Summer reading: Possession, chapters 21-28 and the postscript

It’s hard to talk about this without starting with the ending, so I’m going to kind of work backwards from the postscript.

Two people met on a hot May day, and never later mentioned their meeting. This is how it was.

The postscript is both unbearably sad and exactly as it should be. No matter how much we know about a person, no matter how well we know someone, we can’t possess all their thoughts and experiences. There are events between two people that no one else will ever know about, conversations that go unrecorded. We don’t know other people’s private thoughts. As much as Roland and Maud and Leonora and Blackadder and Cropper and Beatrice think that they solved the mystery . . . they didn’t. There are still a lot of things they don’t know, too (and therefore that we do not know), like what exactly the relationship between Christabel and Blanche was, whether they were just friends or whether it actually was a “Boston marriage,” and the things that Ellen edited out of her journal, about her difficulties. They don’t know what was in Ash’s letter(s) that Ellen burned, as much as it pains Cropper to know that there is information that was lost.

The part of the postscript that is the most poignant to me is, I think, the hair. Ash says to Ellen, “In my watch. Her hair. Tell her.” But Christabel never knows the truth.

This is a good place to talk about Ellen, so I’m going to jump from the postscript to a discussion of her. Her journal and thoughts are some of the things I think of when I think of this book, mostly because she has been kept off stage pretty much the entire time, and then gives us insight into the entire situation. When I read this book, I don’t have the same trouble with it that I do sometimes with adultery stories, mostly, I think, because of Ellen herself, that glimpse we get into her thoughts at the end, her problems with sex that led to what seemed to be a sexless marriage. It was interesting to be focusing on this section right now, because I read On Chesil Beach by Ian McEwan last week, and it’s about a married couple on their wedding night and the problems they run into. Their story does not end as . . . happily . . . I think Ellen and Ash were happy, truly, I do . . . On Chesil Beach doesn’t end as happily for that couple, and it was interesting to think what life could have been like for them if the man in the story had been more like Ash. It gave me more appreciation for him, actually.

When it came to the affair, Ellen was hurt and angry, I think, but also seemed a bit . . . resigned about what had happened. And that’s why I don’t get so angry myself – I don’t want to excuse Ash for having an affair, but neither do I think Ellen should have withheld sex. Even if I don’t agree with what happened, I understand it, and I can’t blame one person without acknowledging that the other person had something to do with it. It’s like life, I think. Not so black-and-white that one person is completely in the wrong.

Were you surprised that the baby had lived? Had you guessed, as the lawyer had, that Christabel’s family had taken in the baby and raised it as their own? I do love the idea that Maud’s quest turned out to be searching for the truth of her own heritage, that she’s descended from them both.

Roland and Maud had quite a bit of trouble in this section. I always relate, when it comes to these class issues, more to Roland than to Maud. I have done what Roland does here, put my hackles up and been sensitive about money/class issues, even when I didn’t mean to. We’ve been watching Maud evolve throughout the book, growing less cold and more open, but it was interesting that what it took for Roland was the job offers. I love the scene where he realizes that, as much time as he has spent on Ash, they are two separate people. And while it’s very sad, I love the scene where he realizes that, in finding the letter, he did, in a sense, lose Randolph Henry Ash. Only after all of those things can he finally, finally go into the garden. He and Maud get the ending they deserve – each of them progressing in their careers, each of them finally learning to move past the white room with the small bed and into a real relationship.

I think it’s somewhat surprising to see that this book ends in a dramatic confrontation in a graveyard at midnight. I mean, that’s not what you’d expect, right? That seems more Da Vinci Code than literary detection. But I like that, in the end, all of them are there in that room with that box because they want to know the truth, and, yes, some of the details of ownership are going to need to be ironed out, but . . . in the end, the possession of information was much more important than the items themselves.

Other than that, I don’t have much more to say. This was my favorite time reading this book through, so I just want to say thanks for giving me the chance to actually dig into it. I enjoy this book so much, the themes of love and scholarship and sex and ownership. Thanks for playing along!

Just for fun, here’s my copy, so you can see what I did to it this summer.

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7 Comments

  1. I read all day yesterday to finish and post here!

    I loved this book. I loved the postscript, it was so beautiful and sad, but fitting at the same time. I liked that there was information no one could get.

    I’m glad they opened the box and read the letter so we could know the truth, but at the same time I found myself wishing while I was reading that they wouldn’t. That it would remain a mystery to them and to us so that Ash and Ellen and Christabel could retain a bit of mystery and privacy. But if they had done that we wouldn’t have learned that Maud came from both of them, and I’m glad I know that. I really liked her as a character.

    I don’t have much else to say besides I’m really glad you made me read this book (:)). I’ve had a copy forever and just never got into it before. I enjoyed this whole thing very much, even though I ddn’t have much to add. Thanks for putting so much work into it!

    Posted 7/19/2007 at | Permalink
  2. Kari

    I’m so glad that you liked it, Brandi! I feel the same way about the letter . . . I like that they didn’t agonize over it, that Cropper just did it before anyone had time to think. But it would have been nice, too, if it had just been left a mystery. The way that it was left, though, with the postscript, was probably mystery enough.

    Posted 7/19/2007 at | Permalink
  3. Yes! How did he know? It’s so sad that Christabel never knew they met, but it was probably better that way.

    Posted 7/19/2007 at | Permalink
  4. Kari

    It was implied that he’d gone to France after she had, so he knew she was there and he knew she had been pregnant (obviously, because he knew it at the seance). I thought it was probably a guess on his part . . . the lawyer said it was common for families to take in illegitimate children to give them a chance, so Ash went to see for himself. And since he saw her in the field, he didn’t make any further inquiries. And her name had significance for them, too, which I liked.

    Posted 7/19/2007 at | Permalink
  5. I really liked this book – like Brandi, I’m glad this got me to finally read it after years of thinking I should.
    I was quite surprised that the child lived – and I really liked the part you mentioned, that Maud was descended from both of them, and that all the research they’d been doing had been discovering her family tree as well.
    Reading the postscript was gut-wrenching for me – soooo sad, that he was so close, but so far away from his daughter. It kind of felt like seeing someone else’s dream sequence in a movie.
    I think I can agree with you on the adultery stuff – though I liked Ellen a lot more than I liked Christobel (is that bad?) – Ellen and Ash did seem like they were happy, or at least content with their lives after Ash and Christobel ended their affair.
    I’m looking forward to being able to re-read it at some point and really enjoy the poetry and the richness that will bring to the story – I didn’t really let it all sink in while I was rushing to find out what happened next, but I can see what you were saying about it adding depth to the story.
    We should watch the movie at girls weekend!!!

    Posted 7/23/2007 at | Permalink
  6. Jayne

    Reading these posts makes me want to get out my copy of Possession and read it again! A friend gave it to me for Christmas several years ago and I read it in one big gulp – which often then means I cannot remember the specifics years later. I’ll read it again with all your comments in mind – althought as I remember, I largely agree with your conclusions.

    Posted 8/8/2007 at | Permalink
  7. youcilia

    I was looking for information about Possession, then I found you
    I don’t know whether you can get my meaasages but i must tell you
    I am English literature major in China and I am doing my reserach on this book
    It’s such a mircle I found a paticular who likes the book the way I do
    Nice to know you!

    Posted 11/27/2007 at | Permalink

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