Possession Literary Elements


Historial metafiction; Neo-Victorian novel

Setting and Context

The novel shifts between scenes set in 1986-87, and the latter half of the 1800s. Most of the novel's key events take place in London, Yorkshire, Lincoln, and the Brittany region of France.

Narrator and Point of View

The novel is presented from various points of view, including Roland, Maud, Ellen, Cropper, Beatrice, and Val. It is narrated in the third person, but the inclusion of letters and excerpts from journals allows for the first person to be included.

Tone and Mood

The tone of the novel is often melancholy and sensual. Both couples (Maud and Roland, and Ash and Christabel) negotiate simmering, slow-building sexual tension while also being aware they may never be able to have a relationship. Ash and Christabel are kept apart by legal and social conventions, whereas Maud and Roland are skeptical about the very idea of romantic love. At times, the novel takes on the tense and exciting tone of a thriller or suspense novel, as the scholars race to stop Cropper.

Protagonist and Antagonist

Roland is the protagonist; Cropper is the antagonist

Major Conflict

The major conflict revolves around who will bring the news that Christabel and Ash were having an affair into the public, and receive the scholarly credit for this discovery. Secondary conflicts that emerge from this main conflict include who will own the letters documenting the affair, and who will be in charge of presenting a narrative of how the affair should be interpreted.


The novel's climax comes when Roland, Maud, and their allies confront Cropper in the act of robbing Ash's grave.


Foreshadowing is used in subtle ways throughout the novel; for example, Ellen Ash's conflict with a maidservant who experiences an illegitimate pregnancy foreshadows that Christabel will also become pregnant. Foreshadowing serves to enhance the mystery and keep readers intrigued as they wait for more information to be revealed.




The novel is filled with allusions to other works of literature, particularly from the 1800s. For example, Christabel and Roland's names both refers to literary characters (from poems by Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and Robert Browning, respectively). By using allusions, Byatt slyly offers readers additional information about how to interpret her characters and their actions.


See Imagery section




The experiences of Roland and Maud, and Christabel and Ash, parallel one another throughout the novel. This is partially intentional, since Roland and Maud deliberately retrace the steps of the poets (by travelling to places they visited) in order to try and solve the mystery. However, Roland and Maud gradually falling in love with each other inadvertently parallels the emotional experience of the poets as well.

Metonymy and Synecdoche