This week I’ve been rereading Possession, which is up there with Middlemarch for great novels to read when you’re snarled, low and the sleeves of your cardigan are stuffed with Kleenex (suck it, ragweed season). I’ve been reading Madwoman in the Attic, too, and Byatt’s novel makes a satisfying counterpoint.
The New York Times has a nice page devoted to A.S. Byatt, which includes these tidbits:
• When the book became an unlikely bestseller in the United States, in the winter of 1990, Byatt was asked to speculate on the reason for its popularity. She responded, “It’s like the books people used to enjoy reading when they enjoyed reading … It has a universal plot, a classic romantic plot and a classic detective plot. And the plot was more important than anything else in it. People can get the sort of pleasure out of it they got out of the old romantic novel.”
• In another interview, Byatt described the spark for the novel:
Sometime in the early 1970’s, Ms. Byatt recalled, she spotted a well-known Coleridge scholar in the British Museum Library and mused that much of what she knew of Coleridge had been filtered through that individual, who had devoted a lifetime to her study of the Romantic poet. ”I thought, it’s almost like a case of demonic possession, and I wondered – has she eaten up his life or has he eaten up hers?”
• Also worth a read, this lengthy but fascinating interview with Éditions Paradigme. In it, Byatt notes, “I think there are a lot of rather romantic novels rather like Possession that believe themselves to be influenced by Possession and rather depress me,” which made me laugh.
• Byatt’s ode to Middlemarch.