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Byatt's Possession, dramatized in the recent film directed by Neil LaBute, there are profound layers of significance. One involves the serpent woman Melusine, about whom Byatt, through her character Christabel LaMotte, writes an epic poem. The book Melusine the Serpent Goddess in A. S. Byatt's Possession and in Mythology pursues the tale of this snake woman Melusine back into French medieval legend and beyond, considering her avatars in ancient myth. Melusine, Dahud, and Lamia are all examples of the prepatriarchal aquatic goddess emerging from the primal waters of the earth. In ancient times, before men knew their role in paternity, woman was seen as the creatrix of new life, potent in the life cycle of humans as well as in animal and vegetable life. She was worshipped widely in such rituals as the "holy marriage" in which she was regarded as immortal, while man as her consort or son had to die and enter the earth. Her symbol was the snake, which regularly renews its life by shedding its old skin and emerging newly born, thus sharing woman's regenerative qualities. The legend of Melusine shows her erotically inspiring force when she meets Raimondin by the fountain in Brocéliande, Brittany, and he falls helplessly in love with her. Their marriage establishes a powerful and fruitful dynasty, whose branches stretch through Europe and the Middle East. This marriage is exemplary of the ancient holy marriage of goddesses like Ishtar or Inanna to Tammuz or Dumuzi, Isis to Osiris, and Asherah to Yahweh. This mother creator is also seen in the Akkadian Tiamat, the Pelasgian Eurynome, as well as in the agricultural bounty represented by Demeter. Later tradition shows her in the snake goddess Atargatis of Syria, personified in the legendary Queen Semiramis. Thus the avatars of this goddess go back to various myths of ancient Sumeria, Egypt, Canaan, Crete, Greece, Syria, and the Celts. In patriarchal times this goddess becomes the enemy, and is vilified and demonized, her very life giving shape as snake coming to epitomize evil. Far from being a source of life, she and her snake is inverted into a monstrous threat to life, when she is transformed into the demon or dragon of Greek and Hebrew accounts. Thus Delphyne, the dragon defeated by Apollo, only leaves her name in the oracle which he appropriates for himself. Others like Echidna, Scylla, and Lamia show how much views of ophidian women have changed since Eurynome was believed to have created all; these creatures have become monstrous enemies that must be destroyed. Greek tradition splinters the goddess into many emanations, particularly one of whom, Athena, carries traces of the cursed ophidian goddess, as seen in her alter ego Medusa with her snake hair. The Semitic form of this story relegates the previously powerful snake deity of prehistoric gylanic cultures to a tempter in the garden who must be crushed underfoot and blamed for original sin. This book deconstructs the Adam and Eve story of Genesis, as well as the crime of Cain, representative of the ancient agricultural societies who were overcome by the rival herdsman societies of Abel. It brings to light the Old Testament worship of the goddess Asherah who was present in the temple for hundreds of years alongside the male Yahweh. This study uncovers the antecedents of Melusine and her fellow snake women, as known from ancient legend and retold by Byatt in Possession and elsewhere. This tale of the serpent goddess illustrates much of the veneration once felt for women, thereby sweeping
Byatt herself has said that she began with the idea of basing LaMotte on Christina Rossetti. Continue article Advertisement <http://network. in Rothstein C22).. details of the novel make clear that The Fairy Melusina had crucial . Byatt invents the nineteenthcentury poets Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte as well as their poetry. Possession 80).. Her sounds. restoring to them the dignity afforded to women of old. "But [she] was too Christian.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx. The twenty-one Dickinsonian lyric poems in the novel appear to constitute Christabel LaMotte's major work and thus the greatest insight to Byatt's conception of the LaMotte character. According to a reference to a specific line in Book XII of Melusina.realmedia.g if. published in 1990. A. So I ended up with what I think is the greatest woman poet ever. I wanted someone tougher.(2) Even though Byatt has not included all twelve books of The Fairy Melusina. her words. Christabel LaMotte wrote an epic poem entitled Melusina.html/63383765626530353432636538323430?> In addition to these lyrics. It shows women not as the second sex but rather the effective and primary gender. LaMotte's epic is comparable to the length of classical epics (Byatt.ads/findarticle/ros300x250/ron/nws /ss/a/1432018191/x15/OasDefault/DEF2002020001_20_Alzheimer/Alzheimer_300x250. http://www. S.melusinegoddess.com/desc.' Just as all readers are engaged in the search for answers to the mystery of Ash and LaMotte's relationship. too self-destructive.realmedia.html/63383765626530353432636538323430?> <http://network. so the literary detective searches for clues to LaMotte's identity.html byatt+possession+blanche glover In her novel Possession: A Romance. however. thus making a forceful statement about her power and creativity which is of great relevance to us now in the twenty-first century.com/RealMedia/ads/click_lx. Emily Dickinson. Most readers recognize Robert Browning as the model for Ash but are not certain of a model for LaMotte since neither her life nor her poetics resembles Elizabeth Barrett's.away limiting assumptions about the female sex.ads/findarticle/ros300x250/ron/nw s/ss/a/1432018191/x15/OasDefault/DEF2002020001_20_Alzheimer/Alzheimer_300x250. images of Melusina pervade the text. Additionally. the rhythm of her language" (qtd.gi f..
beautiful but cursed women who experience tragedy. compares LaMotte to Bronte's heroine: "If she resembles a governess I am sure that she resembles the romantic Jane Eyre. 544). Two other details in the letter also contribute to the validity of this first guess. makes her an appropriate model for a British poet. "Could the Lady of Shalott have written Melusina in her barred and moated Tower?" (206). Criticism of Possession has failed to give Christabel LaMotte. so observant beneath her sober exterior" (365).4 In her journal. Byatt achieves the "toughness" she sought and creates a character who is neither Dickinson nor Melusina. Sabine De Kercoz. Dickinson wrote poems to each of them ("All overgrown by cunning moss" [ 148] to Bronte and "I think I was enchanted"  to Barrett Browning) as well as series of poems based on her reading of. Randolph Henry Ash asks Christabel LaMotte." however. Christina Rossetti practiced what she called the "'rule of avoidance'" and her father was the poet and professor Gabriele Rossetti (Bellas 43. Roland is a researcher for James Blackadder in what is called Blackadder's Ash Factory (13). so passionate. Using both Dickinson and Melusina as models for LaMotte. echoing Byatt's own explanation. Although Emily Dickinson never crossed the Atlantic Ocean. both the character in the story and the prototype are influenced by the British female literary tradition. whose origins span centuries and continents the attention she deserves as the novel's most complex character. a kind of Lady of Shalott. Jane Eyre. primarily distinguishes Melusina and LaMotte from Dickinson and the Lady of Shalott. but a complex and unique character in her own right. But Roland. Stowe's claim to have conversed with the spirit of Charlotte Bronte" (29). Then about midway through the story. This "voluntary silence" generates no speculation in the novel. "was not . however. Byatt evokes the difficulty of being both artist and mother. her respect for British women writers. as central subjects. By focusing on the difficulty of being an artist-the necessity for isolation. the destructive effect of entry into the world outside the tower. Motherhood inspires LaMotte's best poetry but also ends her creative life as a writer. Ash writes. Christabel LaMotte's cousin. Therefore.(5) In the novel the search for LaMotte's identity begins with Roland Michell's discovery of drafts of letters written by Randolph Henry Ash to an unknown woman. "The Lady of Shalott. 13). The questions these passages raise about LaMotte's character are more complex and disturbing than those generated by considering LaMotte as Emily Dickinson. provides the bridge between these two disparate imagesan American New England poet and a medieval water spirit. and the inability of those in that world to understand the artist-"The Lady of Shalott" suggests a metaphor for the lives of both Dickinson and LaMotte. Tennyson's poem is quoted once and its central character is referred to numerous times in the novel. Roland may be reminded of "Goblin Market" because his first guess is Christina Rossetti. By connecting LaMotte to Melusina. so powerful. "I have been Melusina these thirty years" (543. Although he is puzzled by Ash's reference to "that grand Fairy Topic" (8). Near the novel's conclusion LaMotte calls herself "an old witch in a turret" and asserts.significance for LaMotte because a fictive biography comments. "After Melusina she appears to have written no more poetry. Crabb Robinson reports that at his breakfast LaMotte was much more animated than he expected and "[t]here was talk of Mrs.3 But the story of the Lady of Shalott and the Melusina legend also share medieval settings and. "you who are so wise and learned in your retirement" (8) and refers to her "illustrious Father" (9). and retreated further and further into voluntary silence" (42). providing a recurring image for the difficulties of the woman artist. especially Charlotte Bronte and Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Motherhood.
Roland later learns that he is Isidore LaMotte. but in her psychological relationship to her parents LaMotte does resemble Dickinson." though." LaMotte adds that her mother was "irked" that they lived in seclusion and that her parents were "ill-matched" (191). but these details about family do not suggest a connection to Dickinson. LaMotte writes a poem on the subject of home that echoes Dickinson's conflicted attitude toward her own home. She says." also Dickinson's term of address for her father and a familiar name for God in her poem "Papa above" (61). "I have sadly missed him lately. Part of Roland's search ends with Robinson's diary. But like Roland. Bad Serpent" (43). affectionately called "Papa. who wrote folklore and legends. The opening question-"What is a House?". the reader must still "try to find out" who the mystery poet is (25). or of his sexual psychology" (10). LaMotte's two stanzas represent their household before and after she meets Ash. Letters 475).findarticles. the poem responsible for her identification as the fairy poet. Apart from this tenuous connection. . The only comments LaMotte makes about her parents appear in one of her letters to Ash when she suggests greater closeness to her father. Emilie. I suppose a mother is one to whom you hurry when you are troubled" (qtd. Latin. Emily Dickinson. While Dickinson often expressed love and appreciation for her mother. and German so she could fulfill her wish to be his amanuensis. A distant mother also influences LaMotte's life. a spelling Dickinson used off and on from age seventeen to thirty-one (Sewall 380). especially of Brittany. she made this contradictory statement to Thomas Wentworth Higginson: "Could you tell me what home is. In this entry the "illustrious" father of the recipient of Ash's letter is identified as the author of Mythologies (29). The phrase "wise and learned in your retirement.echoes Dickinson's to Higginson in their interview: "Could you tell me what home is" (Wolff 45). LaMotte's parentage may seem to weaken the Emily Dickinson prototype. this poem expresses Christabel LaMotte's response to the disintegration of the household she has maintained with Blanche Glover for six years. . a feminist essay interpreting LaMotte's Melusina. is entitled "Melusina and the Daemonic Double: Good Mother. in Johnson. If the voice of Emily Dickinson stands behind these lines then they can also be an expression of her paradoxical feelings for Home and Mother: What is a House? So strong-so square Making a Warmth inside the Winds http://www. Finally. French. where his parents-Christabel LaMotte's grandparents-were born (35). . I never had a mother. This title and LaMotte's own comments parallel Dickinson's ambivalent feelings toward her own mother. who consistently expressed sympathy for her "father's lonely Life and his lonelier Death" Johnson. Roland later finds his answer in Crabb Robinson's diary since it was at his breakfast party that Ash and LaMotte met. also serves as a veiled reference to LaMotte's principal model. The epigraph to chapter 12.sure that Miss Rossetti would have approved of Ash's theology. The only hint of Dickinson is in Christabel LaMotte's grandmother's name. Breton. In her journal Sabine De Kercoz describes Christabel LaMotte's months in Fouesnant with her Breton relatives and is disturbed by LaMotte's not turning to her mother when she becomes pregnant (378). Isidore LaMotte had taught his daughter Greek. In addition to these connections.com/p/articles/mi_qa3708/is_200104/ai_n8938806#continue . Letters 551).
Christabel LaMotte shares these characteristics. Builder of Cities: A Subversive Female Cosmogony" -. "Melusina brings the knightly class land. force and vigour .. presents LaMotte as "distraught and enraged" (43). thirty years after White Linen. castles. on which all sorts of strange birds and beasts and elves and demons creep in and out of thickets of thorny trees and occasional blossoming glades. "Melusina is the fairy of medieval economic growth" (21819). (134-35) Le Goff suggests that the sad ending. water running. Therefore. progeny.. "Melusina and the Daemonic Double: Good Mother. "the womb that gave birth to a noble line" (219).Byatt's satiric titles lead most readers to question or even dismiss the value of these feminist readings. in historical and economic terms. but lively imagination . Herself Herself Involve. fountains catch light. her life changes dramatically... intricately embroidered tapestry in a shadowed stone hall. no softly gloved lady-like batting of the reader's sensibility. and as a mother and grandmother. throughout the many subsequent versions of her story spanning all centuries and many countries. as a Muse for Ash. Here is no swooning sentiment.. Instead of presenting the king's son as the hero of the folktale.. another difference from other versions. Indeed. Except for an essay by Maud Bailey -.. She is creative and productive as a writer. the sparkle of jewels or human hair or serpents' scales. sunlight and starlight. According to Le Goff. for example. transforming forest into fields for cultivation and constructing castles and cities. air alive and the earth turning . and the more tragic tone may result from the evolution of the "marvelous tale" into the heroic poem. She too has a secret.The second book Roland consults. Fine patches of gold stand out in the gloom. cities. Randolph Ash's wife. Bad Serpent. as a fertility fairy" (218). a fallen angel. a victim of curses and misfortune (Lecouteux 19). in collaboration with Blanche Glover. sometimes designated as nobles. the Melusina story involves the knights or milites. the third form of fertility is the most impressive-she is the mother of many children. She brings prosperity. All the elements are in perpetual motion. and she becomes an exile. a collection of feminist essays. Marrying a mortal is her only chance for a natural death: "Thus Melusina's nature emerges through her function in the legend. When Ellen first reads Melusina. LaMotte's Strategies of Evasion (41). [S]he appears as the medieval avatar of a mothergoddess. Medieval interpretation saw Melusina as demonic. the title of the collection as well as the titles of the essays. no timid purity. Firelight flickers. Melusina is clearly not diabolical but... Her fertility takes three forms: first she is a pioneer. And in the present of the novel.. Melusina's medieval status as demon does not prevent her from being reformulated as a positive image."and "White Gloves: Blanche Glover: Occluded Lesbian Sexuality in LaMotte" (43).. Also unreliable for providing insight about Melusina are the comments of Ellen Ash.(13) . rather."Melusina. It is like a huge. She is the symbolic and magical incarnation of their social ambition" (220). Published in 1977. fire consuming. Maud Bailey (who resembles LaMotte physically) provides proof that LaMotte's progeny live. incite laughter. for whom Melusina is the instrument of ambition. she writes in her journal.
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