Summer reading: Possession, chapters 1-5.

That’s not a very interesting title. If you have a better suggestion, feel free to let me know what it is and I will use it next week.

Chapters 1-5: In which we meet Roland, Val, Blackadder, Fergus, and Maud; discover the connection between Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash; and, of course, discover their letters. Wasn’t that a great place to end? Didn’t it leave you wanting more? I would like to take the credit for it, but . . . I picked it arbitrarily. Sorry. But, still, a great place to end. The beginning was a bit slower than I remembered, but I never remember this as a very fast book in the first place.

I linked to the poetry already, which took away some of the things I was going to put in today’s post. I haven’t read all of it, but I have been getting through it. The thing about poetry is that I always have to read it out loud. And Mike doesn’t want to listen to Victorian poetry, nor do I really want to read it out loud to myself in my car on my lunch break.

I was going to write out some questions, but since this is the beginning, the best place to start is probably with first impressions. I’ll go ahead and start with mine, and you can leave yours.

Later in the book, Roland is described as “meek,” and that’s as good a description as I can come up with. He’s too meek to get the kind of job he deserves, he’s too meek to do anything about his horrible apartment, too meek to do anything about his situation with Val. And yet, in an uncharacteristic moment, he steals the letters. In a parallel, it seems that even writing the letters was uncharacteristic for Ash himself.

Maud is, from the beginning, described in bright colors, as is her apartment. One of the things I was proud to have picked up on is that when Fergus says that she “thicks men’s blood with cold,” that’s a reference to “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner.”

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man’s blood with cold.

That’s not the only poetry Fergus used to describe her, either:

Never shall a young man,
Thrown into despair
By those great honey-coloured
Ramparts at your ear,
Love you for yourself alone
And not your yellow hair.

Maud’s identity is very tied up in her hair, having cut it short to meet the expectations of those around her. At the beginning of our introduction to her, we see Christabel’s poem on Rapunzel, and the meaning is two-fold: Maud is in her ivory tower of academia, and Maud needs to literally let down her hair rather than keeping it under scarves. Her character is centered on poetry in other ways, too – Tennyson’s “Maud” requests that she, “Come into the garden, Maud.” Roland doesn’t approach the garden of his apartment, either, making the imagery of being closed off/needing to enter certain areas important for both of them. Which leads me to Christabel’s Tales for Innocents. The implication of “The Glass Coffin” is probably that the girl with golden hair needs to be saved from her cold, compartmentalized life. Is that what you got from the story, too? Anything I missed? Is it significant that Christabel is working on it at the time that she and Ash are corresponding? That story also touches a bit on Roland and Maud’s different class backgrounds. The movie, I think, explains their differences by making Roland an American, but I like it better in the original.

I suppose the next character to mention is Val. I find myself taking Roland’s side against her, because she is so blank. I don’t see her as a fully-formed person, more as a reflection of whoever she is with (in this case, Roland). She reminds me of people I know who have to see the negative side of everything. I probably dislike her so much because I recognize in myself that same tendency.

I have less to say about Blackadder and Fergus, who work with Roland. I see Blackadder sympathetically, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why (it may simply be in contrast with Cropper, who is fairly vile, but . . . we haven’t completely gotten to see that yet). Fergus, to me, is someone I feel that I shouldn’t like, and yet I find him charming. Which is, I think, a bit how Maud feels, too.

It’s harder for me to talk about what happened in these five chapters, because I know what is going to happen later on, and I don’t want to foreshadow that too much. Additionally, I think that I tend to be more focused on character than plot, and a lot of what happens in the first five chapters is basically setting up the rest of the book. But please feel free to talk about it. The most exciting thing that happens is, of course, the finding of the letters, and I love that the poetry was a clue. And the Baileys, with their house falling down around them. I also love the way that Roland pieces things together to discover the truth about the letter and the relationship.

So, here is a bit to get us started on the first five chapters. I certainly haven’t mentioned everything that happened, but I hope that you will point out things that stood out to you as you read. I will post next Monday about the next five. Happy discussing, happy reading.

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13 Comments

  1. I can’t fully contribute yet, because I won’t have my book in front til this evening, and I’ve read through chapter 10, so I don’t want to include anything that happens after chapter 5 yet.
    I will say that I loved the symbolism/significance you pointed out to Maud’s hair. Beautiful.

    Posted 6/18/2007 at | Permalink
  2. Kari

    I look forward to it!

    Posted 6/18/2007 at | Permalink
  3. Well, I don’t have all that much to say – I agree with you as far as my impressions of the main characters go – I dislike Val (so much passive aggression) and Cropper (creeeepy – that whole ‘taking pictures of the letters in the bathroom at night’ thing was just wiiiierd), and I’m intrigued by Maud, and at least somewhat interested in Roland (he seems somewhat less intense as a character than Maud or some of the others, which I guess goes along well with the description of him as meek). I enjoyed the parts with the Baileys – they seem so quirky and British – and quite how I would picture people who lived that way.
    My major point of confusion at this point is the relationship between Christabel and Blanche – Blanche’s journal’s made her seem quite possessive and jealous of the developing relationship/friendship of Christabel and Ash – but we really don’t know much about the frienship between the two women, except that it was obviously quite deep. Blanche does seem honestly very sad that she and Christabel are no longer as connected as they once were, but the ending of her journal at that point is quite mysterious.
    Anyway, that’s very disconnected. It takes me quite a bit of time to get into the rhythm of the language, especially with the poetry and the correspondence. But I’m really enjoying it. 🙂

    Posted 6/18/2007 at | Permalink
  4. Kari

    I tend to think of this as Roland’s book more than Maud’s, but I don’t know if it’s just because I like him more or if it’s because of things that happen later (that’s not a hint or a spoiler or anything, though – I don’t remember anything in particular that makes me feel that way). I think I can relate to his passivity more than her life. And a lot of that is probably because of their class differences. My hackles go up for that kind of thing, which automatically makes me take Roland’s side.

    I think that Christabel and Blanche’s relationship is being left deliberately vague – I think partly out of the idea that we (the modern folk) define everything sexually.

    Posted 6/19/2007 at | Permalink
  5. Yeah, I think that’s what felt off – I didn’t want to assume anything about their relationship, and I guess it’s kind of sad that I would jump to the conclusion that there was something illicit going on. I’m not a big fan of Blanche so far, just based on her journal entries that Roland read.

    And I think I agree so far that it does seem to be more Roland’s book than Maud’s, if only because he seems to be the more dominant narrator (and more sympathetic one, for that matter) – I do think (so far) that Maud seems like a much more… vital? vibrant? character, but Roland is much more likable (to me, at least). I loved their first interaction in Maud’s office, the verbal sparring, etc.

    Posted 6/19/2007 at | Permalink
  6. Kari

    And I think Maud feels more vibrant because Byatt deliberately uses bright colors to describe her and her surroundings. Even the white in her apartment is bright.

    Posted 6/19/2007 at | Permalink
  7. I just wanted to say I am late to this party but will hopefully finish reading tonight and can participate in the morning.

    Also, I have a question – do you guys know of any movie or book or possibly a reality show that featured someone named Roland who was a tall black guy with light skin and who was possibly some kind of dancer? Because that’s how I picture Roland based solely on his name and I can’t figure out where I got that association.

    Posted 6/19/2007 at | Permalink
  8. Kari

    I don’t know of anything like that, Brandi. I thought about it for a while, but it doesn’t ring a bell at all. (But it does make me giggle.)

    Posted 6/20/2007 at | Permalink
  9. Do you remember in the Babysitter’s Club how Jessi had a dancer boyfriend? Maybe he was in New York? I think his name might have been Roland but Google isn’t helping me prove that.

    Anyway… the book so far. I am really enjoying it. I am really excited to see what happens! I love how it is setting us up to dig into Ash and Christabel’s relationship. I love the interaction between Roland and Maud, and I’m sad that he’s going to have to go back and live with Val again. Reading about her made me tired, but I don’t necessarily dislike her at this point… I can really relate to letting someone else define who you are and letting your own stuff go.

    I really like Maud. Even though Gwenyth Paltrow is on the cover of my book I picture her looking… harder? tougher? I don’t know. But in my head she really overpowers poor little dancer Roland. 🙂

    I like the balance between reading their letters/hearing about their lives and reading their work. I’m excited to read more stuff like that. The Glass Coffin sucked me in so much that I almost forgot about the actual book!

    Posted 6/20/2007 at | Permalink
  10. Kari

    I think Maud is more icy than Gwyneth. So, I guess that means I agree with you. I think she’s okay in the movie, but she doesn’t have enough presence.

    I love that you liked The Glass Coffin, because I always tend to want to skip stuff like that. So, yay!

    And I do remember Jessi’s New York dancer boyfriend. I wonder how we can find out his name. Surely the internets can help us here.

    Posted 6/20/2007 at | Permalink
  11. Kari

    I found it! His name was Quint!

    But we can pretend it was Roland. To ease your mind.

    Posted 6/20/2007 at | Permalink
  12. Quint! Blast. This is really bugging me now.

    I am making myself really read the poetry instead of just skimming it. But right now I’m reading Cropper’s autobiography thing and I want to skip it. He is weird.

    Posted 6/20/2007 at | Permalink
  13. suhad

    where can i find randolph ash poems in which website

    Posted 5/7/2015 at | Permalink

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