No Spark: An Analysis of Val and Euan’s Relationship in Possession

No Spark: An Analysis of Val and Euan’s Relationship in Possession The fictional poet of A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Randolph Henry Ash. muses in his short poem. “And is love then more//Than the kick galvanic” (297). Byatt includes this poem at the start of the single chapter in her novel that accounts—from a first-hand perspective—Ash’s secret affair with fictional poetess Christabel LaMotte. Roland, an Ash scholar, muses over his own “kick galvanic” with fellow scholar Maud Bailey: “the stunning blow like that emitted by the Moray eel from under its boulders to unsuspecting marine explorers” (162). Byatt purposefully parallels the two love stories as they unfold to the reader, thereby highlighting many of the similarities. Unrelenting pursuance of both relationships led to a lot of harm to much harm to the other characters of the novel: Ash and Christabel’s relationship arguably led to Blanche’s suicide. However the other couple that emerges in her novel, Val and Euan, seemingly have a less relevant and purposeful love story. Byatt includes Val and Euan’s unique love story to isolate the “kick galvanic” as the reason for the deleterious effect the other characters’ relationships have. Byatt establishes Val’s hesitation to become involved with Euan to convey their relationship’s lack of the “kick galvanic.” Euan Macintyre is first witnessed in the story escorting Val back home to Roland: “The four feet advanced and retreated, retreated and advanced, the male feet insisting, the female feet resisting, parrying. Roland opened the door and went into the area, fired mostly by what always got him, pure curiosity” (139). Byatt describes the body language of the emerging couple to juxtapose Euan’s relentless pursuance with Val’s tentative retreat. Moreover, Byatt specifies that when Roland moves to receive the two he is primarily motivated by curiosity as opposed to jealousy or any other supposed emotion. However, since he is not motivated exclusively by curiosity those other emotions are still presumably present albeit to a lesser degree. The interaction continues: “Euan MacIntyre leaned over and gravely extended a hand downwards. There was something powerful about him, Pluto delivering Persephone at the gate of the underworld” (139). Pluto, being the God of the Underworld, is analogous with power. Persephone, victim to misfortune, was unwillingly banished to the Underworld for six months of every year. The mythological allusion creates the comparison between Persephone and Val, thereby emphasizing Val’s reluctance. Byatt also manages to uniquely characterize Pluto, and thereby Euan, by depicting a scene of not conventionally imagined: Pluto, as per the agreement, amiably “delivering Persephone at the gate of the underworld” back to her family every year at the conclusion of his six months. Byatt emphasizes that Val and Euan’s newfound relationship does not negatively affect any other character. Ultimately, Val decides to fully commit herself to her new relationship with Euan. With him she has a very positive experience: “Val flung her arms around Euan’s neck. Val had not done anything that was simply designed for pleasure, she thought, since she could remember” (447). Their relationship is portrayed as full of passion—something which was undeniably lacking with her and Roland. Val’s recent life was full of what she described herself as “menial” tasks, and therefore, it is unsurprising that she had for a while not engaged in fulfilling, pleasuring activities. To confirm Val’s full transition to Euan, Byatt includes the following conversation: “Val had complained to Euan, who had said, ‘But you didn’t want him, did you, it was over?’ Val had cried, ‘How do you know that?’ and Euan had said, ‘Because I’ve been watching you and assessing the evidence for weeks now, it’s my job’” (449). Euan’s conviction conciliates the fleetingly uncertain Val. Furthermore, through Euan’s observations, Byatt provides the implicative evidence that Val is, in fact, no longer in love with Roland. The seemingly fully apathetic Roland notices these changes later on when he meets the couple at the White Hart restaurant: Roland stared at sleek Val who had the unmistakable glistening self-pleasure of sexual happiness. “It wasn’t necessary. I thought if you could vanish, I could. So I did.” “I’m glad.” “I’m going to marry Euan” “I’m glad.” “I hope not altogether glad.” “Of course not. But you look—“ “And you. Are you happy?” (469) This conversation, naturally slightly awkward, also reveals an unexpected agreeableness between the former couple. Despite the fact that Roland agrees that he is not “altogether glad” upon news of their engagement, he is primarily happy for Val. She interrupts his foreseeable compliment to convey her genuine concern for his happiness. Her justification of “I thought if you could vanish, I could,” indicates that she was simply, after being considerably uncertain and cautious, reciprocating his actions, thereby implying that she would never take the initiative to do something so potentially damaging of her own accord. Her decisions regarding Euan did not have any negative effect on any other character. In fact, the couple proved to have high utility when it came time for the stake-out. The unsuspecting Cropper witnesses two individuals who he assumes constitute an anonymous, irrelevant couple: “She caressed her partner’s hair, evidently in that obsessive and compulsive state that excludes, for brief periods of human lives, all consciousness of other observers” (534). The situational irony of Cropper’s assumption reveals that, in truth, the couple is highly “conscious” of their observer. This “obsessive and compulsive state,” which, due to the quote’s axiom-like phrasing, is conveyed as an unavoidable occurrence is not only inapplicable to Euan and Val in that moment but also is an inapplicable characterization of their love story thus far. However, it holds very true in the case of Ash and LaMotte as well as in the case of Roland and Maud; the presence of the “galvanic kick” is the distinction. The lack of the “galvanic kick” with Val and Euan enabled their relationship to not have a harmful effect on other characters in the story. In the case of Ash and LaMotte as well as in the case of Roland and Maud, harm is done to other characters in the story. Perhaps, Byatt means to discredit the all-consuming love triggered by the “galvin kick,” and advise against the “obsessive and compulsive state” and being “unsconscious” to the situation of others. The one relationship that she presents which does not have harm to any other individuals, does not have this “all-consuming” nature either.