Document Type




Publication Date

Winter 2002

Publication Title

Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction


Possession, art in literature, color in literature, white in literature, Byatt


The British novelist A. S. Byatt frequently writes about art and color theory in her fiction. In Still Life (1985) Byatt intentionally saturates her text with musings on art and color; bordering on the didactic, she devotes long passages to Van Gogh's chromatics and individual characters' theories on art. With The Matisse Stories (1996) her discussion moves into the theory of complementary colors in the story “Art Work,” through the painter Robin Dennison. Painting for Robin is “a series of problems, really, inexhaustible problems, of light and color, you know” (70). In the 1990 Booker Prize-winning novel Possession: A Romance, however, Byatt theorizes on art and chromatics more indirectly; in fact, she leaves the chromatic spectrum almost entirely, spinning a tale, a text(ile) woven in an achromatic hue: white. I contend that the achromatic color white functions as a trope of desire and imbricates the pairs of lovers and the reader in a longing that can be fulfilled only through reading the white page. In the tale, Maud and Roland desire “clean white beds”; Ash desires “the white lady,” Christabel, who is “white in the dark”; and Christabel's poems refer to white hands, linen, milk, bones, crosses, and “marbling nakedness.” The reader, meanwhile, desires to possess the white page of the text–to come to “know” the text–much as a lover comes to “know” her beloved.