Summer reading: Possession, chapters 11-15

This week went by quickly for me, thanks to my vacation. And so, I must admit that I only read these chapters once. While floating around in the pool. Tough life, I have.

So, anyway, I don’t have tons of individual notes, since I didn’t have my post-its out at the pool (I am going to post a picture of my book and how post-it-filled it is at the end), but I thought I might break this one down chapter by chapter, if that’s okay. I think that this section, with the way that Maud and Roland figure out what happened by matching up the poets’ own words and the story of Ash and LaMotte’s trip, is my favorite part of the whole book, and what I remember when I think about the book. And I don’t want to spoil the movie, but I thought that this part of the movie, where Roland and Maud, Christabel and Randolph were all in the same place (though many years separated them), was very well done.

Chapter 11 is Ash’s Swammerdam poem. I have done pretty well this time through with understanding the poetry and matching it up to what she was trying to do/evoke, but this one is kind of mysterious to me. I do appreciate the fact that Ash had Christabel (why do I want to call him by his last name and her by her first name?) in mind when he was writing it, which, to me, makes the ending, about questioning, more interesting. You can kind of see how its religious bent grew out of their discussions. And I know Andrea had some comments/ideas/perspective on the “science” aspect. That’s probably part of why I check out a bit on that poem. I mean, come on. It’s about microscopes. hehe. I did actually read this chapter twice, for the record. Not that it helped. After I wrote this paragraph, I went and looked at the reader’s guide, which asks the question in this way:

Ash writes “Swammerdam” with a particular reader, Christabel LaMotte, in mind. Is Christabel’s influence on Ash evident in the poem, and if so, how and where? How, in the poem, does Ash address his society’s preoccupation with science and religion? How does he address his and Christabel’s conflicting religious ideas? How does Christabel herself present these ideas in Mélusine [which we will get to in Chapter 16]?

Chapter 12 is Roland and Maud beginning to piece together what happened. I especially like the scene with Maud and Beatrice, because Beatrice, who has seemed so . . . dull, understands very quickly that something is going on. I also like how Beatrice is very protective of Ellen, knows that there’s something more to her, but she can’t quite figure out what it is or why the diary would have been written “to baffle.” There are definitely indications of something deeper going on with Ellen, things she is choosing not to say in her diary, as well as the idea that she is very uncomfortable with the idea that her maid is pregnant and the example her own mother gave when it came to treating servants. And Blanche’s role in this whole story is also beginning to come clear, as we find out the moves she made to protect her home and her friend from the danger as she saw it. But what was the “evidence,” and what did Ellen do with it? I also liked that Blanche’s suicide note from all those years ago was echoed in Val’s words in the modern day: each considering herself superfluous.

Chapter 13 is the next piece of literary detection, as Roland and Maud actually follow Ash and Christabel on their (supposed) journey. This is where they find that the poetry matches up, and I like that because it becomes apparent that Christabel was intentionally placing clues in her poetry, more than just the “Dolly” poem.

In this section, most significantly in this chapter, we again run into the idea that perhaps we see things through too much of a sexual lens. I think that Roland speaks for the author when he disagrees with Leonora’s oversexualization of every aspect of life. We also see Maud feeling that Cropper put quite a bit of himself in the biography he wrote on Ash, another instance when the author is probably speaking to us through her character.

Chapter 14 is fairly short, and contains the scene I always think of when I think of what Roland and Maud are doing: the scene where they see the waterfall and Maud realizes that a poem that Christabel has written was inspired by what she must have seen on that trip. And, finally, Maud and Roland have become comfortable enough with each other to spend some time talking, getting to know each other. Maud, fulfilling the earlier idea that we mentioned, begins to let her hair down.

Chapter 15: Did it surprise you when it switched to a different perspective, that we got the poets’ story not only from their letters/journals? Did you know we were going to know for sure what happened on their trip? I’m not sure I have anything more to say about it than that . . . it feels almost intrusive to say more about their trip. These last two chapters are more “traditional romance” than anything else we’ve gotten so far.

So, how is it going? Do you find this section as interesting as I do? Any comments on the piecing together of the evidence or the poets’ trip or Ellen Ash or Swammerdam? The next chapter, if you haven’t already looked, is Christabel’s Fairy Melusine poem, and I expect I’ll have more to say about that than I did about Swammerdam. I haven’t read it yet, but when I was reviewing things for today, I realized that in last week’s reading, I completely missed that Roland looking through the keyhole at Maud in the bathroom was paralleling what we know about the Melusine legend. I am looking forward to that.

And, one last thing – I think we can do two more weeks instead of three. So we’ll plan on reading chapters 16-20 next week and finishing it up the week after. In my copy, the last eight chapters + epilogue are only 120 pages, so it makes more sense to do that than to stretch it out. Plus, if we don’t finish it on the 16th, we’ll be pushing it back to the 23rd. And we’d rather be talking Harry Potter that week, I think. hehe.

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