August 18, 2009

Possession By A.S. Byatt & Some Musings on Poetry

By way of a bit of background, I should mention that I belong to two different on-line book groups. I guess they could both be best characterized as "Facebook," or social networking, for bibliophiles. I have an account with and with They are both wonderful on-line book experiences; and allow members to join various discussion groups, based upon your literary interests. For example, on Goodreads I belong to a "Victorian Era" discussion group, and we are getting ready to do a group read and discussion of a "neo-Victorian" novel; and the book chosen by the group was A.S. Byatt's 1990 novel Possession: A Romance. I first read this novel shortly after it came out in 1990. The novel also won a prestigious Booker Award in 1990 (the British equivalent of the American Pulitzer Prize).

Possession is a beautiful novel, exquisitely plotted and written; and incorporates a substantial amount of Romantic and Victorian poetry. There's bits of Browning, Tennyson, Yeats, etc. scattered throughout. However, much of the poetry included in the novel is that written by Byatt herself, in the style of Alfred, Lord Tennyson or Robert Browning and Christina Rossetti. The poetry is critically important to the novel's dual plots too. All I can say is that it is all delightful to read!

Re-reading this novel has recently inspired me to pick up and begin reading selected poems of Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Robert Browning, Christina Rossetti, William Butler Yeats, and Alfred, Lord Tennyson. I am pretty familiar with all of the Romantic Era poets, having taken a course in college, years ago. I was not, however, particularly familiar with the work of the prominent Victorian Era poets; and all I can say is, "Wow!"

For example, Christina Rossetti was the sister of the famous pre-Raphaelite painter, Dante Gabriel Rossetti; and she is simply a fabulous poet. A wonderful poem to start with is her longish famous narrative Goblin Market. Well worth some careful study, it is an epic poem that touches on feminism, sisterhood, and strong mythological and religious themes. Alfred, Lord Tennyson is probably familiar to most folks. He succeeded William Wordsworth as "Poet Laureate" for the United Kingdom, a post he held for 42 years until his death in 1892. Tennyson is probably best known for his book-length Arthurian epic poem, Idylls of the King. Also, I dearly love his beautiful poem, The Lady of Shalott; and who has not read The Charge of the Light Brigade?

In closing, if you've not read a truly beautiful romance novel lately; I strongly recommend A.S. Byatt's Possession. You might mix it up with a little bit of poetry too, just to make the experience even richer. Go find yourself a collection of Rossetti, Tennyson, or Yeats; make yourself a pot of tea, and settle back in your favorite chair and have some quiet time.

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