Letters to the Future

Letters are an essential cog within the machine that is A.S. Byatt’s, Possession, and they serve as the guiding force for the plotline of the whole novel. The modern readers of the letters, (Maude and Roland,) are able to understand the implications of the events therein depicted, as well as the topics discussed in those letters, much better than the intended readers ever could. This is due to their overall familiarity with the ‘text’ that would have been the lives of the two writer’s. For example, consider Roland’s ability to peruse through records of Crabb Robinson’s parties allow him to stumble on the illicit relationship of LaMotte and Ash (24). Also, Maude’s familiarity with LaMotte’s writing allow the two scholars to find the hidden love letters in the first place (83).

Byatt’s characters Maude and Roland, treat the love letters written by Ash and LaMotte as a sort of book to be opened and perused, though Roland, at least, feels some discomfort in doing so. He understands that the letters are meant to be simply that – that reading them is an invasion of privacy and an injustice to the writer. However, he cannot quench his desire to understand the writer’s better. When reading the hidden batch of messages describing Ash’s and LaMotte’s relationship, Roland describes the purpose of the letter saying, “Letters… are a form of narrative that envisages no outcome, no closure” (130-131).That the writers are not aware of the future, that they have no notion of anything past the ‘now’, is abundantly clear throughout the development of their relationship. Byatt further confirms the idea that the Maude and Roland as readers of the distant future better understand the lives of Ash and LaMotte as a whole by suggesting that letters are not meant to tell a story because, “They do not know, from line to line, where they are going” (131). While Ash and LaMotte would simply look at the immediate relevance of the letters, the two scholars are able to understand their lives as a whole by considering the letters as a sort of ‘text’.

The entire storyline of Possession revolves around the presence, discovery and subsequent analysis of letters that are ages old, in an effort to better understand the lives of those who wrote them. However, the reason for the importance of these letters to the original writers and their intended reader(s), compared to their importance to scholars from centuries later are extremely different. While the original writers would have simply considered the letters for their immediate content, the future scholars are able to connect the dots to various otherwise incomprehensible outcomes and ideas.

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