Art to Artist and Back Again: Anti-Mimesis and Self-Discovery in Possession

Byatt’s Possession is artistically driven as characters explore and discover new realities through their studies of poetry and poets. In many ways, the characters seem to project their own feelings onto the art they study, and yet it is only through art that they undergo self-realization. Wikipedia describes this concept as follows: “What is found in life and nature is not what is really there, but is that which artists have taught people to find there, through art.” Simply, art changes one’s outlook on life.

I will be presenting from this anti-mimetic approach with a specific focus on Christabel, Melusina, and Maud. I will argue that life imitates art, or conversely, art informs life, and will demonstrate that Christabel and Maud discover their true selves through art. In particular, I will draw parallels between Christabel and Melusina, examine Christabel’s unopened letter to Roland (“I have been Melusina these thirty years” (501)), and connect Maud’s own personal growth to that of Christabel’s.

Christabel’s deep connection to Melusina is evident throughout Possession; I will demonstrate that this connection is not born solely through similarities, but through Christabel’s subtle understanding of the mythic creature, which ultimately leads her to an understanding of herself. Though she desires to break the bonds of societal expectations and remain independent, her pregnancy draws her to a more traditional understanding of the Victorian female. I will explore Christabel’s fear of losing her child to Ash and his wife (500), and will show how this fear is what furthers LaMotte’s bond with Melusina.


In relation, I will highlight Maud’s growth from solitary academic to Roland’s lover (430, 506), and explain why this change occurs as a direct result of LaMotte’s life and work. Just as Maud is born of Christabel’s blood, she is also born of her art: only through artistic exploration does Maud understand that she can exist in both a professional and personal world. Such self-discovery is all connected, with LaMotte’s growth developing from her study of Melusina, and Christabel’s growth from her study of LaMotte.


As Oscar Wilde writes, “the self-conscious aim of Life is to find expression. Art offers it certain beautiful forms through which it may realize that energy.” I intend to show you how true this statement is in Possession; I will use the PetchaKucha format to enhance my argument, but also to challenge you to think about why/how art changes your own perspective on life. As an example, consider your reaction to these two (short) songs, and ask yourself whether they imitate your pre-existing feelings, or whether they cause you to feel a certain way.

Discussion questions:

1. Are there other characters that show a change in perspective through the study of art?

2. Do you think that the novel itself is an example of anti-mimesis? Do we project our own lives onto Possession, or does Possession enable us to see life differently?

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One Response to Art to Artist and Back Again: Anti-Mimesis and Self-Discovery in Possession

  1. rachelk1 says:

    I look forward to your presentation as I too have found the idea of art as a means of self-realization throughout the book, and especially as you have pointed out, on behalf of Christabel and Maud. I’m also excited you are doing a pecha kucha presentation since you wish to talk about art and its effects when experienced.

    I agree with the fact that Christabel’s deep connection to Melusina is born of her understanding of the easily-threatened independence they both feel. If I may reiterate my findings on the feelings of women in society, I feel like Christabel is very much wanting her own voice, like Melusina and that, like Melusina’s, her independence is prevalent in her domain. I feel that the pregnancy enters into her domain and at first she is no longer sure of herself and what she thought was hers; in becoming pregnant, it seems to me that Christabel does indeed feel an abandonment of her independence. In thinking about this idea I began to wonder whether or not Christabel would feel this type of fear, or feel it to the extent that she does, if it had not have been for her intellectual relationship with the idea of Melusina.

    As for Maud, your proposal of her personal growth in relation to the art she has experienced reminds me of my own findings. As I mentioned in my own presentation, I feel that Maud’s own life experiences relate to what she takes away from art and how it in turn affects how she feels about life. In her wanting Christabel to retain her independence from Ash in terms of her writing for example, it seems that her resistance to experience Ash in hopes of avoiding moments of his influence on Christabel changes how she sees Christabel and Christabel’s writing. If she believes there is a possibility that Ash influences Christabel, but will not partake in it, is she not shutting off part of the experience of Christabel’s writing?

    As far as Maud moving from a solitary academic to Roland’s lover, it seems to me that this was greatly influenced by her own findings in Christabel, but also by Roland having been working along side her. Of course it would have been rather impossible for them to become lovers had they never began this endeavor in the first place, but in Byatt setting up their relationship the way she does – with Maud obsessed with Christabel and resisting Ash, while Roland lives and breathes Ash and therefore having each of them possess territory quite undiscovered by the other- could it be argued that their relationship may have never progressed in this way had there have been no undiscovered territory?

    For your discussion question #2, I found myself projecting things discussed in class and/or mentioned by Professor Ullyot onto my experience of the novel. One such instance was when Professor Ullyot claimed that Possession made him want to attend grad school. I myself was unsure of I wanted to go to grad school and I began looking for a push to do so from reading Possession. The idea of grad school became more and more attractive to me as I read on and I can’t help but wonder if this would have happened had Professor Ullyot not put the idea in my head…

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