Female Suppression in Possession

I am choosing to focus on Byatt’s inclusion of feminism and the feelings of intrusion, exclusion and dismissal the feminist characters in the novel feel. Such feelings indeed have an impact on the character’s feeling of being capable of possessing what they desire to possess as they have not been given complete opportunity to do so.

I will discuss Beatrice’s conversation towards Maud about the exclusion and even persecution she felt at Prince Albert College, as the women had their own, “pretty” seminar room separate from the males and did not have a hand in the decision-making process which took place at the pub, another place that they were forbidden to enter (ppp. 240). Byatt appears to use this conversation to unveil the suppression of women in academia in the 20th cent. and that their attractiveness and youth was likely the main reason they were tolerated at all, but that once they grew older and lost these things there began a “witch-hunt” against older women who desired to put their two cents in.

I will discuss the journal entries of Ellen Ash. I will focus on her chess games with Herbert Baulk who tells her she “plays well for a lady”, and who invades her dream and completely suppresses her power in the chess game they play within it. He does so by stripping only Ellen’s Queen’s ability to perform any move she wants. Ellen sees this as a reflection of female suppression in real life, and important to note is when she feels necessary in an entry after the dream that she did indeed win at chess again, as this is a feat she wishes to possess and hold dear as she feels it is a triumph against Baulk’s dismissal of her abilities as a lady. I somewhat feel this is relatable to Val’s essay on “The Male Ventriloquist” that was described as “good work” but dismissed because it must have not been her work (pp. 16). Val’s abilities too have been dismissed and her writing is “good” but only because the examiners are of the opinion it was written by Roland. Baulk and the examiners have robbed Ellen Ash and Val of their right to possess a victory.

I will discuss LaMotte’s “Fountain de Soif” which is described as concealed and difficult for the knight character to get to. The fact that the voice of the Fairy Melusina, who dwells in the fountain “sings no more” when the knight disturbs her (ppp. 266) is indicative of the intrusion of the male voice and opinion within the safe haven of the female, for the Melusina’s female language has become “dumb before the intrusive male” (ppp. 267). I will relate this to Maud’s reading of The Great Ventriloquist about Ash and how she is dismayed by the fact that Ash may have influenced LaMotte in any way. Maud is reluctant to study Ash’s poetry, I think, because she does not want to find evidence that he was able to intrude into LaMotte’s writing and therefore suppress her artistic expression and ideas with his own.

I will finally discuss Maud’s description to Roland about her relationship with Fergus and how she disliked the noise and distraction he made as he argued his opinions which he believed to be superior, and did so by saying “another, cleverer, louder thing” overtop someone’s else voice (ppp. 294). He therefore appears the hold authority over Maud and anyone else he suppresses with his louder, more powerful voice.

Discussion Questions:

1. To what extent do certain means of suppressing one’s attempts to possess something effect their ability to do so?

2. If Maud did not feel so strongly about LaMotte’s influence by Ash, would her reading of LaMotte change? Would she be more open to reading Ash?


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2 Responses to Female Suppression in Possession

  1. Joie Coles says:

    Your presentation summary promises a great presentation Rachel, the more I read it the more I had my own questions to add, making us doubt what we have asserted about our reading is a good sign of deeper thinking.

    I find your first question raises a more personal response than one based upon the reading, and forces me to ask the question, doesn’t suppressing our attempts to possess something always affect our ability to do so? Isn’t it always, we want what we cannot have? Roland and Maud want to possess all the letters between Ash and LaMotte, or at the very least be the only ones to possess the knowledge gained from them, however they are aware that if anyone finds out their findings will be spread amongst the scholars to review, compare, study and dissect. I guess it depends on the reason for possession. Suppressing the attempts to possess a new coat doesn’t really compare to the attempts to possess another person’s affections or historical documents that may or may not have influence on scholarly understanding of a famous poet. So I modify my argument from always to usually, usually suppressing one’s attempts to possess something affects their ability to do so in that they are consumed with the idea of the possession and constantly work on new ways to attain such a possession.

    As for your your second question, I think that Maud’s feelings towards Ash and his influence upon LaMotte completely changes things. For the same reason professors advise students to read the primary sources first and form their own opinion before they delve into their research and learn what other sources are saying. If LaMotte and Ash were read under the assumption that they had influence upon each other, or specifically him upon her, then she may read LaMotte’s work looking for signs and interpreting signs that perhaps would otherwise be coincidental. Admittedly, when the lines are verbatim such as the two excerpts on page 237 appears as though one or the other may have had influence on the other person’s writing. However, who is to say who influenced who, and in this case where the words are exact, that does not prove influence, but it does provide a strong argument that they at least corresponded to each other about that particular line, if they were not together at the time of its conception.

    It is hard to tell how long this response is in this little window. I hope this opens up others to ask more questions and debate their answers.

    Great work.

    Joie Coles

  2. ejmcneill says:

    Hi Rachel, this is the response to your presentation summary after the mix up (just because I couldn’t respond to myself because that would just be awkward…)

    I remember your presentation distinctly and thought you made some very good points. I agree with your argument and believe that the points you make all support your suggestion of female suppression within Byatt’s “Possession”.

    In response to your first discussion question, I agree with Joie in saying that it depends on a personal opinion, but I would like to expand and say different personality types factor in. I also believe that the situation at hand makes an impact on a person’s ability to possess something when suppressed. I believe the form of suppression that Maud receives and in her situation at hand, it gives her a motivational push to obtain the documents of LaMotte.

    In response to your second question, I also agree with Joie here in saying I do 110% believe that her feelings and personal opinions of Ash’s influences on LaMotte effect her reading of LaMotte. I think it would be a very interesting concept to decipher, if the story line completely changed and LaMotte and Ash held a different relationship, what would Maud’s opinion be then? Say, if LaMotte and Ash were just friendly pen-pals. Oh, the possibilities…

    Anyways, thank you very much for agreeing to let me respond to your presentation summary.
    Your presentation was great and opened many topics of discussion.

    Elizabeth McNeill

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