Mommy, possessed

I only realized rather late that the page numbers in the outline were for a different version of the book, so each citation has the chapter so hopefully the reference is clear.


Throughout Possession, and particularly in the central section of the novel, there is a lot of discussion about gender representation, and the many interactions between and within genders. This book addresses questions about such topics as gender equality, homosexuality, and the evolution of gender roles and expectations throughout the last one hundred and fifty years or so. Much of this discussion is done through the progressive parallelism between the contemporary relationship of Maud Bailey and Roland Michell, and the past relationship between Christabel Lamotte and Randolph Henry Ash.


Possession explores how the role of women has changed and evolved through time, by contrasting several female characters, in particular Maud and Christabel as they undergo somewhat similar circumstances separated by time. Christabel Lamotte is an atypical woman in the 1850s, who resists the cultural ideal of women at the time (302, ch.15). Christabel lives in an era when, for equal or similar accomplishment, a woman will not receive the renown of a male equivalent and is presumed less talented before getting a chance to prove herself (378, ch.19). Despite these restrictions, Christabel seeks to retain her individuality and resists male influence for much of her life, choosing instead to live with only another woman, who was likely a homosexual (336, ch.18). However, in this novel it appears that such attempts at isolation were not possible during the time period, as this situation ends badly for the women who tried to remain independent. Blanche Glover a kind of early feminist and Lamotte’s roommate, tries to make a name for herself in painting, but ends up unknown and bitter, and feeling “superfluous” commits suicide, in a manner like that of another feminist Mary Wollstonecraft (333, ch.18). Christabel, who also sought to be free from being prescribed certain gender roles, eventually becomes involved with Ash despite her reservations, but finds no happiness from this act (382, ch.19).


In the same time period, the most typical depiction of women at the time, is likely Ellen Ash. From letters and journals, it seems that Ellen is soft spoken, quiet and calm, but there are hints that she is more intelligent and passionate than she lets on and is also fairly repressed (239, ch.12). For example, she speaks of playing chess and being complimented for her skill, “for a woman,” like a child, yet repeatedly and seemingly easily defeats her male opponent at the game (251, ch.12). She also makes a fair amount of commentary about how restricted her role in society is, mentioning “It is odd”¦ that in chess the female may make the large runs and cross free in all ways- in life it is much otherwise.” (248, ch.12).


In the present of the novel, around 1986, Roland and Maud face similar quandaries as Christabel and Randolph, a secret passion that they seek to hide from others including their former romantic interests. However, in the modern case, this is not a romantic interest in each other, but a hunger for knowledge to learn about the letters and relationship of Ash and Lamotte. In this new climate, much has remained the same with regards to their situation. The friends and relations of these two assume that there is an affair of sorts occurring, and the idea of risking jobs and friends for mere papers seems like madness to others (360, ch.19). By following the route taken by Ash and Lamotte, Roland and Maud in a way relive the lives of the past poets, and in so doing discover their own interest in each other. Maud parallels Christabel quite well, by being an overall independent woman who has learned to distrust men, particularly after a bad relationship with Fergus Wolfe, another scholar (394, ch.19). Roland seems to get along with her, due to his meekness and lack of overpowering masculinity.


Throughout this section and also later in the book, there are repeated descriptions of spirituality, particularly outside of a formal religious setting, such as séances. In these actions, it appears that most of the focus is on women’s involvement in these activities, and the men involved are described as more skeptical.


In this pechakucha, I will attempt to establish how the role and portrayal of women has changed from the time of R.H. Ash and Lamotte, to the present, and how various deviations from societal norms are affected. In discussion, how does Byatt portray independence in women? Does it appear to be rewarded or punished? How does the relationship between Roland and Maud differ from the past in regards to the changes of gender role? Finally, how does spirituality differ, if at all, between genders?

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