A.S. Byatt, Possession: A Romance (1990)

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Possession: A Romance is a novel written by A.S. Byatt and first published by Chatto & Windus in 1990. The story evolves around a double plot and love-story between the 20th century academics Maud Bailey and Roland Michell, and the Victorian poets Christabel La Motte and Randolph Ash. The ventriloquist narrative draws from the traditions of academic and detective novel, and appeals to a postmodern reading despite (or because of) explicit criticism of postmodern thought.


  • A.S. Byatt born in 1936
  • Quaker education
  • Taught in the Extra-Mural Department of London University and the Central School of Art and Design, *1972-1983 Lecturer in English and American Literature at University College, London (Senior Lecturer, 1981-1983)

Publishing History


  • London: Chatto & Windus, 1990
  • London: Vintage, 1991
  • London: Vintage, 2002 [pbk; film tie-in edn.; cover incorporates movie poster design]; Vintage publ. a second film tie-in edn. (2002)


  • New York: Random House, 1990 [1st US edition]
  • New York: Vintage Books (Trade Paperback), 1991 [1st Vintage International edition]
  • New York: Random House and Toronto: Random House of Canada, 2000 [Modern Library edition]
  • New York: Modern Library, 2001 [includes brief biography [v]-x, introduction ASB [xi] – xv; film tie-in edn.; dust wrapper incorporates movie poster design]
  • Norwalk, CT: Easton Press, 2004 [leather-bound and signed limited collector’s edn.]

The Random House and Vintage International edns. differ from those publ. in the United Kingdom in both pagination and content.


Reception and Reviews

  • Guardian, Review book club, John Mullan
POSSESSION A Romance. By A. S. Byatt. Random House. A plenitude of Dickensian surprises awaits the reader at the end of this novel about competing academics who come into comically mortal combat when one of them discovers that two Victorian poets, a man and a woman, whom they all guard jealously as their idols and the sources of their incomes, had more than a passing interest in each other. A. S. Byatt is a gifted observer of details and she uses them brilliantly in this very Victorian "romance" of a detective story that satirizes academia but also becomes a concoction in the manner of Jorge Luis Borges. She creates characters who might have stepped out of Dickens or P. G. Wodehouse directly into a post-modernist novel and, along the way, writes fine Victorian verse and prose, and opens every narrative device of fiction to inspection without ever ceasing to delight.
Like a typical Victorian decorator, British novelist and story-writer Byatt (Sugar, 1987; Still Life, 1985) crams into her latest novel enough literary bric-a-brac and furnishings to have a work rich in material but overwhelming in effect.

Film Adaptation

  • 2002 feature film. Prod. USA Films and Warner Brothers Pictures. Dir. Neil LaBute. Starring Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud Bailey; Aaron Eckhart as Roland Michell; Jeremy Northam as Randolph Henry Ash and Jennifer Ehle as Christabel LaMotte. Trailer at imdb.com