Golden apples appear in many different legends and folk tales. They are often divine food, and give eternal life, and as such are usually forbidden or protected in some way.
In Greek mythology the Hesperides are nymphs who tend a beautiful garden, belonging to the goddess Hera. In the garden grows a tree, given to Hera by Gaia (Mother Earth) as a wedding gift. The tree produces golden apples that, if eaten, bestow immortality. The dragon Ladon guards the tree, set there by Hera to ensure that the nymphs do not steal the apples for themselves. Ladon is said to be serpent-like, and is usually shown coiled around the tree. In some versions of the story he has one hundred heads.
The name Randolph means 'wolf-shield'. Henry means 'ruler of the home'. Ash has several connotations. There is the Ash tree, Fraxinus, and its association with Yggdrasil, the World Tree of Norse cosmology, whose branches extend into the heavens, and which contains nine worlds within its branches. Ash is also something that is left after burning, and has connotations of death: 'ashes to ashes, dust to dust'. And there is volcanic ash, associated with eruption, heat, passion.
Proserpina (also known as Proserpine) is a goddess of Ancient Rome, often known as the goddess of springtime. Her mother is Ceres, Roman goddess of agriculture, fertility and the earth. Her father Jupiter (or Jove), is the king of all the gods, and the god of the sky and of thunder.
Proserpina is associated with a myth about springtime and the changing of the seasons: Whilst playing in a field with some nymphs, Proserpina was abducted by the god Pluto, ruler of the Underworld. Pluto took Proserpina back to his realm in order to marry her and make her Queen of the Underworld. Her mother, Ceres, searched for her daughter but was unable to find her, and in anger stopped the earth’s crops from growing. Her father, Jupiter, then sent Mercury to order Pluto to set Proserpina free from the Underworld. Pluto let her go, but first he tricked Proserpina into eating pomegranate seeds. Anyone eating food from the Underworld, the land of the dead, would be unable to return permanently to the land of the living. So Proserpina was allowed to go home to her mother, but had to return for a period each year to live with Pluto in the Underworld. Each year, when Proserpina returns to the Underworld, her mother mourns for her, and the earth becomes barren as the crops stop growing. And each time that they are reunited the crops flourish and the earth becomes rich and fertile again. This story is thought to represent the cycle of the seasons, spring and winter; the growing of grain and its return to beneath the earth. In some versions of this story, Proserpina has a garden in the Underworld, full of flowers that are always in bloom.
A longer, and extremely eloquent version of her story, can be found here.
Greek mythology, Priapus was a rustic fertility god, son of Aphrodite and Dionysus, and was depicted as having large and permanently erect genitalia. He was seen as a guardian deity, protector of livestock, gardens, and male genitalia, and was often invoked as a symbol of fertility and health. The Grecian Way of Love may refer to 'Greek love' - homoeroticism within the classical tradition.
Roland means 'renowned land'. In literature, Roland is the French hero in the medieval epic La Chanson de Roland (The Song of Roland), and the protagonist of the fairy tale Childe Rowland. Michell is a variation of Michael, which means 'resembles God'.
Thomas Carlyle (1795 - 1881) was a Scottish writer, essayist, philosopher and historian. His works include Sartor Resartus, The French Revolution, and On Heroes, Hero-Worship, and The Heroic in History. Carlyle was a founding member of The London Library.
George Eliot (1819 - 1880) was a well-known writer of the Victorian era, and author of seven novels, including Middlemarch, Adam Bede, and Silas Marner. Eliot’s real name was Mary Ann Evans, but she took a male pen name in order to ensure that her works would be treated seriously.
Giambattista Vico (1668 – 1744) was an Italian philosopher, with a keen interest in law, history, culture, and rhetoric. For much of his professional life he was Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Naples. His most famous work, published in 1725, is Principj di Scienza Nuova, or to give it its full title Principi di Scienza Nuova d'intorno alla Comune Natura delle Nazioni, which translates into English as Principles of the New Science Concerning the Common Nature of Nations, and is often referred to simply as New Science. On page 3 of Possession, Byatt writes that 'Vico had looked for historical fact in poetic metaphors of myth and legend; this piecing together was his 'new science'.'
Frederic Leighton (1830 - 1896) was an English artist and sculptor of the Victorian era. He associated with the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood and is possibly best known for his painting Flaming June. In 1891 he painted The Return of Persephone, which shows Persephone (Proserpina) being helped by the god Hermes to return to her mother Demeter, after being freed from the underworld.
For more information on Leighton's life and works see FredericLeightonArt.
Edward Gibbon (1737 - 1794) was an English historian and MP. His most famous work, The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, was published between 1776 and 1789 in six volumes.
Venerable Bede (672 - 735) was a monk, an historian and a scholar. He is the author of Historia ecclesiastica gentis Anglorum, or The Ecclesiastical History of the English People.
Alexander Selkirk (1676 - 1721) was a Scottish sailor who became marooned on an uninhabited island for more than four years. He is thought to be the real-life inspiration for Daniel Defoe's novel Robinson Crusoe. In 1829 an account of his experience - The Life and Adventures of Alexander Selkirk - was written by John Howell. He was also immortalised in William Cowper's poem The Solitude Of Alexander Selkirk.
On page 7 of Possession, Byatt lists 'The Solitary Thoughts of Alexander Selkirk' as one of Randolph Ash's poems.
On page 7 of Possession, Byatt tells us that 'The Tinker's Grace' was a poem by Randolph Ash, 'purporting to be Bunyan's prison musings on Divine Grace'.
Inês Pérez de Castro (c. 1320 - 1355) was cousin and lady-in-waiting to Infanta Constança of Castile, who was to marry Dom Pedro, son of King Afonso IV and heir to the Portuguese throne. Dom Pedro fell in love with Inês, and although he still married Constança he carried on a lifetime affair with her, and they had several children together. This was an era of fragile relations between Portugal and Castile, and Inês was seen as a damaging influence, leading to Afonso eventually ordering her execution. Pedro was heartbroken, and on becoming king had her assassins tracked down, tortured and killed. He then claimed that he and Inês had been secretly married several years before her death, and therefore Inês was his legal wife and lawful Queen of Portugal. Pedro then had her body exhumed and moved to a tomb in the Monastery of Alcobaça. Versions of Inês' story differ greatly, as history becomes entangled with legend. One version has Pedro placing the exhumed corpse of Inês on the throne, crowning her Queen, and forcing courtiers to kiss her hand in a show of allegiance. A full version of Inês' story is told here.
On page 7 of Possession, Byatt tell us that Randolph Ash wrote a poem about 'Pedro of Portugal's rapt and bizarre declaration of love, in 1356, for the embalmed corpse of his murdered wife, Iñez de Castro, who swayed beside him on his travels, leather-brown and skeletal, crowned with lace and gold circlet, hung about with chains of diamonds and pearls, her bone-fingers fantastically ringed.'
Henry Crabb Robinson (1775–1867), was an English diarist, and one-time war correspondent for The Times. He was an extremely sociable man, well-liked and a great conversationalist. As such, he knew nearly every leading literary, artistic, scientific and political figure of the time. He kept up a prolific correspondence with many of them, as well as a highly detailed diary that mentions contemporary literary figures such as Coleridge, Charles Lamb, Blake, Wordsworth, Browning, Byron, Carlyle, Dickens, Goethe, Shelley, and Tennyson. Robinson's writings - Diary, Reminiscences and Correspondence - were published after his death.
On page 24 of Possession, Byatt says that Crabb Robinson was 'a man of indefatigable good will, intellectual curiosity, delight in literature and learning, and yet full of self-deprecation'.
Dr Williams's Library is a theological research library, founded at the bequest of Dr Daniel Williams (1643 - 1716), a nonconformist minister and theologian. Originally established in Red Cross Street, Cripplegate, in 1729, the Library now resides at University Hall in Gordon Square, London, where it opened in 1890.
For further information see the Dr Williams's Library website.
Walter Bagehot (1826 - 1877) was an English journalist and essayist who wrote on literary, political, and economic themes. He was editor-in-chief of The Economist, and had several books published, including The English Constitution and Physics and Politics.
Christina Georgina Rossetti (1830 - 1894) was an English poet, best known for her poems Goblin Market, Remember, and for the lyrics of the well-loved Christmas carol In the Bleak Midwinter. Rossetti wrote primarily religious, romantic and children's poetry, and is considered to be one of the most important female poets of the nineteenth-century. Her siblings - Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Michael Rossetti, and Maria Francesca Rossetti, were also well-known artists and writers.
An excellent website dedicated to her life and works can be found here.
Ragnarök is a Norse myth that tells of the 'final destiny', 'fate', or 'doom' of the gods and of the end of the earth itself. It foretells three long winters, the earth plunged into darkness and beset by earthquakes, a great battle involving the gods, and finally the covering of the earth with water, extinguishing life. The earth will then re-emerge, fertile and idyllic, to be repopulated by just two remaining humans (Líf and Lífþrasir). The gods will also return or be reborn. The written source material for the Ragnarök story comes from the Poetic Edda and the Prose Edda.
Fore more information about Robert Graves, see the Robert Graves Trust.
This is the complete text of the poem. More of Graves' poetry can be found here.
Norse mythology Ask and Embla were the first two humans - a man and a woman - created by the old gods. In Old Norse askr means ash tree. Embla has several possible meanings, the most likely of which are elm tree or vine.
Founded in 1897 as the National Gallery of British Art, the Tate is now made up of four art museums: Tate Britain, London (previously known as the Tate Gallery), Tate Liverpool, Tate St Ives, Cornwall, and Tate Modern, London. Between them they the hold United Kingdom's national collection of British Art, and International Modern and Contemporary Art.
The name 'Fergus' is of Celtic/Gaelic origin, and means 'strong man', 'highest man' or 'virility'. 'Wolff' simply means 'wolf'', and in this context refers to personality or looks.
Édouard Manet (1832 - 1883), was a French artist. He painted 'modern' subjects, such as the people and scenes of everyday life in Paris, and was an important figure in the artistic movements of Realism and Impressionism.
An excellent resource, displaying the complete works of Manet, can be found here.
George Frederic Watts (1817 - 1904), was an English sculptor, symbolist, portraitist, and landscape painter. He was renowned for being an artistic innovator, and gained the nickname ‘England’s Michelangelo.’ He was at one time married to the actress Ellen Terry.
For further information about Watts, see the website of the Watts Gallery. The Tate Collection also hosts a large collection of Watts's art, as does the National Portrait Gallery, and much of it can be viewed online.
Émile François Zola (1840 - 1902), was a French writer, of the literary schools of naturalism and theatrical naturalism. He is also responsible for the popularity, in the English-speaking world, of the phrase J'accuse! as an expression of accusation and outrage against a powerful person suspected of wrongdoing.
Manet's portait of Zola, painted in 1868, now resides at the Musée d'Orsay, in Paris, France.
For more information on Zola, see The Émile Zola Society.
The Divina Commedia, or Divine Comedy, is an epic poem written by Dante Alighieri (c.1265 - 1321). The poem tells of Dante's journey through the three realms of the dead: Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio), and Heaven (Paradiso). The poem is also an allegory of the soul's journey towards God. It is considered to be the greatest literary work in the Italian language.
For a full exploration of the Divine Comedy, check out the ambitious website The World of Dante.
The story of Faust (or Faustus) began life as an old German legend. Faust is a successful man, but dissatisfied with his life, and sells his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge and pleasure. The name 'Faust' is Latin for 'lucky' or 'auspicious'.
The Faust story has been reworked through the ages and appears in many forms. Best known of these are two plays: Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe (1564 - 1593), and Faust by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832).
The full title of the novel is The Ingenious Gentleman Don Quixote of La Mancha (or in Spanish, El ingenioso hidalgo don Quijote de la Mancha). It is considered to be one of the greatest ever works of Spanish literature.
Charles Lyell (1797 - 1875), was a Scottish geologist and lawyer. His most famous work - Principles of Geology - was "an attempt to explain the former changes of the Earth's surface by reference to causes now in operation". The book advocated the theory of uniformitarianism, and had a huge impact on the science of the day.
This peculiarity can indeed be seen in many of Watts's portraits. For examples, see the Watts collection at the National Portrait Gallery.
Leonardo di ser Piero da Vinci (1452 - 1519), was an Italian of many talents, spanning both the arts and the sciences. He is most famous as a artist, for his paintings, the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper, and his drawing of the Vitruvian Man. But he was also interested and knowledgeable in many other fields, including: invention, anatomy, mathematics, architecture, geology, cartography, music, sculpting, engineering, botany, and writing.
Turbulence, defined simply by the Oxford English Dictionary as 'an irregularly fluctuating flow of air or fluid' was something that da Vinci was fascinated by. He drew sketches of its motions, and made the following notes about it: "Observe the motion of the surface of the water, which resembles that of hair, which has two motions, of which one is caused by the weight of the hair, the other by the direction of the curls; thus the water has eddying motions, one part of which is due to the principal current, the other to random and reverse motion". Byatt is mirroring da Vinci by comparing Ash's beard hair to turbulence, just as da Vinci explained turbulence by way of hair.
The English Civil War (1642–1651), was a conflict between supporters of Parliament (Parliamentarians, or Roundheads) and supporters of King Charles I (Royalists, or Cavaliers). The Civil War ended with the execution of Charles I, and the English monarchy being replaced by the Commonwealth of England, and then by a Protectorate under the control of Oliver Cromwell.
Fore more information on the Civil War, see the British Civil Wars website.
Thomas Fairfax (1612 - 1671), fought on the side of the Parliamentarians during the English Civil War. He was a General, and commander-in-chief of the New Model Army. He was given the nickname 'Black Tom' because of his swarthy complexion.
For more information see the Sir Thomas Fairfax website.
Oliver Cromwell (1599 - 1658), was an English political and military leader. In the English Civil War Cromwell was a commander in the New Model Army that overthrew the monarchy, replacing it with the Commonwealth of England, and then by a Protectorate under his control.
Trained Bands were 'local militia regiments organised on a county basis.'
The Putney Debates were a series of discussions that took place in 1647, during the English Civil War, concerning a new constitution for England. The participants of these Debates were members of the New Model Army (the Parliamentarian army), and the Levellers - political radicals whose manifesto included religious tolerance, extended suffrage, and sovereignty of the people.
The Debates took place at St Mary's Church, Putney, where there is now a permanent exhibition about this historic event.
The Diggers (also called 'True Levellers') were a radical political group, during the time of the English Civil War. Their beliefs - in a form of religious agrarian socialism, where property rights were ended and the land was cultivated on a communal basis - gave them the name True Levellers. Their actions - in digging over public lands and planting them with crops - gained them the nickname of 'Diggers'.
Andrew Marvell (1621 - 1678), was an English metaphysical poet. His best known poem is possibly To His Coy Mistress. At one time Marvell was tutor to the daughter of General Thomas Fairfax, and wrote a poem about the estate where he lived - Upon Appleton House, To My Lord Fairfax.
Norse mythology, Nidhogg is a dragon, or serpent, that gnaws at the roots of the World Tree, Yggdrasil. Compare this to Ash's verse on page 1 of Possession: 'The garden and the tree/The serpent at its root'.
Honoré de Balzac (1799 - 1850), was a French novelist and playwright. He is best known as the author of La Comédie humaine (The Human Comedy) - a collection of novels and short stories depicting French society in the 1800s. Balzac was also famous for his turquoise-studded walking-stick, which he was never without. It now resides in the Maison de Balzac - his former home and now a museum dedicated to Balzac and his works.
On page 99 of Possession, Mortimer Cropper claims that it was once part of a collection put together by his grandfather.
For more information on Stevenson's life and works, see the Robert Louis Stevenson website.
mantilla is a silk or lace scarf, worn over the head and shoulders. George Eliot can be seen wearing a black lace mantilla in a portrait by Sir Frederick Burton, painted in 1865, and again in a drawing by Lowes Cato Dickinson. The same mantilla now resides at Nuneaton Museum and Art Gallery, (you can see it here) and the portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London.
Gottschalk of Orbais (808 - 867) was a Saxon monk, theologian and poet.
The Pilgrim's Progress (1678, full title The Pilgrim's Progress from This World to That Which Is to Come) is a book by John Bunyan, written in the form of a Christian allegory. Neighbour Pliable is a character who accompanies the protagonist of the story on his journey. The characters in Pilgrim's Progress have allegorical names relating to Christian virtue and vice, so Pliable means just that - easily influenced or persuaded.
Martin Luther (1483 - 1546), was a German priest and professor of theology. He was also leader of the Protestant Reformation. Luther believed that salvation could not be earned with good deeds or bought with money. Followers of Luther's teachings are called Lutherans.
William Wordsworth (1770 - 1850), was an English Romantic poet, and Poet Laureate from 1843 until his death. He is probably now best known for his poem I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud, (commonly referred to as Daffodils).
Charles Lamb (1775 - 1834), was an English essayist, and is today best known for his children's book Tales from Shakespeare - a reworking of Shakespeare's plays into a format suitable for children, and written in collaboration with his sister Mary Lamb.
Anne Louise Germaine de Staël-Holstein (1766 - 1817), also known as Germaine de Staël, or Madame de Staël, was a Swiss author who had an influence on European literary tastes at the turn of the 19th century.
Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749 - 1832), was a German writer and philosopher. His most famous work is Faust.
Johann Christoph Friedrich von Schiller (1759 - 1805), known as Friedrich Schiller, was a German poet, playwright, philosopher and historian.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809 - 1892), was an English poet whose work remains well-loved today. He was Poet Laureate from 1850 until his death. His well-known poems include The Lady of Shalott, In Memoriam A.H.H., Locksley Hall, and Maud.
Baruch de Spinoza (1632 - 1677) was a Dutch Jewish philosopher.
Carl Linnaeus (1707 - 1778) - also known as Carolus Linnaeus, or Carl von Linné - was a Swedish botanist, zoologist and physician. Linnaeus created a new way of classifying biological entities, by breaking them down into classes, orders, families, genera and species. Linnaean Taxonomy, as set out in his book Systema Naturæ, revolutionised the field of binomial nomenclature (naming of species), and his basic categorising principles survive in the popular mind today as the game 'Animal, vegetable, mineral?'
This is a list of some of the greatest English writers that the world has seen.
William Shakespeare (1564 - 1616), regarded by many as the greatest playwright in the world, wrote some 40 plays, 154 sonnets, and several more poems, including well-loved works such as Hamlet, King Lear, and A Midsummer Night's Dream.
Charlotte Brontë (1816 - 1855), was an English novelist and poet, and the eldest of the Brontë sisters (the others being Emily and Anne). She wrote under the pen name Currer Bell, and is most famous for her novel Jane Eyre.
Franz Anton Mesmer (1734 - 1815), was a German physician who created the concept of 'animal magnetism' - a transfer of energy between all living beings and inanimate objects. He believed that this energy flow could be used to heal, and techniques derived from Mesmer's healing theory became known as Mesmerism.