In Possession, does Ash really love Christabel, or is it intense curiosity?

In Possession, Ash truly loves Christabel, because he feels that she is a kindred spirit and she sparks a new kind of passion. For him, the intensity and brevity of their relationship endow it with a purity that could not be achieved in the socially conventional union that his marriage represents. Their intellectual union also exceeds the satisfaction he had experienced from his literary reputation.

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In Possession, A. S. Byatt shows Randolph Ash as deeply in love with Christabel Lamotte. Ash senses in this lover a kindred spirit, of which he had dreamed but had not expected to encounter. Not only is he overwhelmed by the intensity of emotion, but he also senses that the brief moment that their relationship will last also makes it pure. This purity presents a sharp contrast to what he has experienced in the socially sanctioned relationship of marriage. Because theirs is a meeting of the minds as well, the solitude he felt as a poet—despite his considerable renown—it is a keen new experience.

The author also presents a contrast between Ash’s emotional intuitions about the relationship that prevent him from a realistic assessment of its meaning for both him and Christabel. Because his romanticism clouds his vision, he sets aside their fundamental inequality in terms of Victorian gendered conventions. In part because of his wife’s commitment, Ash is able to return to a stable home and remain a respectable man of letters. Christabel, however, cannot go back. Her relationship with Blanche was far from equivalent to marriage and would not have sustained her. Despite Ash’s genuine love for Christabel, his willful ignorance also causes her lasting damage.

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