As British literature and film seek to sort out the identity crisis that England finds herself in as a post-imperial nation, a variety of views have emerged concerning solutions for Britain’s confusion. One reoccurring theme to these views is love. A.S. Byatt’s Possession, Zadie Smith’s White Teeth, and The Full Monty, directed by Peter Cattaneo, all deal with a traditional, romantic view of true love, whether it is presented as a necessity or a dispensable ideal. While Possession and The Full Monty show romantic love as an essential part of what will push Britain towards rejuvenation, White Teeth presents romance as something that can be forfeited in light of the fact that mere survival is the ultimate goal.
In Possession, Byatt juxtaposes many different types of relationships in order to set up an obvious comparison between what brings renewal and what does not. Roland Michell, a twentieth century scholar studying the works of nineteenth century poet R.H. Ash, is initially in a boring relationship with Val, an embittered ex-scholar, whom he has admittedly settled for. He does not love her, and, as a result, his life with her is bland. Roland later becomes colleagues with feminist Maude Bailey, whose work with another nineteenth century poet, Christabel LaMotte, coincides with his research on Ash. As they uncover Ash and LaMotte’s secret love affair, Byatt is able to display an exciting yet sorrowful love. Despite its sad ending, LaMotte and Ash’s relationship brings freshness into their otherwise monotonous lives.
As the novel progresses, Maude and Roland come to respect and, ultimately, love each o...
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...r future but rather settle with her present in order to survive.
While Byatt’s Possession and Cattaneo’s The Full Monty are concerned with a Britain that pushes herself towards greatness through love and acceptance, Smith is more concerned with Britain just moving forward. Yet all three of these works have interesting viewpoints on the importance of true, romantic love in post-imperial Britain. Perhaps Britain can be rejuvenated through love, as Byatt suggests. Perhaps only love can bring new life to her bored, undefined citizens, as Cattaneo puts forth. Or, as Smith proposes, perhaps Britain just needs to stop all this focusing on the ideal and trying to redefine herself through these fairytale, unrealistic notions. No matter which stance the British work takes, it is important to note the question that they each pose: could love really find a way?
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