Anyone whose read much Victorian literature immediately recognizes that the correspondence between Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte in Possession derives pretty directly from the love letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett. Ash himself certainly has much in common with Robert Browning, about whom Byatt -- a Victorian scholar long before she wrote this novel -- has much of interest to say. According to "Robert Browning: Fact, Fiction, Lies, Incarnation, and Art," he
is one of the very greatest English poets, and his greatness has never been fully acknowledged or described, in part at least because his prolific writing and his huge and idiosyncratic erudition make him hard to docket in terms of the usual literary discussions of Victorian poetry. He is, in my view, one of the three great English love poets (the other two are Donne and Robert Graves) because (like them) he shows a precise curiosity about the psychological dramas of love's shifts, visions and failures, and also because, again like them, he sees women as complex human beings with their own minds and desires. . . . He also understands and describes sexual passion with a freedom avoided by both novelists and poets in his time. [21-22]
Can you relate any of Ash's poetry to Browning's more famous dramatic monologues?
Do the passages of Ash's poetry provided by Byatt match what she writes about Browning's love and other poetry?
Are there points at which Ash seems more like another Victorian poet -- say, Tennyson?
Byatt, A.S. Passions of the Mind. Selected Writings. New York: Vintage International, 1993.
Byatt, A.S. Possession: A Romance. New York: Vintage International, 1990.
Last modified: 7 April 2004