My essay is still a work in progress but here is the prospectus for what I have so far…I will be answering question one; my argument will emphasize how historical reading practices are similar to that of the present, though the method and physical practice of reading has changed throughout history, the power of the words on the text has remained consistent throughout time. To support my argument, I will be using A.S. Byatt’s “Possession” by analyzing the use of the act of reading and writing, and how that affects the characters interpretation of the past. I will discuss the importance of the correspondence between Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte and compare them to the interactions of the “present day” characters and how easily A.S. Byatt connects the characters through the use of the power of reading, and how it has always had the ability to change the course of people’s lives.
I will use Alberto Manguel’s “A History of Reading” to discuss the importance of the act of physical reading within the novel, as well as the importance of what is written. Manguel argues how, though reading as a physical practice has changed throughout time, the power of the text has not. Christabel LaMotte and Randolph Henry Ash’s correspondence within “Possession” was a reflection of how people corresponded during that time period. Though the writing of letters was not a popular mode of communication in 1991, Roland Michell and Maud Bailey were brought together, by filling the role of the “readers” within Possession, and by the interpretations and gaps they found within their studies of the letters between LaMotte and Ash. The fact that they were studying and reading, as well as interpreting these letters corresponds nicely with Manguel’s “A History of Reading”.
“…While the reader’s thoughts inspected them at leisure, drawing new notions from them, allowing comparisons from memory or from other books left open for simultaneous perusal. The reader had time to consider and reconsider the predous words whose sounds — he now knew — could echo just as well within as without. And the text itself, protected from outsiders by its covers, became the reader’s own possession, the reader’s intimate knowledge, whether in the busy scrip- torium, the market-place or the home.” (Manguel 51).
To support my argument, I will discuss the roles and relationships of the characters in Byatt’s “Possession” of by referring to Wolfgang Iser’s “The Reader in The Text”. I will emphasize the roles of fictitious readers within “Possession” and how these fictitious readers display and display the different use of text over time, as well as how they allow the power of the text to effect them so tremendously: “The fictitious reader’s perspective may be divided between the explicit position ascribed to him and the implicit attitude he must adopt to that position.” (Iser 113).
Robert E. Heilman’s “’Possession’ Observed” goes into great detail the use of letters between Byatt’s characters and how this is used to display the differences of time and characters because of time:
“Byatt produces some 31 pages of verse by Ash, and about half as much by LaMotte; instead of alleging that they are poets, she gives them dramatic reality as poets. Likewise she turns out a page or two of prose for Ash and about 20 pages by LaMotte. But these two are the major letter writers in the novel, and it is in the letters they exchange that the two characters come through best.” (Heilman 609).
Discussion of the emphasis of the method of correspondence and the depiction of history through these methods is an important part of the evolution of reading and writing throughout time. Jennifer M. Jeffers’ “The White Bed of Desire in A.S. Byatt’s Possession”, in which she discusses the importance of the presence of the letter within the novel, and how it is used to serve as a window in the past for the characters of the present.
Byatt, A.S. Possession: A Romance. London: Vintage, 1991. Print.
-The primary source I will be discussing to support my argument.
Heilman, Robert B. “The Sewanee Review: ‘Possession’ Observed.” ‘Possession’ Observed 103.4 (1995): 605-12. John Hopkins University Press. Web.
-This article shows an emphasis on the difference of time and use of reading within Byatt’s “Possession”.
Iser, Wolfgang. “Interaction between Text and Reader.” The Reader in the Text. Ed. Susan R. Suleiman and Inge Crosman. Princeton NJ: Princeton UP, 1980. 106-19. Print.
-Displays the relationship between the text and the reader and will be used to discuss the relationship of the two within the novel and how that effects the history of reading.
Jeffers, Jennifer M. “The White Bed in A.S. Byatt’s Possession.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 42.2 (2002): 135-47. Cleveland State University. Web.
-This article discusses the importance of the presence of the letter within the novel, as a physical textual aspect as well as a major symbol of power and how it remains unchanged.
Manguel, Alberto. “The Silent Readers.” A History of Reading. Toronto: Alfred A. Knopf, 1996. 41-53. Print.
-Goes into great detail of the history of reading and how reading works from the past serves as a window into another time.
On a Side-note: I plan on having more sources, I just haven’t gotten to that point yet. I will post a comment with the other secondary sources when I have them. Sorry for any inconvenience this may cause!