SPOILERS for Possession; here’s the non-spoiler post if you got here by mistake.
So the main thing I was curious about when I went into this re-read was whether the narrative judged Christabel and Randolph, and whether I did. Possibly because of the whole being-thirteen thing, the moral issues raised by their relationship had somehow escaped me before now. *facepalm*
I had worried that Christabel was punished more than Randolph for bad sexist reasons. She is (that she dies thinking that he doesn’t know about Maia always, always chokes me up), but for a more justifiable reason, actually two: it is more harmful to cheat on Blanche than on Ellen (let me come back to Ellen), and she really should have told him the truth about Maia much earlier. But the narrative isn’t, I think, interested in whether this makes her a Bad Person, but in showing why she did these things.
The question of whether they should have stuck to correspondence depends, to me, on Blanche, and as a result is unanswerable, because I don’t know whether she’d have killed herself anyway. Obviously Christabel being away from their house was a significant factor, but whether they were effectively broken up by the time Christabel decides to go to Yorkshire I’m not sure of.
As for Ellen: when I came to Randolph’s assertion in the correspondence that “there are good reasons . . . why my love for you need not hurt her,” my eyebrow went all the way up, because just because they aren’t having sex doesn’t mean that an affair wouldn’t hurt her. So I looked forward to her POV to see if it did, and at the end of it . . . I still didn’t know. I’m guessing so, for her to have left Christabel’s letter to Randolph unopened, but when I re-read the chapter about his death, I noticed the narrator’s assertion at the start of the section, “we are going to see her clearly now,” and nearly laughed out loud. Not so much.
Speaking of things implied rather than stated, I can see why the pull-back after Yorkshire—the rawness of their pain, the preservation of the mystery, the way it verges on melodrama anyway with the seance scene—but it’s still a hard boundary to get past.
I hate Leonora because she sexually harasses Maud. The bedroom scene in chapter 18—she makes her cry, laughs about it, and promises to do it again? HATE.
Would Christabel really have an intact hymen? I am skeptical, but know nothing of the politics of lesbian sexuality of that era.
Ha ha, Roland getting three academic jobs without interviewing for any of them.
I haven’t seen the movie and have no desire to, as this re-read confirms my prior belief that it’s critical to Maud/Roland that they be of those social classes. Also that he be short.
I also have no desire to read any of Byatt’s other work, which is partly the mainstream cooties and partly some kind of . . . not wanting to disturb the near-perfection of this book. I’m aware this isn’t rational, but I’m so far behind on all the things I’m enthusiastic about reading that I’m not going to worry about it too much.
“It was the smell of death and destruction and it smelled fresh and lively and hopeful.”
Finally, if anyone has ideas about where those excerpted letters are supposed to fit, I would love to hear them.