Classics Challenge: Possession by A.S. Byatt
I’ve decided to try something new with the Classics Challenge this week! As per the schedule, the next two weeks are allotted to A.S. Byatt’s Book Prize-winning Possession. Since Possession is a book so rooted in pure bookishness, academic literary criticism, and intertextuality, I thought it would be nice to take a closer look at specific quotes from the book rather than me coming up with particular questions.
I’ve chosen two quotes from Possession that each bring out a particular issue of reading in general and I hope you will join me in sharing your thoughts about these quotes and issues! As an added bonus, those of you who don’t have time or inclination to join in reading the whole book can still participate by engaging with these quotes.
“I will read the most trivial things — once commenced — only out of a feverish greed to be able to swallow the ending — sweet or sour — and to be done with what I need never have embarked on. Are you in my case? Or are you a more discriminating reader? Do you lay aside the unprofitable?” (176)
“Then I was angry with her, for we do not talk of meanings in this pedantic nineteenth-century way, on the Black Nights, we simply tell and hear and believe…. I do not believe all these explanations. They diminish.” (354-55)
Related Question: Do you agree that reading too much into a text “diminishes” it? Or do you think does the opposite (i.e. adds valuable layers of meaning)?
As a reminder, anyone who participates will be entered into a drawing to win a completely lovely Penguin clothbound classic, so please do share your thoughts!
The other change for this week of the Challenge is that this will serve as both the question post and discussion post, so comment below with your thoughts on the quotes. Once again inspired by Possession, next Friday will be devoted to fairy tales rather than further discussion of this book. All highly irregular, I know, but bear with me!
And for those of you who are reading along, I’d love to hear your thoughts about the book as well as your favorite and least favorite parts, as always.
Personally I found the first half of the book nearly impenetrable and had great difficulty getting to the second half, which I very much enjoyed. I also wasn’t too keen on Byatt’s entire chapters of poetry. While showcasing Byatt’s impressive ability to write not just as herself but in the style of any number of other fictional writers, I did not think they added substantially to my understanding or enjoyment of the book. This may just be because I’m not a poetry person, so correct me if they are actually crucial and I’m missing out.
In terms of favorite parts, I think it was definitely Byatt’s ability to become anyone, go anywhere, and make it all perfectly believable. And I additionally liked the omniscient narrator who made lovely comments about the story that were removed from what even the characters were aware of. It made it feel nice and Princess Bride-ish (which I mean in the best possible way).
And both the endings were perhaps the most perfectly written and constructed endings I have ever read. I was literally moved to tears with pleasure at them.