The Novel pp 288-308 | Cite as

Possessed by Language

A.S. Byatt: Possession


The Quest. The gendering of language. The reach of desire and the postponement of fulfilment. The interrogation of history, private and public. Language as translation, this time complicated by notions of the translation of poetry into prose, of past into present. In all these respects, and more, A. S. Byatt’s Possession (first published in 1990), gathers threads from our previous readings into itself. But the particular urgency of the text derives from its exploration of language as a form of possession. And the peculiar shape it assumes is inspired by the way in which it inserts itself, as a Postmodernist novel, into a tradition of romance — romance as genre, romance in its relations with history and historiography, romance in its relations with Realism, romance as a strategy of gendering — which also foregrounds some of the intriguing links between some forms of Postmodernism and some forms of Feminism. As a result, as in so many of the novels we have explored, language becomes a demonstration of trickery; and the narrator plays the immemorial role of trickster.


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© André Brink 1998

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