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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