Tales of Possession: A Study of Possession in the Novels of A. S. Byatt and John Fowles
This thesis focuses on four works: John Fowles’s The Collector and The French Lieutenant’s Woman, and A. S. Byatt’s The Game and Possession: A Romance. The French Lieutenant’s Woman and Possession have frequently been treated together in academic criticism as Possession was a deliberate response to the former. I have extended this pairing because these four works are built around the idea of ‘possession’. While most critical discussions consider the notion of ‘possession’ as one theme among many, this thesis proposes that ‘possession’ dominates the characterisations in these works. The starting point for my argument is Jean Baudrillard’s theory of possession as outlined in his chapter “The System of Collecting”. Baudrillard proposes that “[p]ossession cannot apply to an implement” (7). To possess an object it must undergo an “abstractive operation” (7) until it is “divested of its function and made relative to a subject” (8). This thesis translates that subject-object relationship to characters, where one character is the possessor, another the possessed. While the possessive drive can take on multiple forms, in these works romantic, erotic, intellectual, and creative desires come to the fore. The Collector and The Game involve a one-on-one dynamic. The first is one man’s attempt to romantically possess his female obsession, the second is one woman’s attempt to creatively appropriate and possess her sister. Both novels are preludes to the more complex examinations of possessive intent in the novelists’ later work. In The French Lieutenant’s Woman Charles Smithson undertakes an erotic and romantic quest to possess Sarah Woodruff. Along with this is the socially possessed Ernestina Freeman. The contemporary scholars in Possession all compete to intellectually and creatively possess the Victorian poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The possessive parties in these works attempt to stabilise their projections under the delusion of reciprocity. Only the title of Byatt’s novel hints literally at ‘possession’, but in all of these works ‘possession’ reveals the nature of relationships between human beings.