Maud Bailey’s Journey of Finding Her “Self”

Sincerest apologies for this late post, as I cannot begin to explain the technical difficulties I have been having. Without further adieu, here is my topical presentation summary. Maud Bailey is faced with many difficulties throughout the A.S. Byatt’s “Possession”, and toward the end, she is confronted with finding out where she really comes from, and is, at last, at ease with herself. A.S. Byatt makes Maud stand-offish towards others which can be viewed as Maud protecting her “real self”. Throughout the book it can be argued that Maud is fearful that her “real self” prevents her from having real relationship with others, such as Roland. This could be tied in with the fact that for most of the novel, she is not aware of who she truly is or where she comes from, creating a character who is uneasy and incomplete.
While reading “Possession” I found myself getting more and more curious as to who Maud was as a character, where she came from and what the true story behind her was. Early on in the novel I saw the parallels between Cristabel LaMotte and Maud Bailey, especially in relation to her relationship with Roland. Though the reader is not always aware of it, the story of “Possession” is arguably a story following Maud’s quest of finding her “self”. Maud represents the character who strives to find comfort in her own skin through this quest to gain answers to a mysterious love story, which is quite literally possessing her, along with all of her colleagues.
The overall use of the word “possession” and “possessed” throughout the novel leads me to the argument that Maud unknowingly became possessed with finding her real “self” in a quest which she did not know was even about herself. She was aware of her relation to LaMotte, but her captivation with LaMotte’s work lead her to a moment of realization and coming to terms with herself, which she had never expected. This brings me to Lacanian theory, which would argue that Maud’s moment of recognition that she can be complete starts the onset of desire to find out more, whether she was aware of it or not. She was possessed with what would become of this love story, and this possession projected. Stumbling upon the letters between Ash and LaMotte represents the moment of recognition, whether Maud is conscious of that or not. This desire creates a “gravitational pull” of sorts, which brings Maud to a feeling of utter wholeness that we don’t see until the very end of the novel.

Discussion Questions:

1. Do you think that Maud had even the slightest inkling of a clue as to whether or not she was related to Randolph Henry Ash? Why or Why not?

2. Do you think that Maud Bailey as a character would be any different if A.S. Byatt wrote a book about what happened after Maud’s discovery of her heritage?

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2 Responses to Maud Bailey’s Journey of Finding Her “Self”

  1. kathleen says:

    In response to your first question, Elizabeth, I do not believe that Maud had any inkling of her relation. While she may have felt a gravitational pull of sorts, I would not categorize this subconscious knowledge as any kind of actual awareness. From the start of the novel, she seemed rather certain that she was only related to LaMotte; she even admits that she “didn’t grow up with the idea that [she] had a poet in the family” (53). As the novel progresses, though the relationship between LaMotte and Ash is evident, Maud seems to only realize her self at the rate that LaMotte does. That is, as it becomes clear that LaMotte does not hate men and even risks her autonomy because of her love for Ash, Maud slowly begins to do the same. In the last third of the novel we see this progression most starkly, as Maud and Roland finally “[climb] naked inside the curtains and into the depths of the feather bed” (507). I would argue that this consummation is a result of Maud’s final discovery of self; at last, she knows her true lineage and her true history. Thus, I agree that she does experience the “utter wholeness [at] the very end of the novel” that you mention.

    In response to your second question, I believe that we would indeed encounter a completely different Maud then we did for most of the novel. What I am not sure if this Maud would be as interesting to read about. I enjoy being a witness to Maud’s journey of poetic and self-discovery. This is not to say that she would be a horrible individual after the discovery of her heritage, but only that she might be somewhat dull, as characters with no inner conflicts tend to be. Of course, conflicts arise in all of us eventually, but I believe that the essence of the novel is in character parallels and self-discovery. The “new Maud”, I would expect, would be rather confident in her new self – intelligent as ever but now happily in love – as she has now realized that she can exist in both a personal and a professional world.

    I look forward to your presentation, Elizabeth!

  2. ejmcneill says:

    Thank you very much for your input Kathleen, I look forward to discussing this with you tomorrow! 🙂

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