I’m sure you’ve all heard the saying, “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” right? Well, I’ll be the first to admit that I do judge books by their covers. Bright colors, interesting fonts and pictures in a bookstore will catch my eye. That being said, when you’re reading a book called Possession: A Romance, people will get the wrong idea. Since I picked up Possession, I’ve been answering a lot of questions with, “Yes, it is a love story, but with English literature scholars.”
So far, I’m having a good time. It took me a couple of chapters to adjust to Byatt’s wandering prose, but I’m definitely hooked now.
Because I was a literature major in school, I am really enjoying the descriptions of the study of literature in this novel. Because this novel takes place in the 1980s, the literary scholarship going on is highly Postmodernist. I don’t know if Byatt meant to write it this way, but a lot of the article titles and conference topics discussed are starting to sound satirical. When a list of deconstructive/Postmodernist articles titles is listed, it’s hard not to see them as slightly absurd. Do you remember the Calvin and Hobbes cartoon where Calvin writes a paper on Dick and Jane? A lot of these titles are like that.
Plus, the way that scholarship is conducted in this novel brings up a question that really started to bother me in my last years as an undergrad. Often, when writing a paper, I would wonder how much of what I was saying about an author’s intentions was really accurate and how much was just my reading of the text. A great example of what I mean comes from Possession itself. A lot of the feminist scholars in this novel are concerned with, to paraphrase, exposing the hidden rage in Victorian women’s writing. As one of the characters comments, they would try to find it in even the dullest and most domestic diaries.