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.
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?