Growing up in the listless nineteen-eighties, Cecilia Normanton knew her father well, her mother not at all. Mr. Normanton was handsome and tall, with steely gray hair brushed carefully every day so that it was as he wished it to be. His shirts and suits gave the impression of being part of him, as his house in Buckingham Street did, and the family business that bore his name. Only Mr. Normanton’s profound melancholy was entirely his own. It was said by people who knew him well that melancholy had not always been his governing possession , that once upon a time he had been carefree and a little wild, that the loss of his wife—not to the cruelty of an early death but to her preference for another man—had left him wounded in a way that was irreparable.

What substitution do you recommend for these words?

  • I think your answer requires literary criticism, so I'd vote to close as off-topic. The author is saying, in an idiosyncratic manner, that Mr Normanton was possessed by melancholy, and that melancholy ruled his life, though it had not always done so. "Wild" is again a metaphorical or figurative use, because Mr Normanton is not a beast but human. "Wild" figuratively means "not worrying about consequences, impetuous, unpredictable".
    – TimR
    Commented Sep 26, 2014 at 19:46
  • I find the question clear enough, and specific. The OP wants a simplification of the highlighted words. I think it's straightforward to provide, and doesn't strike me as requiring literary criticism. Commented Apr 26, 2015 at 9:00

2 Answers 2


In simple terms,

Governing possession means

preoccupation: a subject or matter that engrosses someone


something that controls him.

Wild means

vital: full of energy; lively.


spirted: full of energy, enthusiasm, and determination.

Wild may also or instead mean

wild: lacking discipline or restraint.


I agree with above except the bit about "off topic".

When I read this my immediate reaction as far as possession was concerned was that it was an archaic use of the word - melancholy is classified as a possession - melancholy is not an emotion but could be described as a temperamental disposition - ergo possession in this context means temperament.

Looking at various online dictionaries, there are many definitions of possession, including the most often used, namely having control or ownership of something, but there is also self possessed meaning in control of one's faculties - the most relevant for the purposes of the present discussion. I can find no reference to possession in the sense it is used here, namely as a noun - I'd argue that the use is idiosyncratic and incorrect with no historic or even archaic use unless I've missed something in 19th century literature which is possible - see Jane Eyre for example: "...a man possessed of a fortune etc...."

As to wild, yes animal like certainly but the word in context refers to his mental state (along with carefree) in relation to the fact "that the loss of his wife......had left him wounded in a way that was irreparable" In this sense wild would appear to be being used in its colloquial use of angry although this sits very oddly alongside carefree implying as it does a much more relaxed emotional state. All in all odd use of English vocabulary.

  • It looks as if possesion was used not in the sense of something he possessed, but of something that possessed him. possessed BY, vs possessed OF. in the noun form, you can't use the preposition to clarify. Commented Jan 25, 2015 at 9:24

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