (404)I see Christabel’s depiction of the mermaid “who had her fishtail cleft to please her Prince” as aphysical representation of the division of something whole, an act carried out in an attempt toadhere to the demands of a cleaving patriarchy. The mermaid’s sensation of walking on knives,outside her element, expresses the pain that rigidly dichotomous thinking entails for women(and for men also) within a patriarchal culture. The mermaid’s inability to speak contributes toher loss of freedom.Thus far, I have suggested that romance provides readers of Possession, as well ascharacters within the novel, with a useful system of metaphors with which to organize theirliterary or actual experiences. At the same time, however, I want to propose that the loosedefmition of the form of romance allows for freedom for the creators of, and participants in,romance, and that this genre can accommodate alternatives to rigid structures of organizationsuch as patriarchy. We may experience such freedom as a kind of chaos or confusion, since thesame patterns that help us to make sense of the fictional world may not have a single, clearlydefined meaning. Because romance traditionally involves a departure from reality, this genreemphasizes the gap between symbols and what they represent. The symbols themselves mayalso be confusing because their meanings are not fixed. Such confusion, however disturbing itmay be, liberates us to create our own interpretations.The interpretation above is just one of many possible ways of understanding thesignificance of Christabel’s allusions to the story of the Little Mermaid. Christabel talks to27Sabine “of the pains of Melusina and the Little Mermaid; and of her own pain to come,nothing.” Sabine wonders if by reference to these fairy stories, Christabel tells “of the pains ofwomanhood” but also remarks that “at the time it did not feel so.” She speculates thatChristabel might simply be “fabricating a pretty pattern” (404) . Christabel’s indirect commentsconfuse and frustrate Sabine, but challenge her to work hard in order to imagine what “poeticand imaginative truths” Christabel may seek to convey. Some of these truths may not beaccessible on a conscious level. I see Sabine’ s search for understanding as a useful example forreaders of romance. The nature of romance truth is not easy to pin down, and I believe that anactive search for meaning is often more valuable than the results of the search.Confusion is one of the features of the paradoxical “bright-shadow” world that Kingdescribes. Romance may offer patterns for interpreting the world, but these patterns sometimescreate confusion for readers and characters alike. Within the organization of Byatt’ s romance,readers can find examples of ways in which the reading process becomes confusing for theprotagonists. Roland reads only Randolph’s side of the correspondence:his mind could leap ahead and hear the rhythm of the unread as though he werethe writer, hearing in his brain the ghost-rhythms of the as yet unwritten.But with this reading, after a time — a very short time — the habitualpleasures of recognition and foresight gave way to a mounting sense of stress.This was primarily because the writer of the letters was himself under stress,confused by the object and recipient of his attentions. He found it difficult to fixthis creature in his scheme of things. He asked for clarification and wasanswered, it appeared, with riddles. (144-5)This quotation suggests that Roland’s “habitual pleasures of recognition,” his “normalassumptions,” give way to confusion; a reader, he begins to share the emotions of the writer.The rest of the scene creates an impression that his confusion is not only empathetic but alsopersonal. Part of his problem is that he lacks Christabel’s side of the correspondence and28Maud’s point of view. He can see only part of the pattern. Like Randolph, he wants “to fix”the letter “in his scheme of things.” Roland’s confusion causes him to reevaluate his methodfor understanding the world. His discovery that the mysteries of Randolph’s life extendbeyond the bounds of academic enquiry disposes him towards a new way of looking at thingsand thus enhances his wisdom.For Randolph, Christabel is a riddling creature; her appearance as a feature ofRandolph’s life requires Roland to question many of his assumptions; she is the character inPossession whose fairy tales we get to read; her discussion with Sabine about the form ofromance is the central reference to genre within the book. Maud and Roland disagree or areconfused about how to approach her stories. It is therefore appropriate to consider one of herfairy tales in the context of this discussion of romance, women, and confusion.Just as Randolph asks for clarification and is met with riddles, readers of Possessionmay expect to find “The Correspondence” where instead we meet “The Threshold,” the chaptermarking the threshold between Roland’s dream world and the world of Randolph andChristabel ‘s letters. This story seems designed to form a bridge from one section of Byatt’ snarrative to the next. Within the story, the narrator urges readers to see parallels between theworld of the story and their own, and I cannot help reading the following passage as adescription of my process of writing about Possession:There was not one way but many, all athwart each other like the cracks on acrazy jug, and he followed first one and then the other, choosing the straightestand stoniest and fmding himself always under the hot-sun at another crossingjust like the one he had just left. After a time he decided to go with the sunbehind him always — at least this led to consistency of proceeding — though itmust be told that when he decided this he had only the haziest idea, dearreaders, of where the sun had been at the beginning of the venture. So it often is29in this life. We become consistent and orderly too late, on insufficient grounds,and perhaps in the wrong direction. (167)The fairy-tale character goes on an actual physical journey, but it is tempting to read beyondthis level of meaning; stony paths and hot suns occur in numerous literary instances (as well asin nature) where they lend themselves to metaphoric interpretation. Since the boundary betweenstory and criticism is confused in Possession, I tend to read “The Threshold” as a commentaryon reading romance. Perhaps, like the Childe, writers and readers must trust that even if theirjourneys lead them “to the known world’s end” (172), their efforts are not in vain.When the three ladies instruct the Childe about how to interpret them, I once againapply the story to my own experience and see the ladies as a text, asking for a certain kind ofresponse from readers:“As for ourselves,” said they, “you must take us as you find us, and judge ofus as you see us, what we are, or what we may be to you, as all men must,who have a high courage and a clear vision.” (169)The Childe chooses an adventure based on intuition rather than rationality: “then said he, notknowing before he spoke that he had made up his mind to venture, but as if some voice spokethrough him, ‘I will assay” (169). Roland makes a similar choice when he breaks the rules ofthe London Library in order to steal Ash’s letters, “seized by a strange and uncharacteristicimpulse of his own” (10). These examples suggest to me that in order to cross the thresholdson which a romantic quest depends, one must be willing to trust forces (like the whiteladies —like intuition — like romance) about which there may be “much superstition and misbelief’(169), as well as to be able to move outside of one’s usual critical constraints.Christabel’s story is based on recognizable folk-tale conventions. Just like Portia’ssuitors in The Merchant of Venice, the Childe must choose one of three caskets: gold, silver orlead. As in Shakespeare’s comedy, the right choice for the right person is a foregoneconclusion. The narrator of “The Threshold” attributes this sense of inevitability to the story’s30genre:And you know, and I know, do we not, dear children, that he must alwayschoose this last, and the leaden casket, for wisdom in all tales tells us this, andthe last sister is always the true choice, is she not? But let us have a moment’strue sorrow....And one day we will write it otherwise, that he would not come, that hestayed, or chose the sparkling ones, or went out again onto the moors to livefree of fate, if such can be. But you must know now, that it turned out as itmust turn Out, must you not? Such is the power of necessity in tales. (17 1-2)8Christabel’s tale of “The Threshold” prepares readers for things “never seen or dreamed of.”The narrator of the story points out that she is “your chronicler, bound to recount to you,what?” The rules of genre may constrain her, but an exhortation to readers to“Imagine....Imagine” (172) reveals the path towards freedom. When the “dim last” (171) sisterdraws the Childe “over and under the threshold of the standing stones,” (171) the two descendinto another realm. An ellipsis at the end of the story draws readers of Possession into the nextchapter, “The Correspondence.”311. For some other examples (including references to nature) see Possession: 80, 121, 135-6,144, 159, 164, 232, 272, 290, 306, 356, 458, 459, 495, 543, 544.2.Cropper also sees in Randolph “a kind of Romanticism reborn - gemmated, so to speak,from the old stock of Romanticism - but intertwined with the new mechanistic analysis and thenew optimism not about the individual soul, but about the eternal divine hannony of theuniverse” (272).3. Christabel’ s view of her tower contrasts strikingly with Lieberman’s depiction:Oh, Sir, you must not kindly seek to ameliorate or steal away my solitude. It isa thing we women are taught to dread — oh the terrible tower, oh the thicketsround it — no companionable Nest— but a donjon.But they have lied to us you know, in this, as in so much else. TheDonjon mayfrown and threaten — but it keeps us very safe — within its confineswe are free in a way you, who have freedom to range the world, do not need Solitude is my Treasure, the best thing I have. (152)3. Christabel’s version of Rapunzel introduces the chapter in which Maud first speaks. Likemany of the allusions to fairy-tales in Possession ,this poem expresses intense emotions.Christabel’s Rapunzel portrays both the suffering of the confined princess and the empathy forher pain and confinement of a sensitive prince : “Silent he watches! The humped One rise! Withtears of anguish! In his own eyes” (40). Roland’s ability to identify with a princess - “bruisedand tossing . . . suffering” seems like a similar sign of compassion; his feeling for the“constricted life” of Maud’s hair connects him with Rapunzel’s prince: “Roland was moved -32not exactly with desire, but with an obscure emotion that was partly pity, for the rigorousconstriction all that mass had undergone, to be so structured into repeating patterns” (295). The“repeating patterns” which structure Maud’s hair constrict its life; they also remind me thatByatt’s repeating patterns of fairy-tale motifs have a life beyond their structure: their emotionalvitality stems in part from the associations that they hold for readers. Byatt’s treatment ofromance motifs in Possession focuses on the relationship between perceived and imaginedworlds.5. In Old Tales and New Truths: Charting the Bright-Shadow World, King devotes a wholechapter to the subject of “reading the world.” I do not think I stole this phrase from him- buthe certainly has interesting things to say on the subject.6. King is “a retired Professor of English at Wittenberg University” (book jacket).7. His words echo Colie’s (we think in metaphors) and Brookner’s (we are not necessarilybound by the familiar laws of logic and can experience knowing in a way radically differentfrom what the ‘real’ world offers). As I have suggested with the help of Duncan, Frye, andvarious reviewers, even the generic classification ‘romance’ challenges “normal assumptions.”8. In a letter to Christabel, Randolph seems to express a similar sense of being constrained by aplot: “the plot which holds us, the conventions which bind us, declare that Imust...acquiesce...and hope that Fate, or the plotter who watches over our steps...” (211).33Crossing the Line from Convention to Innovation:“Animals and insubordination” in Byatt’s Romance.In this chapter, as in the last one, I intend to forge some connections among apparentlydisparate features of Possession in order to suggest some of the distinctive features of Byatt’ sromance. In my introductory chapter, I discussed the possibility of reconciling romance withliterary critical writing. In chapter 2, I expanded this discussion to suggest some of the ways inwhich the form of romance may promote new kinds of social organization by liberating theimagination of writers and readers. The structure of the present chapter mirrors that of chapter2: I will begin with a brief discussion of thresholds and boundaries as a theme in Possession;next I will draw attention to a pattern of images linking people with animals, and finally I willcompare “The Glass Coffin,” a tale of animal transformation which Byatt attributes toChristabel, with Grimm’s version of the same story.As I have already suggested, there are instances throughout Possession of acomplementary relationship between concrete things and abstract ideas. Christabel wrote thestory of “The Threshold” and Maud, who writes about Christabel, specializes in the subject ofboundaries: she delineates her field of study as “liminality. Thresholds. Bastions. Fortresses”(549). At Roland’s first meeting with Maud, her apparent remoteness and competent movementin physical space reflect her academic interests:They went up in a paternoster lift that cranked regularly past its otherwisevacant portals. These doorless lifts unnerved Roland; she stepped in preciselyand was lifted above him before he dared follow, so that he was alreadyclambering onto the pedestal she occupied when he lunged forward and up,almost too late. She did not remark on this... .Out again she came precisely; hetripped on this threshold too, the floor lifting beneath him. (45)Maud’s material reality and her mental world are connected; “the actual and the imaginary34intermingle,” as Richard Chase, in a study of the role of romance in the development of theAmerican novel, suggests they tend to do in romance (45). Byatt’s choice of words andphysical details creates a comic scene which in retrospect looks like a metaphoric representationof the difficulties that Roland and Maud have in working together and falling in love. In theearly stages of Roland’s quest, Maud’s thresholds and boundaries are “unnerving” and likelyto trip him up. Ultimately, Byatt expresses the consummation of their relationship as adissolution of boundaries:And very slowly and with infinite gentle delays and delicate diversions andvariations of indirect assault Roland finally, to use an outdated phrase, enteredand took possession of all her white coolness that grew warm against him, sothat there seemed to be no boundaries. (550)It is this kind of physical union (often between lovers, man and woman) towards which manyromance narratives strive. One version of Tristan and Isolt, 1 for example, concludes with thelovers buried “on either side of the chapel”:And by the tomb of Tristan... [King Mark] bade them plant a rose tree, and bythat of Isolt a vine, and the two reached toward each other across the chapel,and wove branches and root so closely together that no man hereafter mightseparate them. (Loomis 232)This weaving together of rose and vine compensates for the physical separation of the lovers’bodies even after their death. Nature achieves the kind of union that society made impossiblefor these lovers. The weaving together of actual and imaginary, past and present, in romancesuggests that these concepts are not antithetical, but closely related. In Possession, Byattdemonstrates that language itself, the language of definition, creates boundaries, and with eachboundary thresholds, places where the boundary may be traversed: “Vocabularies are crossingcircles and loops. We are defined by the lines we choose to cross or to be confined by” (467).35Romance can be defined, to some extent, by descriptive elements which recur in manydiscussions of the genre. Many critics portray romance as inclusive, unrestrained, orpreoccupied with transcending boundaries. Chase, basing his conclusions on Hawthorne’spreface to The House of the Seven Gables, claims:Romance is, as we see, a kind of “border” fiction, whether the field of action isin the neutral territory between civilization and the wilderness, as in theadventure tales of Cooper and Sirnms, or whether, as in Hawthorne and laterromancers, the field of action is conceived not so much as a place as a state ofmind— the borderland of the human mind where the actual and the imaginaryintermingle. Romance does not plant itself, like the novel, solidly in the midstof the actual. Nor when it is memorable, does it escape into the purelyimaginary. (19)According to Chase, the form of romance allows writers to challenge the boundaries betweencivilization’ and wilderness, actual and imaginary. Within Possession, Randolph describesChristabel’s Melusina story in terms similar to those Chase uses to discuss romance:What is so peculiarly marvellous about the Melusina myth, you seem to besaying, is that it is both wild and strange and ghastly andfull of the daemonic —and it is at the same time solid as earthly tales — the best of them — are solid —depicting the life of households and the planning ofsocieties, the introduction ofhusbandry and the love of any motherfor her children. (193)Randolph and Chase seem to agree that the physical grounding of a story complements itsdepartures from the known world.2When romance and reality are intertwined, the boundaries between actual andimaginary, physical and metaphoric characteristics become permeable. Based on an awarenessof this permeability of boundaries, I want to move on to an examination of characters in36Possession who share characteristics with some of the wild creatures from tales. In the worldof fairy tales, there is no clear division between human beings and animals: frogs turn intoprinces, princesses turn into birds, foxes and hens can talk. A mennaid’s body suggests thecloseness of human and animal forms. Christabel echoes Randolph in her reference to herMelusine as “a combination of the orderly and humane with the unnatural and the Wild”(196). Throughout Possession, Byatt achieves a similar combination in her own characters. Inthe Ash factory flits “pale Paola, her long colourless hair bound in a rubber band, her hugeglasses mothlilce, her finger-tips dusty grey pads” (31). The language of the narrator’sdescription of Paola interweaves her human and animal features. Characters use similarlanguage to describe one another: Roland has “black fur” (45) and Val calls him “old Mole”(24). Beatrice Nest’s colleagues assign her a range of metaphoric identities:Cropper.. .thought of her in terms of Carroll’s obstructive white sheep.Blackadder, in bad moods, thought of her as one of those puffed white spiders,bleached by the dark, feeling along the threads of her trap from her central lair.The feminists. ..saw her as some kind of guardian octopus, an ocean Fafnir,curled torpidly round her hoard, putting up opaque screens of ink or waterysmoke to obscure her whereabouts. (125-6)The list of images cited above shows clearly how different people understand the worldthrough different metaphors. Although her colleagues portray Beatrice as annoying orthreatening, the descriptions they choose confer upon her a certain ease of transformation;many of her human, physical limitations disappear in the world of imagination. These imagesof Beatrice reinforce her connections with Christabel, who sees herself as a spider (97), andwith the many mer-creatures of Possession who inhabit the watery realm. Beatrice puts up“opaque screens of ink or watery smoke,” and Roland and Maud also “put up smoke-screens”(259). Like the patterns of fairy-tale imagery discussed in chapter 2, shared animal37characteristics create indirect connections among many of the characters in Possession. Sharedanimal traits suggest underlying similarities among characters whose ages, professions, socialclasses, sexes, and personalities may vary greatly. Therefore, an identification of people withanimals may disrupt some traditional hierarchies, point to common bonds among all livingcreatures, or draw attention to complex imbalances of power in relationships.Recurring images of wolves link a striking range of characters in Possession, wherethe story of “Little Red Riding Hood” often lurks in the background. Fergus Wolff, “adevourer” (550), has a “voracious smile.. .and a long mouth terribly full of strong white teeth”(37). A civil servant has “a vulpine smile and slight snarl” (431) similar to Cropper’s “darklyvulpine smile” (349). Blanche writes of Randolph as a wolf at the door (54). Christabel may bea princess, but she is also a wolf: Sabine describes her variously as “some sort of serpent” with“huge teeth like Baba Yaga or the wolf in the English tale who pretended to be a grandmother”(396).3 Most of these wolf-people represent perceived threats to the security of others and,significantly, not all of them are male. Just as Roland can be a princess, Christabel can be awolf — this is the kind of liberty that Byatt takes with the traditional material on which she basesher romance, an example of the freedom from strict hierarchies that romance offers.Animals in fairy tales may talk, but people who become animals in such tales oftencannot. If the human capacity for speech is what separates us from our wild counterparts, thenanimal images can express feelings that are beyond language. Ellen Ash remembers herhoneymoon fear in images, not words:A thin white animal, herself, trembling.A complex thing, the naked male, curly hairs and shining wet, at once bovineand dolphin-like, its scent feral and overwhelming. (498)Her metaphoric language blurs some of the distinctions between animal and human creatures ina way that is characteristic of romance. Byatt’s choice of descriptive details evokes the sensual,38physical aspects of humanity, and can accordingly evoke powerful emotional responses inreaders.Animal imagery in romance often both emphasizes that humanity belongs to thephysical world of nature and suggests that human and animal beings alike are subject tomysterious transforming powers. References to mythical beasts in Possession underline theconnection between image and reality — Christabel sees Randolph as a “dragon” (545) and hesees her, among other beasts, as a “seilcie” (308)4. The two poets defme each other in mythicalterms even as they experience an actual, physical relationship. Animal imagery also facilitatesan exploration of the interaction of wilderness and civiisation. Christabel appears to Randolphasa bird.. .chained to a stand, some bright-plumed creature of tropical forests,some gold-eyed hawk from northern crags, wearing its jesses with what dignityit could muster, enduring man’s presence with a still-savage hauteur, ruffling itsfeathers from time to time, to show both that it tended itself with respect, andthat it was not quite comfortable. (303-304)5Like Beatrice, Christabel can assume a range of metaphoric identities in the minds of others.Like other references to animals in Possession, this example underlines our human willingnessto oppress animals, to dominate and confine them. When human beings become animals infairy tales and lose their power for speech, they become vulnerable just as the little mermaiddoes when she loses her tongue.Christabel’ s tale of “The Glass Coffin” is a vivid example of the way in which Byattincorporates themes of transformation and the power of self-expression into her romance. InForbidden Journeys: Fairy Tales and Fantasies by Victorian Women Writers, Auerbach andKnoepflmacher present and discuss stories by the real colleagues of the romance characterChristabel. Their references to “wild magic” and “license” echo Christabel’ s comments on the39freedom that romance offers women:Fairy tales and romances were grounded in an oral narrative tradition that maywell have been initiated by women. The antiquity of fairy tales, theiranonymous origins, had the feel (and perhaps the fact) of a lost, distinctivelyfemale tradition. Moreover, the wild magic of fairy tales, so guardedlyapproached even by the finest of the didacticists who dominated earlier juvenileliterature, now seemed to license a new generation of writers as well as readersto be deviant, angry, even violent or satirical. (3)Christabel LaMotte seems to represent this tradition in Possession; she is the writer ofTales forInnocents “which, Maud said, were mostly rather frightening tales derived from Grimm andTieck, with an emphasis on animals and insubordination” (59). Here is the clue to expect “wildmagic” such as Auerbach and Knoepflmacher describe above, Maud’ s words suggest aconnection between “animals and insubordination.”Moreover, Maud tells Roland, “I think you can understand things about Christabelfrom the way she wrote her version,” which indicates that the critics in Possession believe thatthey can learn about Christabel by reading her version of “The Glass Coffin.” Because Maud’sassumption that Christabel “disliked children— the way many maiden aunts must have done inthose days” (59) - proves to be false, her comment is a reminder that we base ourinterpretations on knowledge which is necessarily individual and incomplete. Byatt not onlydraws attention to the relationship between the tale and its author, but also emphasizes the roleof readers and their interpretations.Although some critics do point out “universal” themes in fairy tales, as striking as their“universality” is what such tales reveal about the cultures and times in which they originate andin which they are written down. Byatt’s treatment of fairy tales in Possession supports thispoint; she presents tales as part of a story about writers, social contexts and interpreters. The40‘lessons’ attached to the traditional tales that she tells vary with each new setting and with eachnew reader. In a study of “Beauty and the Beast,” Betsy Hearne6notes: “each teller/interpreterrecreates the tale anew. Every listener/reader hears a different story, according to his or her lifeexperience” (xiv). In Possession, Christabel’s reported advice to Sabine accords with whatHearne says:All old stories, my cousin, will bear telling and telling again in different ways.What is required is to keep alive, to polish, the simple clean forms of the talewhich must be there.... And yet to add something of yours, of the writer, whichmakes all these things seem new and first seen, without having beenappropriated for private or personal ends. (379)This belief seems to inform Byatt’s approach to romance. She polishes “the simple cleanforms” of the genre, and adds a great deal that belongs to her contemporary writing context Inmy discussion of fairy-tale motifs in Possession, I suggested that Byatt sometimes challengestraditional interpretations of fairy tales. Now I want to turn to a specific example of hertechnique for balancing convention with innovation: a comparison of Byatt’ s version of “TheGlass Coffin” with Ralph Manheim ‘ s translation of Grimm’s version of the story.One striking difference between the two tales is that Grimm’s most often appears as aseparate story in a collection of fairy tales, whereas Byatt’ s appears as a story-within-a-story,an integral part of the romance. “The Glass Coffin” is set off from the rest of Possession insuch a way that even though Roland ‘reads’ with us, we experience the story as a selfcontained narrative. Maud and Roland do not discuss their interpretations of this particularstory; as a result, readers of Possession are free to experience it independently. The storyinvites readers into a realm (King’s “bright-shadow” world) where direct correspondences andclear meanings are less beguiling than the strong, mysterious feeling of travelling into the darkforest, where magic happens and the rules of tales prevail. This response is perhaps not41“critical,” but is certainly in keeping with how wonder tales invite readers to respond.Manheim’s translation opens with an explicit moral: “Don’t ever say a poor tailor can’trise in the world and win great honors. All he has to do is get to the right place at the right timeand, most important of all, have good luck” (507). The narrator stresses that the tailor was notin control of his situation: “he didn’t know the way” (507), was “scared half out of his wits”(507), would “have had no thought of getting up if he hadn’t been startled by a loudnoise”(508) and “was utterly bewildered and couldn’t imagine how he would ever escape fromthis wilderness and get back to the world of men” (509). Tn the midst of his confusion, thetailor learns “unaccustomed courage” (508), but his most decisive action is to obey an orderfrom a mysterious “voice from inside the cliff” (509). Remember the “curiosity” (509) thatleads him to discover a sleeping maiden when we reach chapter 4. While he is looking at her,she wakes up, tells him what to do, explains her situation, puts things to rights, then gives “thelucky tailor her hand at the altar” (512). Thus a “young tailor’s apprentice”(507) attains a royalbride and, by being in the right place at the right time and trusting to luck, proves the moral ofthe tale. This tale has many of the characteristics which make fairy tales appealing andpotentially liberating: magical transformations, confusion, wildness, mystery, social mobility,an active female protagonist.Byatt uses these conventions as a basis for innovation; she adds something of herselfand of Christabel to the tale, and thus makes it “seem new and first seen” (379). In order tostress the connection between writer and tale, I will refer to the version in Possession asChristabel’s, although I remain aware of Byatt’s direction in the background. In Christabel’sversion, the tale has no stated moral message. The tailor, although “a good and unremarkableman,” is “a fine craftsman” and “an incurable optimist.” He travels into the dark forest in orderto “come across someone who would want his skills” and finds “the little house that waswaiting for him” (65). Not accident, but a certain sense of narrative necessity, seems to guidehis journey, and commitment to his craft guides his conduct.42Unlike his counterpart in Manheim’s translation, this tailor helps “with cooking andcleaning and what must be prepared” (66) in the house. Estés writes of such tasks: “in thedevelopment of women, all these motions of ‘home-keeping,’ the cooking, the washing, thesweeping, quantify something beyond the ordinary. All these metaphors offer ways to thinkabout, to measure, feed, nourish, straighten, cleanse, order the soul-life” (97). In her letters,Christabel describes herself and Blanche making “a life in which drudgery was Artful,” andvowing “to renounce the outside exchange for ...Art— a daily duty of crafting”(205). The tailor decorates his pie with “pastry leaves and flowers” (66), while Christabelincludes “biscuits with sugar roses” (205) in her list of sacred crafts (204). Others (likeBlanche) may see her as a princess, but she defines herself as a craftsperson. She explains in aletter to Randolph: “I live...not like a Princess in a thicket...but nwre like a very fat and self-satisfied Spider in the centre of her shining honest craftswoman” (97; see also 373).Like Estés, Christabel seems to make a connection between such tasks and the work of thesoul. In Christabel’s fairy tale, this connection is implied rather than explicit. The craftsman’sparticipation in traditional ‘women’s work’ proves him worthy of the gift of an adventure.Another significant difference between Christabel’s version of “The Glass Coffin” andManheim’s translation is the story of the maiden, In the traditional story, the female protagonisthas no opportunity to warn her brother of the stranger’s evil intentions because as soon as shediscovers the truth she fails asleep, and when she wakes up, her brother is gone. Soon themagician turns him into a stag. Christabel’s version transforms a lack of opportunity into agraphic scene of a man using his magic arts to silence a woman. The princess explains:Next day I tried to warn my brother, and it was as the black artist had said.When I opened my mouth to speak on this topic it was as though my lips weresewn together with great stitches in the flesh, and my tongue would not move inmy mouth. Yet I might ask to have the salt passed, or discourse of the evil43weather, and so my brother, to my great chagrin, noticed nothing, but set outblithely to go hunting with his new friend, leaving me at home to sit by thehearth, and to feel silent anguish at what might ensue. (73)This description of a princess with lips “sewn together with great stitches in the flesh” echoesthe story of “The Little Mermaid,” in which the protagonist has her tongue cut out. In “TheGlass Coffm,” Christabel depicts a woman trapped at the level of mundane discourse, aware ofher situation but unable to say what matters. When the craftsman found her sleeping in theglass coffin “he wondered...what her voice would be like” (71).Although the basic plots of both versions of this story are similar, and both drawattention to the princess’s thwarted communication with her brother, Christabel’s choice ofdetail creates a story which suggests that women’s freedom of expression may be controlled inunexpected ways and that their oppression is inscribed on their bodies (as in the example inchapter 2 of Randolph as the author of Christabel’s misery). Readers of Possession may relatesuch physical oppression to Christabel’ s struggles to defend her own freedom to write orMaud’s cherishing of her autonomy. Even Roland, who can identify himself with a princess(see chapter 2) has to learn liberation from Ash’s hold on his life and creativity: he looks atportraits of Randolph which he “had once seen.. .as parts of himself... [now] he saw them aswholly distant and separate” (507) and “he could hear, or feel, or even almost see, the patternsmade by a voice he didn’t yet know, but which was his own” (515). Independent expressionemerges as an important theme in Byatt’s treatment of “The Glass Coffin,” as well as a majorreason (certainly according to Christabel) for writing in the form of romance.Christabel and Manheirn handle the human/animal transformations at the heart of thetale in significantly different ways. In Manheim’ s version, the brother of the princess is a stagwho slays the magician (in the form of a bull), then picks the helpless tailor up on his antlersand carries him to the threshold of the hidden world where the princess is held captive. Thisbrother simply reappears in human form later in the story. In Christabel’ s version, the tailor44seeks shelter from the owner of a little house and once inside he meets “a great greydog... .And at first this beast had made a low girning, growling sound, but now he hushed histhreatening, and waved his tail slowly, and the little grey man said, ‘Otto is of the opinion thatyou are honest” (66). Later, the little man sees that the tailor cares “for all the creatures in thisplace” (67). Clearly the dog and the man can communicate non-verbally, and both of them areimpressed by the tailor’s compassion for all creatures. The tailor learns the dog’s true identitywhen the princess tells her story. She describes her refusal to submit to the magician and says:“When I spoke great tears fell from the eyes of the grey hound... .And I knew in some sort, Ithink, that the animal was my brother, in this meek and helpless form” (73). Christabel’s tailorslays the magician himself, and the princess releases Otto from his spell: “she fell upon hisgrey hairy neck, weeping bright tears. And when her tears mixed with the salty tears that felldown the great beast’s cheek, the spell was released” (75). In this version of the story,compassion and respect for animals and human beings alike bring about the transformations onwhich the moral order of Christabel’ s fairy-tale society depends. Thus the fairy tale commentson the role of compassion in society; we may interpret the tale as descriptive, prescriptive,visionary, allegorical or something else entirely, depending on our own views of theorganization of our societies.Christabel’s version of “The Glass Coffin” also stresses the importance of thecraftsman’s craft to his way of seeing the world and living within it. He chooses the glass keybecause it appeals to his imagination, although it is not an immediately practical item. Like hiscounterpart in the other version, he trusts irrational forces, but here these forces are internal andmore clearly defined. He thinks:a glass key I never saw or heard of and cannot imagine what use it might be; itwould shiver in any lock. But he desired the little glass key, because he was acraftsman, and could see that it had taken masterly skill to blow all these delicatewards and barrel, and because he did not have any idea about what it was or45might do, and curiosity is a great power in men’s lives. (67)His willingness to trust forces he fears or does not understand allows him to proceed with hisadventure (67-69). A number of examples in Christabel’s fairy tale illustrate how intuitiveunderstanding helps characters to operate in the fairy-tale world they inhabit. Sometimes theyhave intuitive knowledge which corresponds with traditional expectations of a fairy-talenarrative: “And he knew -- it is always so, after all -- that the true adventure was the release ofthis sleeper, who would then be his grateful bride” (71). The narrator has the craftsman’sexpectations mirror those of the readers, and thus creates an analogy between the act ofengaging in a fairy-tale adventure and the act of reading romance. The craftsman’s experienceswithin the story suggest to readers that total understanding and rational decision-making are notnecessary for a worthwhile adventure. Readers may take this suggestion beyond Christabel’sfairy tale and apply it to their readings of Possession as well.The narrator in Christabel’s story also surprises both characters and readers with ironicreversals of expectations which draw attention to the gap between fairy-tale magic and likelyevents:And the sleeper opened her eyes, which were as blue as periwinkle, or thesummer sky, and the little tailor, because he knew this was what he must do,bent and kissed the perfect cheek.“You must be the one,” said the young woman, “you must be the one Ihave been waiting for, who must release me from enchantment. You must bethe Prince.”“Ah no,” said our hero, “there you are mistaken. I am no more — andindeed no less — than a fine craftsman, a tailor, in search of work for my hands,honest work, to keep me alive.” (71)Tailor and princess politely dispute “the moral niceties of their interesting situation” (74), anddo ultimately “live happily ever after” (76). Such irony seems more apparent in Christabel’s46version of the tale than in Manheim’s translation, where the princess kisses the tailor and says:You are the savior I have longed for. God in His mercy has led you to me andput an end to my sufferings. On this same day your happiness shall begin. Youare my heaven-sent husband, and you shall spend the rest of your life inunbroken joy, loved by me and showered with earthly possessions of everykind. (510)The tailor does not speak another word, and the God-ordained marriage takes place at the endof the story. This version emphasizes the tailor’s material gains (social mobility) and suggeststhat God has a role in bringing about a divine union between man and woman. The version inPossession, on the other hand, suggests that the characters’ expectations and interpretations oftheir situation influence the course of their actions, and that they do not embark on the expectedmarriage without discussing their options first.7With irony, the narrator draws attention tohow the characters’ expectations may reflect our own expectations of a fairy-tale plot. Ratherthan material “possessions,” Christabel’s protagonist gains an opportunity for a spiritual kindof possession, “the exercise of his craft” (76). Thus Byatt’s innovations not only connect “TheGlass Coffin” with some key themes in her frame narrative, but also turn a conventional fairytale into a comment on the role of art in an artist’s life and into an opportunity for readers toconsider the ways in which art both reflects and enhances our interpretations of life. Rationalconsiderations aside, this story also offers readers an opportunity to become engaged in anadventure based on feeling, imagination, and curiosity, perhaps in “the female world” whichLeonora describes in her book on Motifand Matrix in the Poems ofLaMotte: “in-formed byillogic and structured by feeling and in-tuition” (266).471. The version to which I refer is by Roger Sherman Loomis and Laura Hibbard Loomis.Theirs is an abridged version of Jessie L. Weston’s 1899 translation of an unfinished medievalpoem by Gottfried von Strassburg. R. S. Loomis points out in his forward that this poem “wassupplied with two inferior conclusions, one by Heimich von Freiberg, the other by Ulrich vonTurheim” (92).2. In Possession, Byatt juxtaposes “a sugar-pink winceyette nightdress and a rather splendidpeacock-blue kimono embroidered with a Chinese dragon and a flock of butterflies in silverand gold” (160). Roland and Val have “patches of damp on their and bathroomceilings, which, when touched with a finger, smelled unmistakably of cat-piss” (22), whileChristabel writes of “a queenly crown of gold, a filigree turret of lambent sunny gleams andglistering wires above crisping gold curls as heavy with riches as the golden fleece itself’(169). ‘Down-to-earth’ details do not undercut the romance atmosphere, but show ideals inrelation to reality. In one version of Tristan and Iseult (Bédier), for example, Tristan leaves hisfriends to drift aimlessly in a small boat because the smell of his unhealed wounds is sooffensive to others. This detail enhances the impact of his miraculous recovery at the hands ofQueen Iseult.3. Byatt seems to place a great deal of emphasis in Sabine’s journal on the place of wolves inthe lives and stories of the folk of Brittany (367-8).4. An exchange between Christabel and Randolph supports my discussion. (305)5. Christabel wears a “crinoline cage” (310): clothes are the trappings of civilization and revealsome of the traps laid by socially determined roles. The whiteladies in “The Threshold” wear48“cages of light” (172).6. A “former storyteller and librarian,” and currently a faculty member at the University ofChicago.7. Note that Christabel’s heroine tells her story before agreeing to marry the tailor, whereasManheim’s heroine announces that she will marry the tailor and then tells him her story. Foranother suggestion that romance expectations and interpretations influence action, see Roland’sthoughts:Coherence and closure are deep human desires that are presently unfashionable.But they are always both frightening and enchantingly desirable. ‘Failing inlove,’ characteristically, combs the appearances of the world, and of theparticular lover’s history, out of a random tangle and into a coherent plot.Roland was troubled by the idea that the opposite might be true. Findingthemselves in a plot, they might suppose it appropriate to behave as though itwas that sort of plot. And that would be to compromise some kind of integritythey had set out with. (456)49The Rewards and Perils of “Greedy Reading”“The opposition is false. Body and soul are not separable”(Possession 373)In her adaptation of “The Glass Coffin,” Byatt engages us in reading a fairy-tale; in theromance frame around such stories, she invites readers to contemplate the complex emotionaland intellectual experiences involved in the act of reading. In this chapter, I will concentrate oncertain features of the reading experience with which Possession seems to be particularlyconcerned. First, I will contrast a passage of meta-fictional commentary with an engagingaction sequence in order to point out the different ways in which Byatt seems to convey similarmessages. In the second part of the chapter, I will explore the relationship between curiosityand faith in Possession, and suggest some of the implications of this relationship for readersand critics of Byatt’s romance.The narrator in Possession examines some of the different ways in which readers mayrespond mentally and physically to what they read:There are readings — of the same text — that are dutiful, readings that map anddissect, readings that hear a rustling of unheard sounds, that count grey littlepronouns for pleasure or instruction and for a time do not hear golden orapples. There are personal readings, which snatch for personal meanings, I amfull of love, or disgust, or fear, I scan for love, or disgust or fear, There are —believe it — impersonal readings —where the mind’s eye sees the lines moveonwards and the mind’s ear hears them sing and sing.Now and then there are readings that make the hairs on the neck, thenon-existent pelt, stand on end and tremble, when every word burns and shineshard and clear and infinite and exact, like stones of fire, like points of stars inthe dark--readings when the knowledge that we shall know the writingdifferently or better or satisfactorily, runs ahead of any capacity to say what we50know, or how. In these readings, a sense that the text has appeared to bewholly new, never before seen, is followed, almost immediately, by the sensethat it was always there, that we the readers, knew it was always there, andhave always known it was as it was, though we have now for the first timerecognised, become fully cognisant of, our knowledge. (511-512)1Important to me in this passage is Byatt’ s articulation of the depth of the reading experiencewhich “runs ahead of any capacity to say what we know, or how.” I believe that romance asksreaders to imagine, to build rather than dismantle, construct rather than deconstruct.Discovering Possession, one hears the echoes of other stories, other writers’ words andforms, as well as hearing Byatt’s particular story for the first time. The recognizable ‘generic’qualities of romance, and the recurring patterns of fairy tales invite readings from across therange of “impersonal readings,” “personal readings,” readings people feel with their bodies.In chapter 3, I explored some instances of a permeable boundary between humans andanimals in romance. The “non-existent pelt” image from the passage quoted above ties in withthis theme; it recurs at several crucial moments in Maud and Roland’s adventure. In oneexample, Maud recognizes a line from Randolph’s Ask to Embla that also occurs inChristabel’s Melusina, and asks Roland: “have you ever really felt your hackles rise? Because Ijust have. Prickles all down my spine and at the roots of my hair” (258). According to Estés,“pioerection— hair standing on end - occurs in response to things seen as well as to thingssensed” (268) . She associates the pelt with “one’s instinctive sight” (269)2. Maud’s reaction tothe poetry expresses itself in her body, and perhaps “runs ahead of any capacity to say what”she knows or how.As Maud and Roland combine their scholarly knowledge of the two poets, they beginto experience familiar literature in a new, more physical way. They are both learning thatcooperation enhances their ability to make sense of their discoveries, and they have both51ventured beyond the borders of their habitual work places, the library and the resource centre,into Seal Court (one-time home of Christabel, the selkie princess).They have each had torelinquish some of their assumptions about the other and about the poets whom they study. Inother words, they have begun to behave less like literary critics and more like heroes ofromance. They see new patterns of significance in Randolph and Christabel’s writings, andmake discoveries which might “change the face of scholarship” (23). Their discoveries do notonly concern the biographical facts of Randolph and Christabel’s lives. Roland and Mauddiscover a “romance” between Randolph and Christabel. On a metaphoric level, they discoverromance itself.A reader’s non-rational response (such as Maud’s hackles rising) typifies the effect thatsome critics attribute to romance. James King tries to defme how fairy tales educate readers:Popular tales rarely offer something recognizably cognitive, something that canbe learned.. .instead they seem to incline the personality in a certain direction,alerting it to possibilities, suggesting, activating, psychologicallspiritual‘faculties’ that might otherwise have been neglected. (37-8)Maud and Roland learn to use some of these otherwise neglected faculties as they complementscholarly activities with more “romance-oriented” experiences. Byatt presents these charactersin a form that may have a similar effect on readers. As they embark on a treasure hunt in anunexplored wing of Seal Court, Roland’s “non-existent pelt” bristles: he “felt a strangepricking at the base of his neck” (90). The searchers moved through “dark shuttered places”and “up a winding wooden stair, cloudy with dark dust” (90): the terms of their journeysuggest that they move into a realm far-removed from the clear light of reason, a place whereinstinct operates in conjunction with intellect. Soon they came upon “a sudden row of staringtiny white faces, one, two, three, propped against a pillow” (91). According to Estés, “dollsare one of the symbolic treasures of the instinctual nature” (88). Christabel’s dolls possess astrange vitality: “They all stared with blue glassy eyes, filled with dust, but still glittering” (91).52Maud recognizes the power of the dolls without being able to explain it: “ ‘She wrote a seriesof poems about the dolls,’ said Maud, in a kind of dreadful whisper. ‘They were ostensibly forchildren, like the Tales for Innocents. But not really” (91). Her words refer to her specificcontext, but also have more general application; stories for children (fairy tales) can provide avaluable resource for literary detectives because such stories, as King says, help “to incline”readers to use “neglected faculties” such as intuition. Roland “driven by some instinct ofcunning reserve” (94) withholds the significance of their find from Sir George.Like Maud, Roland appears to respond intuitively in the presence of the dolls. He had“a vague excited sense” (91) and felt a “violent emotion of curiosity” (92) . Here curiosity ismotivating Roland and Maud, as well as readers who may be caught up in their desire for adiscovery which will advance the plot of Possession.Estés discusses further attributes of dolls which seem to fit Byatt’s use of them: “forcenturies humans have felt that dolls emanate both a holiness and. awesome andcompelling prescience which acts upon persons, changing them spiritually” (88). Byatt’slanguage emphasizes spiritual qualities in her description of the doll scene by using such wordsas “incantation” (92) and “ heart” (93), and having Maud explain her find: “I didn’tknow. I just thought of the poem, standing there, and then it seemed clear. It was sheer luck”(94). The same “luck” which in Christabel’s version of “The Glass Coffin,” emanates trulyfrom the inner resources of the tailor protagonist. Estés says “dolls are believed to be infusedwith life by their makers” (88), and Sir George suggests something similar when he objects tothe scholars reading letters found in the dolls’ bed: “I believe in letting dead bones lie still. Whystir up scandals about our silly fairy poetess? Poor old thing, let her sleep decently” (96).Byatt’ s rendering of dolls in romance coincides with Estés’ s interpretation of dolls infairy tales. The scene in Possession which features the dolls seems designed to involve readersin the emotions of the characters. Christabel’s poem, an artistic creation, in this context has a53powerful impact: the poet’s words contribute to Maud and Roland’s excitement and discovery.By setting the poem in this context, Byatt seems to create for readers an opportunity torecognize some of the intangible effects of reading; we may not literally find buried treasure (asRoland and Maud do in this scene), but the act of creating meaning from words on a page is ametaphoric search for buried treasure. Byatt seems to give “solid life” to Maud and Roland’sintuitive reading process by associating it with dolls. As Sabine writes: “I have noticed thatwriting...things down does not exorcise them, only gives them solid life, as the witch’s waxdolls take on vitality when she warms them into shape before pricking them” (402). The imageof voodoo dolls provides a bridge from Maud and Roland’s discovery of Christabel’ s dolls tothe theme of spiritual possession which runs throughout Possession.I hope to have shown above some parallels between a metafictional discussion of theact of reading, and a scene which compels characters, and perhaps readers, to respondviscerally as well as intellectually. In these two different scenes, the description of varieties ofreading and the treasure hunt, Byatt analyzes and creates a range of reading experiences towhich readers may respond intellectually, emotionally, intuitively, spiritually, even physically.Possession makes ample space for this kind of multi-level reading, and thus offers readers anopportunity to experience the kind of “possession” that influences Byatt’ s characters.As in the treasure hunt discussed above, curiosity is a powerful motivating force forcharacters throughout Possession. For example, Roland “felt as though he was prying, and asthough he was being uselessly urged on by some violent emotion of curiosity— not greed,curiosity, more fundamental even than sex, the desire for knowledge” (92). The “emotion” ofcuriosity seems to take over rational faculties; like other forces of nature, it is beyond humancontrol. In her description of Roland, Byatt connects this kind of “fundamental” curiosity withprimary physical urges such as hunger and sex. The discovery of Randolph’s letters toChristabel seems to awaken this basic form of curiosity in Roland and, although it seems54“useless” and “violent,” his drive towards further discoveries seems to bestow new life uponthe objects of his curiosity:Roland considered Randolph Ash, who had always looked so self-possessed,so all-of-a-piece. The look of amusement Manet had captured now took on analmost teasing aspect, a challenge: “So you think you know me?” And theurgency of the unfinished letters gave a new energy to the solid dark body, asthough it might after all be capable of violent movement. (2 1)3Roland’s curiosity helps to restore life to the past. The recurring word “violent” conveys theforce of the “shock” (9) that Roland experiences as new aspects of Randolph’s character cometo life in his mind.Conversely, Maud, who also experiences curiosity as “prying,” feels that her curiositytakes life away from the objects of her investigation: “this thickened forest, her own hummingmetal car, her prying curiosity about whatever had been Christabel’s life, seemed suddenly tobe the ghostly things, feeding on, living through, the young vitality of the past” (150-15 1).Through apparently conflicting descriptions (such as those of Roland and Maud) Byattsuggests that curiosity has an ambivalent role; it seems both to enhance and to diminish vitality.Randolph’s curiosity is complex (“I [Randolph] should add that my poems do not, Ithink, spring from the Lyric Impulse— but from something restless and myriad-minded andpartial and observing and analytic and curious” [147]), as well as ethically ambiguous:Now, I cannot believe, being no Manichee, that He, the Creator, ifhe exists, didnot make us and our world that which we are. He made us curious, did he not?— he made us questioning— and the Scribe ofGenesis did well to locate thesource of all our misery in that greedfor knowledge which has also been ourgreatest spur — in some sense— to good. To good and evil. (181)This quotation makes explicit the connection Byatt explores throughout her romance between55curiosity and faith. While curiosity itself may have a range of sometimes contradictory effects,it is paired with faith, an equally complex disposition.Scientific curiosity sometimes diminishes the vitality of the objects under investigation.In Randolph’s poem “Swammerdam,” the speaker seeks “to know the origins of life” (225),yet his instruments are an “armoury- / Skewers and swords, scalpels and teasing hooks” (226)and he seems surrounded by death. In the “cabinet of curiosities” where he was bornA mermaid swam in a hermetic jarWith bony fingers scraping her glass wallsAnd stiff hair streaming from her shrunken head.Her dry brown breasts were like mahogany,Her nether parts, coiled and confined, were dull,Like ancient varnish, but her teeth were white. (223)Byatt expresses the potentially destructive impact of scientific curiosity on the world through animage which is particularly horrifying in the context of Possession, where she bringsmermaids to life and shows their struggles to be free. The streaming hair of Swammerdam’smermaid reinforces her connection with the princess in “The Glass Coffin”: “under the surfaceof the thick glass lay a mass of long gold threads... .Her gold hair lay around her like a mantle,but where its strands crossed her face they stirred a little with her breathing” (70-1). InChristabel’s tale, curiosity leads to the rebirth of the Princess and her escape from the glassdisplay case, while in Randolph’s poem, curiosity turns Swammerdam into a man “Who sawInfinity through countless cracks / In the blank skin of things, and died of it” (222).Similarly, in Cropper’s biography of Ash “the fairy paradise has beenviolated...crushed under the rough paw of well-meaning idle-minded curiosity” (269); herecuriosity appears to cause destruction and death. Cropper portrays Ash as similar to Ash’sportrait of Swammerdam: “with his scalpel and killing-jar, dealing death to the creatures hefound so beautiful, to the seashore whose pristine beauty he helped to wreck” (269). Maud56read the biography and judged that it “was as much about its author as its subject” (268).According to Cropper, “all were murdering to dissect, parting and slicing, scraping andpiercing tough and delicate tissues in an attempt by all possible means to get at the elusive stuffof Life itself’ (270). In addition to Victorian scientific practices, his words seem to describe hisown “version of reverse hagiography” (272), the method which makes him such a successfulscholar. The expression “reverse hagiography” casts science as an inversion of religion. Theimage of critic as scientist performing vivisection on a text is a cautionary one, yet withoutcurious explorers - the craftsman in “The Glass Coffin,” Roland, Maud, Christabel, Randolph,Cropper, Byatt, readers of Possession—. there would be no rescues, no discoveries, no stories,no life. Byatt uses expressions like “greed for knowledge” and “consumed with curiosity” tosuggest that curiosity may feed on the lives of others, but is at the same time essential to life.Peering into cracks in “the blank skin of things” may have killed Swammerdam, butKing lists “noting and looking into the cracks in various structures no one else deems worthyof examination” (79) as one of the important manifestations of inteffigence in the “bright-shadow” fairy-tale world. Just as intelligence must be balanced with feeling, curiosity must bebalanced with faith.The story of Melusina turns on Raimondin’s peering through a keyhole at the fairy inher bath and seeing her mermaid’s tail. Byatt weaves this story into Possession, and thusdraws attention to some of the implications for gender of the sometimes conflicting relationshipbetween curiosity and faith. Randolph believes of Christabel:To show speculation, or even curiosity, would be to lose her. Then and there.He knew that, without thinking. It was like Melusina’s prohibition, and nonarrative bound him, unlike the unfortunate Raimondin, to exhibit indiscreetcuriosity. He liked to know everything he could — even this — but he knewbetter than to be curious, he told himself, about things he could not hope toknow. (309-10)57Does Randolph stifle his curiosity about Christabel’s sexuality because he has faith in her? InChristabel’s poem, the hero to whom Randolph compares himself identifies a lack of faith asthe cause of his “indiscreet curiosity”: “Ah, Mélusine, I have betrayed your faith” (258).Randolph may be like “The monk, John,” in Christabel’s “Fairy Melusine,” who “Humblyconcludes the human soul should not I Use reason where it cannot stretch to work” (315).Randolph feels passion for Christabel, and this feeling tempers his curiosity. His use of theword “lose” suggests that he also stifles his curiosity in order to possess Christabel. Perhapsdesire, rather than faith, inspires Randolph to avoid Raimondin’ s fate (with dubious success).Despite his stifled curiosity, Christabel suffers the same fate as Melusina (544; cited in Chapter2).Other versions of the story of Melusina demonstrate the impact of male curiosity onwomen. In Goethe’s “New Melusina,” the fairy wife privately shrinks into a tiny elf instead ofsprouting a mermaid’s tail. Unbeknownst to her husband, when she is tiny she lives in thewooden casket which he guards in her ‘absence.’ In the grip of curiosity and greed, hediscovers her secret identity by peering (like Swammerdam) through a crack in the casket:I fancied a carbuncle lying in the box and wished to make sure of it. Twistingmyself around as well as I was able, I brought my eye in direct contact with theopening. But how great was my astonishment when I looked into a room... .ayoung woman with a book in her hand approached from the other side of theroom, and immediately I recognized her as my wife, although her figure hadshrunk to the smallest proportions. (Goethe 108)Melusina senses that he has learned her secret, and fears that her happiness will be “utterlydestroyed” (Goethe 109), but he realises that the situation might be to his advantage: “Is it thensuch a great misfortune to possess a wife who from time to time becomes an elf, so that onecan carry her around in a box? Would it not be far worse were she to become a giantess andclap her husband into the box?” (Goethe 109). This man, again like Swammerdam, keeps his58fairy (mermaid) confined in a box. One day he gets drunk and betrays her secret, thenpersuades her to take him with her when she has to return to the elf world. He feels diminishedthere, and finds a way to escape. Since he is the story’s narrator, readers never learn whatbecomes of the fairy, Melusina. For him, the consequences of curiosity are moderate, but theknowledge he gains through lack of faith allows him to wield power over Melusina. Hiscuriosity destroys the mystery which allows her to remain autonomous.In a different version of the Melusina story by Sabine Baring-Gould, the moment ofMelusina’s exposure goes as follows:one of his [Raymond’s] brothers...whispered that strange gossiping tales wereabout relative to this sabbath seclusion, and that it behoved him to inquire into itand set the minds of the people at rest. Full of wrath and anxiety, the countrushed off to the private apartments of the countess, but found them empty. Onedoor alone was locked, and that opened into a bath. He looked through the keyhole and to his dismay beheld her in the water, her lower extremities changedinto the tail of a monstrous fish or serpent. (Baring-Gould 13 1-2)Once again, Raymond’s suspicion and lack of faith in Melusina lead to his curious peering, andhe eventually condemns her to leave her children and fly “wailing over the ramparts” bybreaking his promise to respect her privacy and interpreting her as an “odious serpent” (Baring-Gould 132). In this version of the story, as in Goethe’s, the woman who is the object ofcuriosity suffers punishment.In the myth of Cupid and Psyche the roles are reversed. Psyche tries to satisfy hercuriosity about the identity of her mysterious serpentine husband, and she is the one who mustdo penance for her curiosity. Byatt refers to this myth in Christabel’s proem to “The FairyMelusine.” The poet observes, “let the Power take a female form! And ‘tis the Power ispunished” (317). How does this relate to a discussion of romance? In a study of sixteenthcentury prose romances, Caroline Lucas writes that “one place where women might have59experienced themselves as powerful... [was] within the discourse of romantic fiction” (3). Sheargues that such fiction “has been dismissed or devalued precisely because of its associationwith women” (18). This argument recalls, once again, Christabel’s comments about therelationship between the form of romance and women’s freedom.Christabel’ s poem describes fairies in terms which might also apply to romances:those rapid wanderers of the darkWho in dreamlight, or twilight, or no lightAre lovely Mysteries and promise gifts —Whiteladies, teasing dryads, shape-changers -Like smiling clouds, or sparkling threads of streamsBright monsters of the sea and of the skyWho answer longing and who threaten notBut vanish in the light of rational day. (317-8)There is a connection between a scientist or jealous husband peering through a crack andruining a fairy’s life, and a reader peering into the cracks of a text and thereby ruining the lifeof a fairy tale or romance. Before she brings the statue of Hermione to life, Paulina warns heraudience, “It is requir’d / You do awake your faith” (The Winter’s Tale 5.3.94-5), and herwords seem to apply to Shakespeare’s audience as well. In response to Christabel’s inquiriesabout his belief in Lazarus, Randolph replies:Do you know— the only life Jam sure of is the life of the Imagination. Whateverthe absolute Truth — or Untruth— of that old life-in-death— Poetry can make thatman live for the length of the faith you or any other choose to give to him. (185)Readers can give life to writers’ creations, or can destroy them with reckless scrutiny.Curiosity seems to possess both Roland and Maud alike, however, and drives them onregardless of what impact it has on the life of the past. Maud says:60I want to — to — follow the — path. I feel taken over by this. I want to know whathappened, and I want it to be me that finds out. I thought you were mad, whenyou came to Lincoln with your piece of stolen letter. Now I feel the same. Itisn’t professional greed. It’s something more primitive.”“Narrative curiosity -““Partly.” (25 8-9; see also 363)As this exchange illustrates, curiosity, possession, and reading life as narrative are relatedthemes in Possession; time and again characters feel caught up in a force which they do notunderstand rationally, but feel strongly. Their narrative curiosity mirrors a reader’s desire tokeep reading, perhaps even to skip poems or stories in order to find out what happens in theend, as well as describing “something more primitive,” the desire to find out which motivatesso much of human action. Byatt writes in a form which thrives on mystery and suspense, andthus helps readers to feel the kind of curiosity that her characters feel, as well as prompting usto think about some of the implications of this feeling and to be aware of some of theambivalence involved in our own styles of reading.4As Possession draws to a close, a poem of Randolph’s shows connections betweencuriosity as a way of life and a way of reading:We are drivenBy endings as by hunger....We feel our wayAlong the links and we cannot let goOf this bright chain of curiosityWhich is become our fetter. So it dragsUs through our time— “And then, and then, and then,”Towards our figured consummation....61Although we know and must know, they’re all one,Finis, The End, the one consummate shockThat ends all shocks and us. (517)Perhaps it is the process of searching rather than the finality of discovery that makes curiosity alife-enhancing rather than a life-diminishing force. Randolph’s poem may not convince mostreaders to put Possession away without reading on to the conclusion, but it does serve as areminder that the life of the story is in the process of reading it rather than in its ending, whichmay satisfy our curiosity but wifi not keep the story alive unless we return to the beginning.621.Consider Frye’s comments about Shakespearean romance in relation to those of the narratorin Possession. According to Frye, Shakespearearrived in his last period at the bedrock of drama, the romantic spectacle out ofwhich all the more specialized forms of drama, such as tragedy and socialcomedy, have come, and to which they recurrently return... .we have a feelingof converging significance, the feeling that here we are close to seeing what ourwhole literary experience has been about, the feeling that we have moved intothe still center of the order of words. Criticism as knowledge, the criticismwhich is compelled to keep on talking about the subject, recognizes the fact thatthere is a center of the order of words. (AC 117-118)Rather than a centre, I prefer to think of a complex pattern of different concentric shapes.2. Estés’ discussion of the pelt goes with a story of a young seal-woman such as those towhich Byatt aludes on page 305.3. This quotation comes from the American edition of Possession. In the British edition thispassage has quite a different emphasis:These pictures, Roland considered, seemed somehow more real as well as moreaustere, because they were photographs. Less full of life, the life of the paint,but more realistic, in the modern sense, according to modern expectations. Theywere a bit the worse for wear; the flat was not clean and was damp. But he hadno money to renew them. (London: Vintage, 1991. 17)4. For a passage which links curiosity, faith, and romance, see Possession 290.63Works CitedAuerbach, Nina and U. C. 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Sensational Designs: TheCultural Work ofAmerican Fiction 1790-1860.New York and Oxford: Oxford UP, 1985.66Book Reviews and Articles Consulted“A. S. Byatt Wins Booker.” Globe and Mail 17 Oct. 1990, metro ed.: Cl.Barron, Janet. “Paperback Fighters.” Listener 13 Dec. 1990: 26-27.Beaton, Belinda. “Superb Impersonation of Two Victorian Poets.” Toronto Star 13 Oct.1990: Mu.Bell, Pearl K. “Fiction Chronicle.” Partisan Review 58/3 (1991): 478-92.Beme, Suzanne. “In Short.” New York Times Book Review 22 Mar. 1992: 16.“Booklist.” Illustrated London News 279/7099 (1991): 82.Byatt, A. S. “After the Myth, the Real.” Times Literary Supplement 29 June 1990: 683a.“Amatory Acts.” Times Literary Supplement 31 Aug. 1990: 913.“A. S. Byatt.” The Pleasure of Reading. Ed. Antonia Fraser. Toronto: Knopf, 1992.127-132.“The Architecture of the Emotions.” Times Literary Supplement 11 Dec. 1981: 1446a.“Art Work.” New Yorker 20 May 1991: 36-5 1.“An Assorted Life.” Times Literary Supplement 2 Dec. 1983: 1338a.“Before the Wedding.” Times 23 Sept. 1978: 6.“Beginning in Craft and Ending in Mystery.” Times Literary Supplement 13 May 1988:527.“Cannibals, Scholars and Artists.” Times Literary Supplement 25 Apr. 1980: 466b.“Chosen Vessels of a Fraud.” Times Literary Supplement 2 June 1989: 605a.“Control of the Life-Sources.” Times Literary Supplement 12 Aug. 1988: 890a.“Daniel.” Encounter 46/3 (1976): 3-8.“The Disreputable Other Half.” Times Literary Supplement 4 Apr. 1986: 357a.“A Dog, a Horse, a Rat.” Times Literary Supplement 24 May 1991: 22.“Doubts about the Monument.” Times Literary Supplement 28 June. 1985: 720a.“English Literature on a Latter-Day Passage to India.” Times Literary Supplement 29 May671981: lOa.“An Explosive Embrace.” Times Literary Supplement 13 March 1987: 269a.“Impressions in Their Rendering.” Times Literary Supplement 13 Feb. 1981: 171a.“The Isle Full of Noises.” Times Literary Supplement 26 Sept. 1980: 1057a.“Kiss and Make Up.” New Statesnian 29 Jan. 1968: 113-14.Letter. “Katerina Brac.” Times Literary Supplement 25 Apr. 1986: 447c.Letter. “Rear Column.” Times Literary Supplement 9 May 1980: 528d.Letter. “Theoria.” Times Literary Supplement 30 Dec. 1988: 1443d.“Marginal Lives.” Times Literary Supplement 8 Aug. 1986: 862a.“Neglected Fictions.” Times Literary Supplement 18 Oct. 1985: 1 186c.“Obscenity and the Arts - A Symposium.” Times Literary Supplement 12 Feb. 1988:159c.“The Raj and the Great Tradition.” Times Literary Supplement 9 Jan. 1981: 33a.“Suffering and Creating.” Times Literary Supplement 13 June 1986: 637a.“The Trouble With the Interesting Reader.” Times Literary Supplement 23 Mar. 1990:310a.“Viewpoint: the Resistant Element.” Times Literary Supplement 17 May 1985: 548a.“Whittled and Spikey Art.” New Statesman 15 Dec. 1967: 848.“Wisdom after the Event.” Times Literary Supplement 7 Mar. 1986: 258a.“Writing and Feeling.” Times Literary Supplement 18 Nov. 1988: 1278a.“Byatt Wins U. K.’s Top Book Prize.” Calgary Herald 17 Oct. 1990: E8.Campbell, Jane. “The Hunger of the Imagination in A. S. Byatt’s The Game.” Critique:Studies in Contemporary Fiction 29/3 (1988): 147-162.“The Somehow May Be Thishow: Fact, Fiction, and Intertextuality in Antonia Byatt’s‘Precipice Encurled.” Studies in Short Fiction 28/2 (1991): 115-23.Conroy, Sarah Booth. “The Magic Brew of A. S. Byatt.” Washington Post 29 Nov. 1991:Dl.68Creighton, Joanne V. “Sisterly Symbiosis: Margaret Drabble’s The Wateifall and A. S.Byatt’s The Game.” Mosaic 20/1 (1987): 15-29.Cunningham, Valentine. “The Greedy Reader: A. S. Byatt in the Post-Christian Labyrinth.”Times Literary Supplement 16 Aug. 1991: 6a.“Deep Thought and Domesticity.” Times 22 June 1985: 20e.“Editor’s Choice: Best Books of 1990.” New York Times Book Review 2 Dec. 1990: 81.Dusinberre, Juliet. “Forms of Reality in A. S. Byatt’s The Virgin in the Garden.” Critique:Studies in Contemporary Fiction 24/1 (1982): 55-62.Feinstein, Elaine. “Eloquent Victorians.” New Statesman 16 Mar. 1990: 38.Finlay, Marion. “Booker Fiction Prize Taken by Possession.” Toronto Star 17 Oct. 1990:E3.Garis, Leslie. “Susan Sontag finds romance.” New York Times Magazine. 2 Aug. 1992. 21.Golding, William. “Another Year on the Shelf.” Manchester Guardian Weekly 16 Dec. 1990:28.Grave, Valerie. “Academic Reflections in a Victorian Climate.” Sunday Times 21 Oct. 1990:3.3.Gray, Paul. “Winner.” Time 5 Nov. 1990: 94.Hulbert, Ann. “The Great Ventriloquist.” New Republic 7 Jan. 1991: 47-9.“Inspiration Fueled by Bygone Eras.” Toronto Star 27 Oct. 1990: F15.Jenkyns, Richard. “Disinterring Buried Lives.” Times Literary Supplement 2 Mar. 1990:213a.Kemp, Peter. “Academic Questions, Passionate Solutions.” Sunday Times 21 Oct. 1990: 8.6.Kirchoff, H. J. “What’s a Victorian Love Story Without Poetry, Novelist Argues.” Globeand Mail 13 Oct. 1990: C15.Lawrence, P. Scott. “A Romance with a Difference: A. S. Byatt Mingles Literary Scholarshipand Passion.” Montreal Gazette 10 Nov. 1990: K5.M, R. “Books Encountered.” Encounter June 1990: 50,McKenzie, Sandra. “Near-Perfect Read for Winter’s Night.” Vancouver Sun 20 Oct. 1990:D20.Marshall, Brenda K. “Parallel Lives.” Women’s Review ofBooks 8 (May 1991): 6.69“New and Noteworthy.” New York Times Book Review 3 Nov. 1991: 34.Oldham, Gerda. “Books.” Antioch Review 49/2 (1991): 302.“Paperbacks.” Observer 17 Feb. 1991: 58.Parini, Jay. “The Theory and Practice of Literature: a New Dialogue?” Chronicle ofHigherEducation. 9 Sept. 1992. B 1-2.“Unearthing the Secret Lover.” New York Times took Review 21 Oct. 1990: 9.Prescott, Peter S. “Why Byatt Possesses: A Most Unusual Success.” Newsweek 21 Jan.1991: 61.Pritchard, William H. “Fiction Chronicle.” Hudson Review 44/3 (1991): 500-08.Romano, Carlin. “Byatt Battled Publisher Over Book.” Calgary Herald 5 Jan. 1991: P7.Rome, Linda L. “Book Reviews: Fiction.” Library Journal 1 Nov. 1990: 123.Rosenfeld, Richard. “A Childhood: A. S. Byatt.” Times 27 Apr. 1991: l9b.Ross, Val. “Booker Fuss Keeps Byatt Busy.” Globe and Mail 7 Nov. 1991, metro ed.: CS.Rubin, Merle. “Pick a Paperback for Pure Pleasure.” Christian Science Monitor 10 Jan.1992: 13.“A Writer Reviews Other Writers.” Christian Science Monitor 31 Mar. 1992: 13.Schwartz, Gil. “What to Read on Vacation.” Fortune 26 Aug. 1991: 116.Showalter, Elaine. “Slick Chick.” London Review ofBooks 11 July 1991: 6-7.Steinberg, Sybil. “Critics’ Choice.” Publisher’s Weekly 4 Jan. 1991: 34.“Fiction Reprints.” Publisher’s Weekly 6 Sept. 1991: 101.Publisher’s Weekly 24 Aug. 1990: 54.“Summer Reading.” Observer 24 June 1990: 50.Trueheart, Charles. “A. S. Byau Takes Coveted Booker Prize.” Washington Post 17 Oct.1990: Cl, col. 1.Ward, Stephen. “English Author Tops Pair of Canadians to Win Booker Prize.” VancouverSun 17 Oct. 1990: B6.Whitwell, Stuart. “Adult Books.” Booklist 15 Feb. 1992: 1082.“Adult Fiction.” Booklist 15 Sept. 1990: 138-39.7071Works ConsultedAlexander, Marc. British Folklore, Myths and Legends. London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson,1982.Andersen, Hans Christian. “The Little Mermaid.” Fairy Tales. [1846]. London: Hamlyn,1972. 139-158.Ardis, Ann L. New Women, New Novels: Feminism and Early Modernism. New Brunswickand London: Rutgers UP, 1990.Ashe, Geoffrey. Mythology of the British Isles. North Pomfret VT: Trafalgar, 1990.Beck, Horace. Folklore and the Sea. Middletown CT: Wesleyan UP, 1973.Benwell, Gwen and Arthur Waugh. Sea Enchantress: The Tale of the Mermaid and her Kin.London: Hutchinson, 1961.Bergman, Gun. The Melusina Saga: The Text in UUB Slav 34 anda Study in 17th-CenturyLiterary Language in Russia. Uppsala: Almqvist and Wiksells, 1964.Brewer, Derek, ed. Studies in Medieval English Romances: Some New Approaches.Cambridge: Brewer, 1988.Briggs, Katharine. A Dictionary ofFairies. London: Allen Lane, 1976.The Fairies in Tradition and Literature. London: Routledge, 1967.Bédier, Joseph. The Romance of Tristan and Iseult. Trans. Hilaire Belloc. Completed byPaul Rosenfeld. New York: Vintage, 1965.Browning, Robert. “Never the Time and the Place.” The Works ofRobert Browning. Vol. X.New York: Barnes and Noble, 1966.Byatt, A. S. Angels and Insects. London: Chatto, 1992.The Game. London: Chatto, 1967. London: Penguin, 1983.The Matisse Stories. London: Chatto, 1993.Possession: A Romance. London: Chatto, 1990. New York: Random, 1990. NewYork: Vintage International Edition, 1991. London: Vintage, 1991.Shadow ofa Sun. London: Chatto, 1964. New York: Harcourt, 1964. Republished,with an introduction by the author, as The Shadow ofthe Sun. London: Vintage,1991.Still Life. London: Chatto, 1985. London: Penguin, 1986. Rpt. in 1987, 1988..Sugar and Other Stories. London: Chatto, 1987.72The Virgin in the Garden. London: Chatto, 1978. London: Penguin, 1981. Rpt. in1981, 1986, 1987.Carter, Angela, ed. The Old Wives’ Fairy Tale.Book. New York: Pantheon, 1990Chaucer, Geoffrey. The Canterbury Tales. The Riverside Chaucer. Ed. Larry D. Benson.3rd Ed. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1987.Crossley-Holland, Kevin. The Norse Myths: Gods of the Vikings. Harmondsworth:Penguin, 1980.d’Arras, Jean. Le roman de Mlusine ou l’histoire des Lusignan. Moyen age. Editions Stock,1979.Elam, Diane. Romancing the Postmodern. London and New York: Routledge, 1992.Fouqué, La Motte. Romantic Fiction: Shorter Talesfrom the German ofDe Ia Motte Fouqué.1845. London: James Burns.Undine and Other Stories. 1811. Intro, and trans. of “Undine” by Sir EdmundGosse. 1896. London: Oxford UP.Jacobs, Joseph, comp. English Folk and Fairy Tales. 3rd ed. New York: Putnam, 1940.Keightley, Thomas. The Fairy Mythology: Illustrative of the Romance and Superstition ofVarious Countries. 1850. New York: AMS, 1968.Narváez, Peter, ed. The Good People: New Faitylore Essays. New York and London:Garland, 1991.Opie, lona and Peter. The Classic Fairy Tales. New York and Toronto: Oxford UP, 1974.Patrick, Julian. “The Tempest as Supplement.” Centre and Labyrinth: Essays in Honour ofNorthrop Frye. Toronto: U of T P. 1983.Picard, Barbara Leonie (retold by). French Legends, Tales and Fairy Stories. Oxford: OxfordUP, 1955.Rossetti, Christina. The Complete Poems of Christina Rossetti. Vols. 1&3. Ed. R. W.Crump. Baton Rouge LA: Louisiana State UP, 1979.Maud: Prose and Verse. 1897. Ed. R. W. Crump. Hamden CT: Archon, 1976.Spenser, Edmund. The Faerie Queene. 1590-1609. Ed. Thomas P. Roche Jr.Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1987.Steiner, Wendy. Pictures ofRomance: Form against Context in Painting and Literature.Chicago: Chicago UP, 1988.Tennyson, Alfred. The Complete Poetical Works. Ed. W. J. Rolfe. Boston: Houghton,731898.Thomas, Joyce. Inside the Wolfs Belly: Aspects of the Fairy Tale. Sheffield: SheffieldAcademic P, 1989.Weiss, Timothy. Fairy Tale and Romance in the Works ofFord Madox Ford. Lanham MD:UP of America, 1984.Zipes, Jack. Don’t Bet on the Prince: Contemporary Feminist Fairy Tales in North Americaand England. 1986. New York: Routledge, 1989.Fairy Tales and the Art ofSubversion: The Classical Genre for Children and theProcess ofCivilization. New York: Wildman P, 1983.


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