At the start of the novel, Roland is frustrated by his lack of success applying for academic jobs. He sends out some applications, but is so sure that they will be unsuccessful that he never follows up or looks for a response. It is only by chance, months later, that he finds he has been offered multiple jobs. These offers are ironic because they create a disconnect between expectations and reality. The expectation might be that trying harder and being more diligent would lead to success, but it is actually when Roland fully immerses his energies elsewhere that he becomes more successful.
When Val begins dating Euan, a wealthy lawyer, it seems like a minor detail that he is part owner of a racehorse. This detail becomes significant when it is revealed that Toby Byng, the lawyer hired by George Bailey, also owns part of the same horse. As a result, various pieces of the struggle to gain control of the letters come together, and the scholars end up getting the help they need to resolve the quest. The irony is that Euan at first seems like a threat to Roland: he is wealthy and successful, and has a better relationship to Val. In the end, however, Euan's racehorse, which symbolizes that wealth, is what allows him to help solve the mystery.
The Mistaken Hair
On Ash's deathbed, he mentions a lock of "her" hair being in his watchcase, and Ellen retrieves a lock of blonde hair, which she buries with him. Both Ellen and then the scholars assume that this hair belongs to Christabel and reflects the romantic relationship he had with her. However, it is eventually revealed that the hair belonged to his daughter. The mistake is ironic because Roland and Maud have been critical of the scholarly tendency for people to assume they know everything, and also to assume that everything has a sexualized meaning. In the end, however, they participate in the same kind of mistake.
Ash does not intend for his meeting with his daughter to be a secret. He tells May to tell her aunt about the meeting, intending for Christabel to learn what happened and feel at peace with everything that has happened between them. However, May forgets to pass on the message. This forgetfulness is ironic because it is a simple and chance occurence that prevents Ash and Christabel from properly understanding each other, and leads to the secret remaining hidden for generations. Most readers would assume that it would be a large or influential event that would lead to secrecy and confusion, but it turns out to be only a small and simple error on the part of a child.
Possession Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Possession is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.