Possession Literary Allusions and Possession

While Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte are fictional characters, Byatt drew on a number of writers in order to develop these characters. Ash's writing aligns him with Robert Browning (1812-1889), an influential Victorian poet. Like Ash, Browning often wrote poems in the form of dramatic monologues (poems written in the voice of a particular character and addressed to a silent audience); Ash's poems Swammerdam and Mummy Possest both take the form of dramatic monologue. Browning was also interested in some of the same themes that seem to preoccupy Randolph Henry Ash, including shifts in religious belief, changing gender roles, and emerging discoveries in the natural sciences. Browning was also the author of a poem called "Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came" which may be an inspiration for Roland's name.

In addition to his writing, Browning was also famous for his marriage to a fellow poet, Elizabeth Barrett Browning. The two writers met after Robert Browning admired some of her poems, and developed their relationship mainly through letters, since Elizabeth had to hide the relationship from her family. Their growing love for each other was a source of inspiration in their writing. This courtship reflects the relationship between Christabel and Ash, although the reason they must keep their affair a secret was different. As readers learn later in the novel, Ash's earlier courtship of Ellen offers a complimentary balance: in this case, he also wooed her through letters over a long stretch of time because of family disapproval, and they did eventually marry.

Christabel offers allusions to a number of other figures. Her name is a direct allusion to a poem by Samuel Taylor Coleridge (whom Christabel refers to having met as a child). In this poem, the heroine of the title discovers a mysterious and possibly malevolent female figure named Geraldine, and the poem's narrative breaks off, unfinished, without resolution. This allusion hints at a character who takes risks, and is possibly endangered by those risks, as well as Christabel's intense and possibly erotic relationship with Blanche. The poem's mysterious lack of conclusion echoes the seeming silence Christabel retreats into after the disappearance of her child. It is also significant that while Coleridge continued to write well into the Victorian era, he is primarily remembered as a figure from the earlier Romantic period, with a greater focus on radical creativity and challenging the status quo. In both her writing and life, part of Christabel's tension is that she is a figure obsessed with freedom and creativity at a time when other values tend to be prized more highly.

Like Ash's poetry, Christabel's writing evokes several prominent writers, most notably Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti. Dickinson was an American poet who developed an innovative poetic style while living in almost total seclusion and receiving little recognition in her lifetime. Christabel's distinctive poetry contains many stylistic echoes of Dickinson, and her secluded existence also gives a parallel. Byatt was also inspired by Rossetti, a more traditional Victorian poet, who wrote on themes of spirituality, magic, and fairy tales. She also struggled with finding a place as a creative woman in an era where this was not always an accepted practice.