Possession was published in 1990; it is Byatt's fifth novel, and widely considered to be her most successful. The novel is inspired by Byatt's interest in Victorian literature, and her own work as an academic researcher and lecturer. It also broadens ideas of how historical fiction can function by combining episodes from the past with episodes from the present day, and featuring characters who themselves are trying to explore and understand the past. Byatt has stated that her inspiration for this type of historical fiction includes texts like John Fowle's 1969 novel The French Lieutenant's Woman.
Possession received very positive reviews in publications such as The New York Times and The Guardian and quickly became a bestseller. It won the 1990 Booker prize, and in 2005, it was featured on Time's list of 100 Best Novels from 1923 to 2005. The novel was adapted into a feature film in 2002. The film adaptation starred Gwyneth Paltrow as Maud Bailey, Aaron Eckhart as Roland Michell, and Jeremy Northam and Jennifer Ehle as Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte. The film version made a number of significant changes (for example, Roland's character is portrayed as American, not English) and was generally less well-received than the novel.