Study Guide

Minor Characters in Possession

By A.S. Byatt

Minor Characters

Ellen Ash's Sister Patience and Her Clan

Ellen Ash's journals introduce us briefly to her sister Patience, along with a clan of nieces and nephews who descend on the Ash household for a visit in the summer of 1859. Their significance in the novel is minor, and they mostly serve to liven up the journals and make Ellen seem more lifelike as a character.

That said, Patience is also one of the people who advises Ellen to send her servant Bertha away to a Magdalen Home when it becomes clear that Bertha is pregnant, and that's a decision that Ellen later regrets. So much for sisterly advice.

Hildebrand Ash

Hildebrand Ash is one of Possession's twentieth-century characters who are distantly related to Randolph Henry Ash. As we learn, Hildebrand is descended from a cousin of R. H. Ash and is the eldest son of Lord Ash, the elderly patriarch who currently owns a number of things that the crafty Mortimer Cropper would like to claim for his own.

Hildebrand isn't a particularly important or interesting fellow, and his only claim to fame in Possession is that he stands to inherit the ownership of all of the R. H. Ash memorabilia that Mortimer Cropper wants to get his hands on. For this reason, and this reason alone, Cropper strikes up an uneasy alliance with Hildebrand and uses the "gingery, cheerful and somewhat vacant" man for his own gain (17.81).

Like the Igor character in pop culture versions of Frankenstein, Hildebrand is a lackey. He helps Mortimer Cropper plan and carry out the ransacking of R. H. Ash's grave, and he never seems to realize that Cropper is just using him.

Lord Ash

Another one of Possession's twentieth-century descendants of the Ash family, Lord Ash is the current owner of Randolph Henry Ash's literary estate. He has quite a lot of R. H. Ash memorabilia that Mortimer Cropper would like to get his hands on, but unfortunately for Cropper, Lord Ash is a nationalist and prefers the Scottish James Blackadder over his acquisitive American rival.

Herbert Baulk

Like many of Possession's minor characters, we're introduced to Herbert Baulk third-hand, through the historical documents we encounter as we read.

Mr. Baulk is a friend of Randolph Henry Ash and his wife, Ellen Ash. A local reverend, he often visits Ellen and challenges her to games of chess, which he then loses. We meet him only through Ellen Ash's journals, and his significance to the story is minor. When Ellen discovers that a servant in her household is pregnant, she asks Reverend Baulk for advice. He suggests that Ellen send the servant to a Magdalen Home, and, when Ellen agrees, he gets everything arranged.

Bengt Bengtsson

Bengt Bengtsson was Beatrice Nest's graduate supervisor. We meet him only through her memories of her early academic life, and we know just a few crucial things about him.

First, he introduced her to the poetry of Randolph Henry Ash, and so he inspired the most lasting literary love of her life. Second, he "ruled the English Department of Prince Albert College" back in the day; and third, he seems to have been an alcoholic (7.1).

The fourth and most important thing that we know about Bengt Bengtsson is that he was the one who advised Beatrice to edit Ellen Ash's journals rather than conduct a study of R. H. Ash's Ask to Embla poems (7.4). In more ways than one, then, he helped to carve the path that Beatrice's unfortunate and unsatisfactory academic career would take.

Paola Fonseca

Paola Fonseca is James Blackadder's assistant. When we're introduced to her, the narrator describes her as a "flitting", "pale" woman: "her long colourless hair bound in a rubber band, her huge glasses moth-like, her finger-tips dusty grey pads" (2.14). Like the drab gray moths she resembles, Paola blends in with her surroundings in the gloomy, sulfur-scented "Ash Factory" where Roland Mitchell, Blackadder, and Beatrice Nest all work.

Mrs. Irving

Mrs. Irving is Roland Mitchell and Val's landlady, and she's a cantankerous old cat lady if ever there was one. She's deceitful, too: after advertising her basement apartment as a "garden flat," and after touring Roland and Val around the absolutely lush and gorgeous garden in the backyard, she informed them—after they'd taken the place, of course—that they were never allowed to go into the garden itself (2.18-19).

Remind you of anyone? Think of the witch who guards her garden jealously in various versions of the Rapunzel story.

Unfortunately for Mrs. Irving, she suffers a stroke near the end of Possession. Like a number of other characters who appear in the novel, her significance to the story is almost purely archetypal. Rather than contributing anything crucial to the plot, her presence adds a fairy-tale quality to Roland Mitchell's life.

Olivia Judge

Olivia Judge is one of the many characters in Possession who come to us through their writings. She's one of the novel's nineteenth-century characters, and she hosted the infamous séance that inspired Randolph Henry Ash's poem Mummy Possest. On top of hosting the séance, Miss Judge also wrote an account of it that appears in Hella Lees's book The Shadowy Portal. When James Blackadder checks The Shadowy Portal out of the library and gives it a read, we catch a glimpse of Miss Judge's writing too (20.47-48).

Raoul de Kercoz

Raoul de Kercoz was one of Christabel LaMotte's distant relations, from the Breton side of her family. When Christabel realizes that she's pregnant with Randolph Henry Ash's child, she asks him for help, and he invites her to come and stay in his home in Brittany.

We readers only ever "meet" Raoul through the writings of his daughter, Sabine de Kercoz, who describes him at length in her journal. By all accounts, he's loving and kind: he raised Sabine as a single father and taught her to love literature and writing, he shows compassion to Christabel throughout her difficult pregnancy, and he tells a really good story to boot. What more could a daughter or cousin ask?

Shushila Patel

Shushila Patel is a journalist who gets "an occasional five minutes" on a television program called Events in Depth (20.55). Her job is to cover the arts, and once the story of the Ash-LaMotte correspondence starts to trickle out, she contacts James Blackadder and Leonora Stern to ask if they'd like to be interviewed. Thanks to her, Blackadder and Leonora are given a brief but very public platform to make the case for keeping Randolph Henry Ash and Christabel LaMotte's letters on English soil.

Crabb Robinson

Henry Crabb Robinson is another real-world figure who finds his way into Possession. In the novel, we meet him through a series of journal entries that Roland Mitchell consults in the Dr. Williams's Library. By including a fictionalized version of Henry Crabb Robinson in Possession, Byatt gives the novel another historical touchstone that strengthens its credibility as realistic historical fiction.

Nathaniel Stern and Saul Drucker

These two chaps never appear as living characters in Possession, yet somehow we learn all about their respective careers. Why's that?

Nathaniel Stern and Saul Drucker were Leonora Stern's first and second husbands, respectively, and when Possession's narrator introduces us to Leonora, we find out all about her former husbands, too. As we learn, Nathaniel "was an assistant Professor at Princeton" who was doing pretty well for himself until the feminist revolution hit, and Saul was an angry "hippy poet" who was sometimes violent with Leonora (18.21).

Leonora left Nathaniel for Saul, and then left Saul for a woman, and, as far as we know, she has been much happier since.

Jane Summers

Like Herbert Baulk and Bertha and a host of other very minor characters, Jane Summers only ever appears in Possession at a distance. A servant in Christabel LaMotte and Blanche Glover's household, she's mentioned in the women's letters, in Blanche's suicide note, and in Christabel's last will and testament. We don't know much about her, but we do know that she had a sweet tooth (10.109). A "very sweet tooth," in fact, as Christabel's letters make clear (10.109).

Daisy Wapshott

Daisy Wapshott is another veryminor character in Possession. She makes her brief appearance in Chapter 6, where we learn that her husband's mother, Sophia Wapshott, "appeared to have been Randolph Henry Ash's godchild" (6.6). Through the years, the Wapshott family has held on to a few letters that R. H. Ash wrote to Sophia, and as a result, Mortimer Cropper has paid Daisy Wapshott a visit.

The Proprietor of Hobbs and Bell

During their trip to North Yorkshire, Maud Bailey and Roland Mitchell stop at a shop in Whitby to look at jet ornaments and jewelry. The proprietor of the shop is a wizened old woman with "a small hard, brown-skinned face under white hair drawn into a bun," who seems "puckered but wholesome, like an old apple" (13.86).

Like a wise woman or a kindly witch out of folk tales, fairy tales, myths, or legends, the storeowner gives Maud and Roland some valuable information about Whitby jet—and, as it turns out, about the mermaid brooch that Maud wears every day in her hair.