Rhizomatic Possession

Possession is a novel deeply concerned with the renewal of things. We see this in the scholarly pursuit to restore the past,  the journeys recreated, uncanny affinities between characters. The Garden of Proserpina seem to suggest that the cyclical events in Possession are of a perennial nature; Proserphina, the title subject of the poem is the goddess of the myth of springtime. Ash’s words are heavily laden with references to the Garden of Eden: “The first men named this place and named the world. They made the words for it: garden and tree, Dragon or snake and woman, grass and gold and apples” (504). LaMotte and Ash can be said to have tasted the forbidden fruit through their affair; LaMotte’s Melusine herself embodies simultaneously femininity and temptation as a sort of Eve with a serpentine bottom. At the beginning of the novel, Roland discovers lost letters while comparing Vico’s Proserphina with Ash’s Golden Apples for Professor Blackadder, which in turn leads him to recreate the story of Ash and LaMotte (and create his own with Maud). Finding the clue he initially set out to find after his tangential quest has ended is a realization Roland comes to with a laugh (512).

The desire to possess knowledge that drives Roland and Maud is thus as ancient as the tale that begun with a Tree and an Apple. So Roland’s quest ends where it began, and him and Maud finally consummate their relationship after deciding to think of “a modern way” to work things out. But is it as simple as that? The Garden of Proserpina suggests this idea, but not without problematizing it. Ash himself asks “are these places shadows of one Place?” His question seems to be answered in his own reference to Urd, a deity of Norse mythology who is one of the three Norns that control the destiny of men. The three Norns are said to spin the thread of fate at the foot of the Tree of the World. Ash indirectly refers to this place, and the thread: “where past and future mixed[…] ominously turbulent and twined.” While parallels with Adam and Eve in Ash’s poems serve to reference the ancient quality that his desire to be with LaMotte does, but the theme of renewal I argue is symbolized in Urd: it is not linear, nor clean cut, but rather rhizomatic, tangled up and lacking structure yet nonetheless connected. If you must visualize this, it might look something like this


Roland comes to realize this unpredictable connection as he reads Golden Apples “as though the words were living creatures or stones of fire” (512), not in a past he must revive, but rather becoming intertwined with his present experience. And of course, as readers of Byatt, we are invited to experience this as well.



About Maria Jaramillo

She looked at the object with suspicion and a magnifying glass.
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