Jeanette Winterson 1959-
English novelist, short story writer, essayist, and editor.
The following entry presents an overview of Winterson's career through 2001.
An inventive postmodern author whose fiction explores the nature and varieties of erotic love, Winterson is widely regarded as one of Britain's most talented and provocative contemporary writers. Her award-winning novels, including Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), The Passion (1987), and Sexing the Cherry (1989), are often playful and humorous, but nevertheless serious reconsiderations of gender and sexual identity—particularly what it means to be lesbian—as well as to the relativity of existence, desire, and time. These imaginative narratives, which incorporate biblical themes and elements of myth and fairy tale, often feature cross-dressing, promiscuous, and sexually ambiguous characters. Winterson's use of the line “Trust me, I'm telling you stories” as a refrain and leitmotif in The Passion has taken on emblematic meaning for her fiction in general. Steeped in literary classics and impassioned by the ideas and work of the Modernist writers from the early twentieth century, Winterson writes fiction that attempts to pick up where the Modernists left off, creating new space for literary fiction and its readers.
Born in Manchester, England, Winterson was adopted as an infant by Pentecostal Evangelists John and Constance Brownrigg Winterson and raised as an only child in Accrington, Lancashire. From a very young age Winterson was trained by her mother as a missionary and preacher and was initiated in the ways of faith healing. Winterson's father supported the family by working in a local television factory. A zealous evangelist, Winterson's mother kept tight reigns on her daughter's education, restricting her experience of literature to the Bible and oral retellings of Charlotte Brontë's novel Jane Eyre. However, Winterson's mother changed the ending of the novel in her oral version, choosing instead that the lead character Jane should marry St. John Rivers and become a missionary. During her teenage years, Winterson discovered the wider worlds of literature and history in the public library, becoming a fervent and devoted reader. It was also during this period that Winterson realized her sexual attraction towards women, pursuing an affair with one of the young women she converted to the Pentecostal faith. The discovery of this relationship by her mother and the church community led to public denouncement and exorcism by the church. Refusing to relinquish what she believed was genuine love, the sixteen-year-old Winterson left both the church and her home to pursue life on her own terms. While continuing her education at Accrington College of Further Education, Winterson supported herself with various jobs as an ice cream truck driver, a make-up artist in a funeral parlor, and a domestic in a mental hospital. In 1978 Winterson began her undergraduate studies in English at St. Catherine College, Oxford. After receiving her master's degree in English in 1982, Winterson held a series of jobs while making several unsuccessful attempts to break into advertising or publishing. During a 1985 interview with Philippa Brewster for an editorial position at Pandora Press, Winterson recounted the details of her eccentric early life. Impressed not only by her facility with language but also her ability to spin tales, Brewster encouraged Winterson to write down her stories, which became the material for the critically acclaimed and popular Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. The tremendous success of Oranges, which won the 1985 Whitbread Award for a first novel, established Winterson as one of Britain's most promising young literary talents. Though her second novel, Boating for Beginners (1985), a comic revision of the Bible's Book of Genesis, was less successful, her next two novels garnered major awards: the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Passion and the E. M. Forster Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters for Sexing the Cherry. Winterson also won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for her screenplay adaptation of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which aired in 1990 as a three-part BBC television miniseries. Winterson's next work of fiction, Written on the Body (1992), elicited considerable controversy for making public her real-life affair with her literary agent, Pat Kavanagh, wife of author Julian Barnes. Winterson's choice of her own book as Book of the Year in 1992, along with her self-nomination as the greatest living writer in the English language that year, offended many in the literary community. An avid book collector of mostly first editions of Modernist masterpieces, Winterson has remained a virtual literary loner. She counted the late writer Kathy Acker among her very few close literary friends. She retains a close relationship with author Ruth Rendell, whose country cottage Winterson borrowed while writing some of her early novels. Following her break with Kavanagh after the publication of Written on the Body, Winterson established her own corporation, Great Moments, which acts as her literary agent and negotiates her book contracts. Since the early 1990s, Winterson has divided her time between her homes in London and the country, which she shares with her partner.
Leaning heavily on the Modernist tradition for inspiration and direction, Winterson blends history, autobiography, myth, fable, fantasy, and fairy tale to create fiction designed to revive and reclaim language, challenge stereotypes about gender and lesbianism, and explore the intricate relationship between fact and fiction. Winterson characteristically plays with narrative forms and storytelling. She uses metafictional techniques, comedy, and magic realism to create a fictional space intended to disrupt reader expectation and to convey genuine feeling and the revelatory power of the imagination. While Winterson's novels have progressively de-emphasized plot and character, they examine the nature of love, time, art, sexuality, self-discovery, and the evocative power of language and storytelling. Her debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, examines the meaning of love and lesbian sexual identity, and stands out as Winterson's most structurally conventional and overtly autobiographical story. The narrator, Jeanette, relates the story of her cloistered childhood and adolescence as the adopted daughter of working-class Pentecostal Evangelists, who raise her to become a preacher and missionary. However, she leaves home and the church in her mid-teens when her mother, a woman driven by the narrow views of her religious fanaticism, exposes Jeanette's physical and emotional love for another young woman. An “authorial” voice interrupts the narrative on a number of occasions to directly address the reader, as when another voice presents two fairy tales that comment on the main story. Winterson made a more definitive turn away from novelistic convention in The Passion, a narrative that blends history and myth with fairy tale to present the story of Henri, an army cook during the Napoleonic Wars, and Villanelle, a web-footed Venetian androgyne who attracts the passions of both sexes. The novel recounts the intertwined destinies of Henri and Villanelle on their journeys through France, Russia, and Venice, probing the boundaries between passion and obsession and fantasy and reality, while examining the nature of sexual identity. Sexing the Cherry, a story that also mixes history and myth, includes numerous narrative disruptions and continued experimental shifts, alternating between seventeenth- and late-twentieth-century London and the timeless realm of fairy tale. The principal narrators of Sexing the Cherry are a seventeenth-century giantess called Dog-Woman and her foundling son, Jordan, who operate well outside the bounds of realism. Dog-Woman's huge stature and Jordan's ability to travel through time and space let Winterson question gender and sexual identity, the limits and subjectivity of history, and the artificiality of narrative. A largely plotless narrative, Written on the Body explores the subject of gender and sexual identity, while tackling the problem of conveying a love story without falling prey to cliché. The first-person narrator is an unnamed and ungendered Don Juan figure, who recounts various hetero- and homosexual conquests and describes an affair with a married woman named Louise, with whom the narrator has fallen obsessively in love. After Louise succumbs to cancer, the narrator struggles to preserve the memory and reality of their love. Winterson refined the significance of character in her next two novels, Art and Lies (1994) and Gut Symmetries (1997). Art and Lies is a metafictional work involving three characters—Handel, Picasso, and Sappho—as they travel by high-speed rail to London. Each character presents a dramatic monologue interspersed with authorial comments that addresses sexuality, music, philosophy, and art. This work emphasizes the ability and responsibility of art to move beyond the circumscribed and the known in order to open up more inclusive, far-reaching human possibilities. An even more abstract book of ideas, Gut Symmetries also employs three narrators—Stella and Jove, a married couple, and Alice, a physicist and colleague of Jove's. Both Stella and Jove fall in love with and have an affair with Alice. In this work, Winterson returned to an exploration of desire as part of the larger scheme of life and the universe, employing references to alchemy and contemporary quantum physics (“Gut” is an acronym for “Grand Unified Theories”). In the essay collection Art Objects (1995), Winterson paid tribute to her Modernist forebears—Virginia Woolf, Gertrude Stein, T. S. Eliot, and Ezra Pound, among others—and delineated her own views on art, contemporary life, culture, writing, and her work. The themes of this collection echo those developed in her fiction, notably the transformative power of literature, its autonomy from the life of the artist, and its capacity to move human beings to ecstasy. One essay suggests that Winterson herself is the reincarnation of “Shakespeare's sister,” as envisioned by Woolf in A Room of One's Own. The PowerBook (2000), examines passion, identity, and existence, employing the indeterminate, ephemeral setting of cyberspace as a foil for familiar and increasingly esoteric themes. Presented through the perspective of a young female writer called Ali who falls in love with a married woman, this loosely connected series of metaphysical mediations, e-mail communications, literary and historical fragments, and flights of fantasy explores the boundaries and possibilities of language and love. Winterson has also served as editor for Passion Fruit (1986), an anthology of lesbian short fiction, and authored Fit for the Future (1986), a nonfiction fitness guide for women. The World and Other Places (1998) consists of short stories and prose pieces previously published in magazines ranging from Elle to the New Yorker.
Critical response to Winterson's work has been deeply divided. Few contemporary writers have polarized critics in the popular press to the extent that Winterson has. While most reviewers agree that Winterson's early work, particularly Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, displays extraordinary talent, virtuosity, and humor, her detractors assert that her subsequent work has not lived up to her initial promise and often reflects self-absorption, gimmickry, and sentimentality. Some critics note that Winterson tends to resort to rhetorical posturing and high-minded allusions as a shortcut to profundity and intensity, rather than rigorously plumbing the imaginative depths of character, idea, and circumstance. Furthermore, negative perceptions of Winterson's overbearing hubris has heightened hostility toward Winterson's works. Prone to blatant self-promotion of her work, she has been tagged as arrogant and self-aggrandizing by many in Britain's literary establishment. Nevertheless, positive response to Winterson's work continues to focus on her agile imagination, facile use of language, and gift for evoking emotion. These critics appreciate Winterson's effort to push the boundaries of narrative and her attempt to recreate more fully the elusive sensation of inner consciousness. Winterson has been variously compared to Jonathan Swift for her biting satire, to Gabriel García Márquez for her magic realism, to Italo Calvino for her metafictional experimentation and adaptation of myth and fairy tale, and to Monty Python for her comic abilities. Scholars have focused on the purely literary qualities in Winterson's work, noting the endurance of such themes as the nature of love, time, and art, along with the persistent search for self and the perennial presence of outsiders, strangers, and other characters who have been marginalized by society. Reviewers have often commended Winterson's ability to cut across cultural barriers with such widely popular works as Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; they also have cited her ability to continually challenge literary and social conventions in all of her works. Feminist critics have paid particular attention to postmodern elements of Winterson's work, arguing that her lesbian fiction re-envisions what is “normal,” and validates lesbian life and experience. Winterson's androgynous approach to characterization has prompted many scholars to credit Winterson with successfully deconstructing patriarchal stereotypes and binary sexual oppositions that relegate women and lesbians to “otherness” and cultural subjugation. Such critics praise Winterson's tireless experimentation, her commitment to revitalizing language and discovering new possibilities for fiction, and her steadfast belief in the transformative power of literary art.
Boating for Beginners (novel) 1985
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (novel) 1985
Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women Who Want to Live Well (nonfiction) 1986
Passion Fruit: Romantic Fiction with a Twist [editor] (short stories) 1986
The Passion (novel) 1987
Sexing the Cherry (novel) 1989
Written on the Body (novel) 1992
Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd (novel) 1994
Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery (essays) 1995
Gut Symmetries (novel) 1997
The World and Other Places (short stories and essays) 1998
*The PowerBook (novel) 2000
*This work has also been published as The.PowerBook.
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SOURCE: Stuart, Andrea. “Terms of Endearment.” New Statesman & Society 5, no. 220 (18 September 1992): 37–38.
[In the following review, Stuart comments on some strengths and weaknesses of Written on the Body.]
The language of love: how do you breathe life into it? How do you make it new after centuries of systematic literary abuse, top 20 toons, and the gauzy clichés of Hollywood? That is the challenge Jeanette Winterson has set herself in her latest novel, Written on the Body. “Why is it that the most unoriginal thing we can say to one another is still the thing we long to hear?”
Presented exclusively from the perspective of the genderless narrator (a conceit really, since she is so obviously a woman enamoured of women), it is the story of the word-painter's love for Louise as it unfolds amid the memories and debris of past relationships. But Louise, the cherished “body” of the title, is ill. And so it is the shadow of death, the gravitas of disease, that dynamises and rescues love from the banality of late 20th-century life. It is love in the time of Aids (except that here the life-threatening illness is lymphatic leukaemia) where love and death cohabit like some tragic Derby and Joan, doomed but inseparable.
Just as disease disrupts the body of her beloved, so the author ruptures her story with an erudite middle section on the...
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SOURCE: Wilson, A. N. “The Narrator that Dare Not Speak Her Name.” Spectator 269 (19 September 1992): 34.
[In the following negative review, Wilson criticizes Written on the Body, calling the novel “profoundly embarrassing.”]
What a disappointment! Jeannette Winterson is one of the most original and incisive writers at work in England today. Her best book, for my tastes, is Boating for Beginners, a book of which Bulgakov himself might have been proud, and which is wise and hilarious by turns. Her first book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is justly famous, and The Passion is an extraordinarily inventive, clever, well-written book. Sexing the Cherry, her last novel, was well up to standard, though for some reason I did not enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed The Passion.
The point is, we are dealing here with a really good, and presumably well-disciplined, writer. How could she have allowed herself to write, let alone to have published, this profoundly embarrassing and tenth-rate work [Written on the Body]? I see that she has changed publishers. What were her publishers, new or old, playing at? This is a story which might have a certain low appeal in the Gay-Lesbian section of your local bookshop, but it is very, very bad.
Beautiful, flame-headed Louise, an art historian, Australian in origin, married to Jewish...
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SOURCE: Sutherland, John. “On the Salieri Express.” London Review of Books 14, no. 18 (24 September 1992): 18–20.
[In the following excerpt, Sutherland finds flaws in what he sees as the “formulaic plot” and thinly-veiled sentimentality of Written on the Body.]
When Roy Campbell's wife was seduced by the voracious Vita Sackville-West the poet went to his friend C. S. Lewis expecting sympathy. Lewis's reaction on being told of the episode was fascinated silence followed by the brutal exclamation: ‘Fancy being cuckolded by a woman!’ Campbell's male pride never recovered. Sixty years later the idea still seems odd to me. Written on the Body takes the most familiar of fiction's triangles—husband, wife, seducer—but in this case the seducer of the wife is a woman. Despite an overpoweringly confessional manner (the novel is written as the seducer's intimate journal), she never discloses her name. One says ‘her’ name, but neither is the narrator's gender clearly specified. The fact that he/she apparently sits down to urinate, and late in the novel is described as wearing a lime-green body stocking and a coronet of artificial crocuses, strongly suggests womanhood. So does Winterson's general avoidance of male characters. Whoever or whatever she is, she concedes nothing to conventional femininity. In one of her lighter moments she brags about former conquests with a bravado reminiscent...
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SOURCE: Petro, Pamela. “A British Original.” Atlantic Monthly 271, no. 2 (February 1993): 112–15.
[In the following review, Petro praises Winterson's prose in Written on the Body, comparing it to Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Sexing the Cherry, and The Passion.]
The narrator of Jeanette Winterson's new novel, Written on the Body, once had a girlfriend “who thought it rude to wear shorts in front of public monuments.” The same narrator also had a boyfriend named Bruno who found Jesus under a wardrobe. Considering some of Jeanette Winterson's earlier creations, from a beautiful Venetian croupier with webbed feet to an evangelical child preacher with lesbian inclinations—not to forget the seventeenth-century giantess known as the Dog-Woman—her new narrator runs with pretty tame company. This is not to say that Written on the Body is a tame novel. Winterson has always been a sorceress with language; her slim books are packed with the stuff of speech and reflection in pure, concentrated form, undiluted with extraneous modifiers and unbothered by pleasantries like transitions. It takes courage to write with clear, unequivocal beauty, as if one's story laid bare the universal truths of fairy tales, and Jeanette Winterson has been much rewarded for her valor (perhaps this is the courage of youth, since she is only thirty-four years old). With the exception of...
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SOURCE: Eder, Richard. “Doña Juana in Love.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (21 February 1993): 3.
[In the following review, Eder finds fault with overwritten passages and divergent tonalities in Written on the Body.]
“Don Juan falls seriously in love” is a short way to sum up Jeanette Winterson's novel of quick changes and askew effects. [Written on the Body] plays in two registers: a series of wry, near-absurdist seductions, and a lush story of passion in a tragic setting. Each register feeds occasionally into the other. A fierceness once in a while comes through the irony; a note of self-mockery is heard in the passion. Mostly, though, they are so far apart that the readers' attention flutters about for a perch. Cello weeps and fife skirls. Each is arresting—particularly the fife—but a connecting inner line is missing.
Winterson's narrator is her Don Juan or, rather, her Doña Juana. As we read of the affairs with Inge, Bathsheba, Jacqueline and others, and of the final grand passion for Louise, we are never told specifically that the narrator is a woman. Winterson makes a point of not telling us. And she makes an equal point, through detail after subverting detail, of leaving us in no doubt at all. It is like the Argentine card game truco, whose rules require cheating. We are cut off from our assumptions and groomed to enter Winterson's unsettling...
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SOURCE: Annan, Gabriele. “Devil in the Flesh.” New York Review of Books 40, no. 5 (4 March 1993): 22–23.
[In the following review, Annan praises Winterson's literary talents, but finds the self-pitying and “preachy” authorial persona of Written on the Body unappealing.]
Written on the Body is the fifth novel by the British writer Jeanette Winterson. She published her first in 1985 when she was twenty-six. It was autobiographical and in some ways a more cheerful replay of The Way of All Flesh, with a mother and daughter instead of a father and son at loggerheads in a sectarian family. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit won a prize and became a successful television play. And no wonder, because the story Winterson had to tell was piquant and extraordinary, and so was her manner of telling it.
The heroine of Oranges—called Jeanette—grows up in a lower-middle-class family in an industrial town in Lancashire. They belong to a revivalist church around which the whole household revolves. Everyone accepts that Jeanette has been chosen by the Lord to be a missionary. As a schoolgirl she is already in demand not only as a guitarist to accompany the robust hymns of the faithful, but also as a gospel teacher and preacher. So it comes as a shock to the congregation when they discover her having an affair with a recent convert called Melanie. Apart from...
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SOURCE: Miner, Valerie. “At Her Wit's End.” Women's Review of Books 10, no. 8 (May 1993): 21.
[In the following review, Miner offers a negative assessment of Written on the Body.]
Written on the Body is a short, dense novel fueled by intellectual ego and graced with wit. Jeanette Winterson's fourth book (following Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion and Sexing the Cherry) is an ambitious melding of meditation and high drama. Initially her characterization of the narrator promises a subversive portrayal of androgynous passion; ultimately, however, the romance is disappointingly conventional. Written on the Body is less a provocative vision of love than a hectic cerebration about obsession.
The first-person narrator, unidentified by name or gender, is a randy translator of Russian whose avocation is leaping from one London mattress to the next. Louise, a married woman, enters the scene and seduces the protagonist away from her/his current floozy, Jilly, a sweet but overly earnest zoologist. (Louise's marital status is relevant because the socially constructed, if materially invisible, narrator is aroused by bourgeois taboos against adultery.) Complications arise in the form of Louise's secret leukemia and villainous husband Elgin. To save Louise's life, our hero decides to disappear. The rationale for this disappearance is convoluted, not...
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SOURCE: Sheehan, Aurelie Jane. Review of Written on the Body, by Jeanette Winterson. Review of Contemporary Fiction 13, no. 3 (fall 1993): 208–09.
[In the following positive review, Sheehan compliments Written on the Body, calling it “a joy even in its most serious moments.”]
What do you call a woman who sleeps around? Men get to be Casanovas, they're never sluts. The perceived difference could be will vs. submissiveness: either you are in control and seducing the populace—or being used. This definition suggests that a man putting notches in his belt Saturday night after The Literary Event is clear about his motives, while the gal swinging off a lamppost with her bra strap showing is not. Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body debunks this formula with a female narrator who has had a lot of fun in greenhouses, canoes, and (other people's) conjugal beds, and is neither calculating nor clueless about her sexual desires—though they have just skidded to a glum halt in a passionless relationship (she “had lately learned that another way of writing FALL IN LOVE is WALK THE PLANK”). Like an old pirate telling his life story for the last time, the narrator spins a hundred tales of sexual adventure. The occasion for reminiscence isn't death, but a redhead.
“The wise old hands … don't imagine that to choose sensibly is to set a time-bomb under yourself,”...
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SOURCE: Burchill, Julie. “My Enemy Has Written a Bad Book.” Spectator 272 (25 June 1994): 26–27.
[In the following negative review, Burchill criticizes Art and Lies and Winterson's writing style in general.]
It is always best to show your hand where our old friend Mr Green Eye is concerned. Envy is not an epic thing, unlike its kissing cousin jealousy. It is mean and niggly and net-curtainy, but better to lay it on the table for all to see than leave it lying around where someone might slip on it and then announce to the assembled company, ‘Well, look what we've got here!’
For a few mood-indigo evenings in the Eighties I envied Jeanette Winterson. I didn't mind her doing her novels; they were fair enough. Girls just want to have fun, after all, and one of the strange ways in which modern girls amuse themselves is by writing novels, often of the Sapphic sort. I didn't even mind that much when Gore Vidal stopped writing letters to The Spectator about how brill I was and started instead to drivel on everywhere about what a girl genius old Jeanette was. ‘Jeanette’: it's an ineffably common name, isn't it, even worse than ‘Julie.’ At least we've got Julie Christie, who's pukka, and Julie Delpy, who's hot, and there was a Julie in Strindberg and another in War and Peace and one of Lord Mountbatten's ancestors ran off with a Countess Julie...
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SOURCE: Wood, James. “Beware of Shallowness.” London Review of Books 16, no. 13 (7 July 1994): 9.
[In the following review, Wood offers a negative assessment of Art and Lies, highlighting the changes in Winterson's prose style since the publication of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.]
Each new book by Jeanette Winterson is said to be poorer than its predecessor; she is like a bibliographer's definition of nostalgia. As her novels become more ghostly, so they give off a stronger vapour of self-promotion. Her last, Written on the Body, announced on its cover that it had ‘fused mathematical exactness and poetic intensity and made language new.’ Her latest also bears a Winterson-accented description on its jacket: ‘Art & Lies is a rich book, bawdy and beautiful, shocking because of its beauty … a dangerous book, banked with ideas forced out of the words themselves, not words for things, but words that are living things with the power to move.’
One of Winterson's models is Virginia Woolf, and Art & Lies is also a Woolfian engine of self-advertisement whereby the text is both the novel and the explanation for the novel. It is militant with excuses; like a pianola, it plays itself again and again. Each of the book's three monologists, Handel, Picasso and Sappho, do their bit of window-washing for the novel, in that odd mixture of aphorism...
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SOURCE: Bollinger, Laurel. “Models for Female Loyalty: The Biblical Ruth in Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.” Tulsa Studies in Women's Literature 13, no. 2 (fall 1994): 363–80.
[In the following essay, Bollinger examines the theme of female loyalty in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit with respect to the novel's appropriation of the Biblical Book of Ruth as both a model for a female bildungsroman and a parody of the Judeo-Christian tradition.]
Literary models of development, from simple fairy tales such as Snow White to complex bildungsromans such as Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, generally posit physical and/or emotional separation from home and family as a necessary step in the process of maturation. For conventional stories of male development (the paradigmatic Bildungsroman as established by Goethe), such models play out the dynamics of the oedipal phase; the male infant recognizes physiological differences between himself and a female primary caregiver and learns to define his gender and identity in terms of that opposition. Leaving home simply repeats this process for the adolescent. However, as psychologists from Sigmund Freud to Carol Gilligan have been telling us, the process is not so simple for the female child. Not only does the female infant experience less physiological difference, but connection to home and family...
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SOURCE: Doan, Laura. “Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Postmodern.” In The Lesbian Postmodern, edited by Laura Doan, pp. 137–55. New York: Columbia University Press, 1994.
[In the following essay, Doan examines the intersection and compatibility of Winterson's lesbian feminist politics and postmodern literary techniques in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion, and Sexing the Cherry.]
In Jeanette Winterson's witty and exuberant autobiographical first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) the protagonist Jeanette, an adolescent who decrees confidently that heterosexuality is beastly, confusing, and utterly unappealing, ponders why her passionate involvement with members of her own sex causes so much disruption in her family and church: “It all seemed to hinge around the fact that I loved the wrong sort of people. Right sort of people in every respect except this one; romantic love for another woman was a sin” (127). The problem, as Jeanette sees it, stems not from her exquisite longings for women, but from others' inability to recognize and acknowledge the loveliness of sexual love shared between women. Jeanette's strength and the strength of this coming-of-age/coming-out novel, emerges from a profound and unshakeable conviction that her lesbianism is right and that any attempt to condemn or despise her—a celebrant of the most natural of passions—constitutes...
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SOURCE: Field, Michelle. “Jeanette Winterson: ‘I Fear Insincerity.’” Publishers Weekly 242, no. 12 (20 March 1995): 38–39.
[In the following essay, Field provides an overview of Winterson's life and literary career, incorporating Winterson's comments on her writings and artistic concerns.]
Opinion is sharply divided about Jeanette Winterson, far more than any other British writer. She has been subject to so many misleading caricatures that one does not expect her to have all the childlike charm of a Joan of Arc—though one is prepared to withstand another likeness to St. Joan: her forceful belief in herself.
Because Winterson gives few interviews, many profiles of her are written entirely on rumor. Winterson says that because she lives in a world of half-true stories about her, she has become a master of half-truths herself. “People make up so many things about me that I don't think they should have it all their own way. Two can play that game. Now I make up things when I talk to journalists.” PW confesses that it makes us very nervous, and she laughs. “I don't think that's a bad thing—that the press feels nervous.”
In fact, what really makes one nervous is Winterson's virtuosity. She is wildly overqualified for the British bestseller lists where she sits so securely; her new novel, Art & Lies, is just out from Knopf in the U.S....
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SOURCE: Ducornet, Rikki. “Fairy Tales for Grown-Ups.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (23 April 1995): 1, 9.
[In the following negative review, Ducornet criticizes Art and Lies, faulting the novel's “excess and pedantry.”]
Art and Lies opens with light, a generative thread that precipitates the sprawling world of matter: A train, wheels, overcoats, windows, brooches and a man. Homeless, loveless, self-hating, remorseful—he is a shadowman too self-absorbed to notice the light that burns his clothes and illuminates his face, the light pouring down his shoulders with biblical zeal. And the book opens with a ringing bell that over time will transform to a diving bell or sounding bell—as we enter a deep water in which the soul of man is to be revealed, tested and saved: “It's not too late.”
Winterson's take on genesis, an act of necromancy, of aesthetic will, opens what promises to be a lovely, astonishing novel of ideas, somewhat in the manner of Angela Carter's extraordinary The War of Dreams—a book, or so it seems, that has animated this one. Both novels, Winterson's and Carter's, propose a parallel planet truffled with mutable nightmare cities: ceremonial, political, invisible (Calvino continues to inspirit Winterson too), lethal, erotic and so on. Both authors propose slices of life (as well as bodies; Winterson's primary narrator, Handel, is a...
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SOURCE: Jewett, Kelleher. “A Room of One's Own Books.” Nation 262, no. 6 (12 February 1996): 30–31.
[In the following mixed review, Jewett discusses the autobiographical qualities of Art Objects.]
Jeanette Winterson has attracted more than her share of media attention, less for her five novels than for her working-class childhood in a Lancashire mill town and her years as one of England's hottest young writers and London's most celebrated literary lesbian. Winterson seems to have decided the time has come to give the public what it wants: her autobiography, complete with details about her lineage and her love affairs. This autobiography comes not as “fiction masquerading as a memoir” (as she describes her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit) but in ten essays on art, love, connection, language and literature.
Art Objects doesn't look like autobiography, to be sure, but that is part of the game. Winterson is like a magician who tells you exactly where to look while she performs her trick; if you pay attention, you'll see precisely what she's doing and enjoy it that much more. For Winterson the best autobiography is a “Trojan Horse” that allows the writer “to smuggle into [readers'] homes what they would normally kill at the gate.” She delights in the final paragraph of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas and reveals her own intentions when...
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SOURCE: Rubin, Merle. “The True Nature of Art and the Audience It Needs.” Christian Science Monitor (26 February 1996): 17.
[In the following positive review, Rubin evaluates the strengths of Art Objects.]
At a time when so many voices have been raised to proclaim or lament the impending death of art in a world that seems increasingly hostile—or at best indifferent—to its power, Jeanette Winterson's Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery is a resounding declaration of faith in the living spirit of what Shelley called “Poetry” (meaning all of the creative arts).
In these 10 essays, Winterson, the author of five ambitious novels, follows in the path of Shelley's “Defence of Poetry” by offering her own eloquent and timely vindication of art in an age of trivialization. Her argument is based on the premise that art is autonomous, offering what can be found nowhere else, and certainly not to be confused with leisure-time diversion, therapeutic self-expression, or politically correct sermonizing.
Convinced that art offers “a separate reality,” Winterson deplores the kind of writing that is little more than poorly disguised autobiography: “The bad writer believes that sincerity of feeling will be enough, and pins her faith on the power of experience. The true writer knows that feeling must give way to form. It is through the form … that...
(The entire section is 665 words.)
SOURCE: Redel, Victoria. “We Want to Be Moved.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (31 March 1996): 11.
[In the following review, Redel highlights the main themes of Art Objects.]
It was a sign of lonely maturation for me as a reader when I came to understand that the writers I most loved, whose poems or stories I read talismanically over and over, whose language helped me construct the truths by which I lived, were often people I would not want to spend five minutes chatting with, let alone engaging in any conversation of social or personal substance.
First this made me sad.
Then it made me brazen.
I had learned that I could love the work and not the writer, I could love her language but not her life or, even, her ideas. I could love the triumph of one writer's book and the difficult failures of his next book. In essence, I had learned not just to read but to be a reader.
But, despite my maturation, wasn't there in me still a desire to feel cozy, to feel camaraderie with a writer whose work I admired?
And I have admired the work of Jeanette Winterson. The Passion, her second novel, is a terrific book. It is a book of remarkable invention and mystery, a book of surprising and gorgeous language. Her other books are less great, fall apart more quickly, adore themselves a bit too much. And yet, I don't care. I...
(The entire section is 1294 words.)
SOURCE: Burns, Christy L. “Fantastic Language: Jeanette Winterson's Recovery of the Postmodern World.” Contemporary Literature 37, no. 2 (summer 1996): 278–306.
[In the following essay, Burns examines Winterson's effort to revitalize postmodern language and social imagination through the use of fantasy, metafictional disruptions, and eroticized prose that link sexual desire and passion to the power of words.]
Jeanette Winterson's novels have always been fantastic, toying with the conventions of fantasy and stretching the limits of the short verbal refrain. Not until recently, however, have her use of fantasy and her liturgical style been explicitly fused into a kind of fantastic language. In Art and Lies, Winterson adopts the voice of Sappho to articulate her concern for the flattened state of language: “Delicate words exhausted through overuse. Bawdy words made temperate by repetition. Enchanting and enchanted words wand broken. … That is the legacy of the dead” (65). Winterson not only attempts to recover the words of the dead—as the history of literature brought into the present—but more importantly she works to overcome the “death” of language. Fantasy is no longer a vision that fills up the imagination; it is the inspiration that arises in and through the sensuous and erotic aspects of language.
In a review of The Passion in 1988, David Lodge...
(The entire section is 11087 words.)
SOURCE: Winterson, Jeanette, and Audrey Bilger. “Jeanette Winterson: The Art of Fiction CL.” Paris Review 39, no. 145 (winter 1997): 69–112.
[In the following interview, Winterson discusses her approach to fiction, her aesthetic concerns and artistic development, and her preoccupation with religious, gender, and sexual issues.]
“I cannot recall a time when I did not know I was special,” writes Jeanette Winterson at the beginning of her fictionalized autobiography, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. And, indeed, the facts of her life have supported that view. Born in Manchester in 1959, Winterson was adopted by Pentecostal evangelist Constance Brownrigg and her husband, John William Winterson, a factory worker. From her earliest years she was groomed by her mother and church to be a missionary, and her first forays into the world of letters were the sermons she began preaching at the age of eight. Her awareness of herself as different from others was heightened when she attended Accrington Girls' Grammar School, a place that her mother dubbed the “breeding ground” because it put young Jeanette in contact with the ordinary girls of the industrial Midlands, who were more interested in embroidering platitudes on samplers than in saving souls at tent meetings.
At fifteen, Winterson had a love affair with a woman that was discovered and condemned by her church, leading to...
(The entire section is 14925 words.)
SOURCE: Sexton, David. “A Serious Case of Solipsism.” Spectator 278 (4 January 1997): 27, 30.
[In the following negative review, Sexton argues that the imagery and syntax of Gut Symmetries alienates its core audience.]
Plainly, Granta Books was right to purchase an established name to spearhead its re-launch as an independent publisher. That Jeanette Winterson was the ideal recruit for the role is less obvious.
Although she still enjoys considerable fame, she has used it primarily in the last few years to make herself a figure of derision: naming herself as the greatest living writer in a poll, choosing her own work as her book of the year, proclaiming herself the only true heir to Virginia Woolf, and, famously, door-stepping journalists who have had the cheek to offer criticism of such vanity.
If these aberrations were, for some reason, genuinely necessary to keeping her confidence up and her talent intact, they would not matter in the end. Unfortunately, Winterson's writing has itself become steadily more impaired by her self-regard and insularity too. Her last book, a collection of essays called Art Objects, appeared to be nothing less (or more) than a primer in the cult of her own genius. Her previous novel, Art & Lies, was memorably described by Nicci Gerrard as ‘bobbing on its way into solipsistic, meaningless stratosphere.’ She...
(The entire section is 1350 words.)
SOURCE: Craig, Amanda. “Passion & Physics.” New Statesman 126, no. 4316 (10 January 1997): 47.
[In the following excerpt, Craig offers a mixed assessment of Gut Symmetries.]
Anyone who reads fiction knows there is a male canon and a female one. Perhaps the present-day preference for Amis or Atwood is simply a matter of temperament, or perhaps it goes back to Richardson and Fielding and the masculine assertion for sense over sensibility. Yet the true reader, like the true writer, is concerned with more than gender; and to hide behind it is to render us something less than human.
Jeanette Winterson and A. L. Kennedy are two of the leading writers of the new generation. Both are female and have won many prizes. One has gone from wild popularity as an outspoken lesbian to a chorus of (largely male) disapprobation; the other received the accolade of being a 1996 Booker judge, and benefits from the current exaltation of Scottish writing. A. L. Kennedy has been compared to Winterson, and both, as it happens, have written about passion and physics in their present books.
Gut Symmetries describes a love-triangle between Alice, Jove and Stella. In between charting the progress of the affair from its flirtatious beginning to a gruesome climax on a yacht near Capri, each protagonist recounts the circumstance of his or her origin. There are distinct similarities to...
(The entire section is 445 words.)
SOURCE: Alter, Robert. “Sexing the Jewry.” New Republic (7 April 1997): 36–38.
[In the following review, Alter faults the stereotypical characterizations and the accuracy of the scientific information in Gut Symmetries.]
[Gut Symmetries] is the sixth novel by Jeanette Winterson, a young British writer who has frequently been celebrated on both sides of the Atlantic as the bright new light of English fiction. She has happily embraced this judgment: on at least two occasions, when asked to choose the best work of fiction to have appeared in England during the previous year, she confessed that she could think of nothing that equaled the richness of her own most recent book.
But one should not hold a writer's self-promotion against her. (In the words of Hillel the Elder, “If I am not for myself, who is for me?”) Jeanette Winterson is a writer who has a genuine passion about the revelatory experience of art—as attested by her recent volume of essays, Art Objects—a genuine passion about language and a serious reflectiveness about the complex moral circuitries of carnal passion. Occasionally, all of this coalesces in a moment of illumination, as when Alice, one of the three protagonist narrators of Gut Symmetries, comments on the narcissistic gratification of becoming the lover of her male lover's wife: “Desiring her I felt my own desirability. It was an...
(The entire section is 1888 words.)
SOURCE: Bilger, Audrey. “Only Connect.” Los Angeles Times Book Review (13 April 1997): 14.
[In the following review, Bilger offers a positive assessment of Gut Symmetries, praising the novel's “beautiful symmetries.”]
Gut Symmetries; the title sticks in one's throat, the clipped percussion of the first word clashing with the sibilant wave of its partner. When I first heard the title of Jeanette Winterson's new novel over the phone last fall, I thought I had a bad connection. Unlike Winterson's other titles, which range from the elevated (Art and Lies, Art Objects) to the playful (Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Boating for Beginners) to the visceral (Sexing the Cherry, Written on the Body), this title poses a challenge. The word gut, its physicality, its vulgarity, the fact that as a verb it means “to disembowel” has a disturbing effect when coupled with a word that indicates balance and order. Before I even laid hands on the book, I was drawn into its conundrum.
I found no easy answers. One of the book's three narrators calls the story a “journey through the thinking gut,” and again I came up against a question mark. “Gut feelings” I could follow, but “gut thinking” is a fork in the road, two paths that lead in seemingly opposite directions.
My confusion about where to go made me...
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SOURCE: Rich, B. Ruby. “In Profile: Jeanette Winterson.” Advocate (24 June 1997): 105–06.
[In the following essay, Rich provides an overview of Winterson's literary career, incorporating Winterson's comments on her own celebrity and public identity as a lesbian writer.]
Jeanette Winterson published her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, in 1985 at age 26. It made her an instant literary celebrity—and a lesbian hero too, after the BBC filmed her autobiographical tale. She is an adopted daughter of Pentecostals, and she fights God and Mum as her lust for other women surfaces.
Six novels and a book of essays later, Winterson is recognized by the British literary establishment as one of the foremost writers of her generation. Her latest book, Gut Symmetries, proves once again that she is a grand master of literary style, with a knack for coaxing readers through intricate philosophical inquiries or historical details only to flatten them with an erotic sucker punch a few lines later. Yet for all her virtuosity, Winterson is still an outsider to the British press, which seems fixated on her lesbian life as paraded in a long series of real or imagined affairs reported in the tabloid newspapers.
Speaking from the home deep in the British countryside that she shares with her partner of eight years (Peggy Reynolds, the university professor to whom...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
SOURCE: Paddock, Christopher. Review of Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson. Review of Contemporary Fiction 17, no. 3 (fall 1997): 225–26.
[In the following positive review, Paddock evaluates the strengths of Gut Symmetries.]
Winterson's latest novel compares favorably with her previous work, particularly her brilliant Sexing the Cherry. Gut Symmetries is an alchemical blend of multiple narrators, fairy-tale allusions, and quantum physics theory. Winterson displays the same well-crafted, seraphic prose that has established her as one of Britain's most intriguing and prodigious younger authors.
Gut Symmetries revolves around Alice, a young British physicist who has become the defining corner of a bizarre love triangle. She finds herself involved with a distinguished peer, Jove, whose pragmatic theories are the “future” of physics. His assured demeanor provides a point of reference for the uncertain Alice: “I could not define myself in relation to the shifting poles of certainty that seemed so reliable. What was the true nature of the world? What was the true nature of myself in it?” Jove's wife Stella has grown intolerant of his affairs and arranges to confront Alice. Their meeting turns erotic and they become involved in a meaningful relationship of their own. Caught in the middle and yet on both sides of a marital feud, Alice struggles to find...
(The entire section is 306 words.)
SOURCE: Seaboyer, Judith. “Second Death in Venice: Romanticism and the Compulsion to Repeat in Jeanette Winterson's The Passion.” Contemporary Literature 38, no. 3 (fall 1997): 483–509.
[In the following essay, Seaboyer examines the variety of linguistic and intertextual repetitions that structure The Passion, arguing that the novel's setting during the Napoleonic Wars and its thematic focus on death and mutilation exemplify the relationship between the psychoanalytic death drive and the rise of modern European nationalism.]
It is a given that Venice was a central topos for the nineteenth-century Anglo-American imagination, fascinating not only because of the Romantic attraction to “beauty in decay” and the frisson accompanying the possibility that all that faded loveliness might yet slip back beneath the waters from which it had so improbably arisen, but also because of the ambiguity and paradox that inform its geographical as well as its cultural heritage. After a hiatus that has lasted since the early years of this century, Venice has once again become a key symbolic landscape for literature in English: Jeanette Winterson is one of a number of writers who in the last fifteen years have discovered a means of articulating late-twentieth-century concerns not from the vantage point of the abstract metropolis of modernity, or the edge city of postmodernity, but from within the...
(The entire section is 10903 words.)
SOURCE: Carter, Keryn. “The Consuming Fruit: Oranges, Demons, and Daughters.” Critique: Studies in Contemporary Fiction 40, no. 1 (fall 1998): 15–23.
[In the following essay, Carter explores the mother-daughter relationship in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, arguing that Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre acts as a mother-text for the heroine, Jeannette.]
The narrator of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit cites two of the most painful events of her childhood as follows: first, the moment in which she discovered, by reading Charlotte Brontë's Jane Eyre for herself, that her mother had been rewriting the ending of Brontë's story when reading it out loud to her (72–73). In the mother's version, Jane Eyre marries St. John Rivers and the couple become missionaries. The narrator of Oranges views her mother's revision as an act of betrayal and refuses to read Jane Eyre ever again. She then states that that event was just as shattering as the moment when she discovered her adoption papers hidden away in the back of a drawer. Although I am certain the discovery that one is adopted would be momentous, the intensity of the experience involving Jane Eyre is perhaps more difficult to comprehend. Nevertheless it offers tantalizing possibilities for the literary critic.
Those two events, fused into the narrative as almost a...
(The entire section is 3937 words.)
SOURCE: Lorberer, Eric. Review of The World and Other Places, by Jeanette Winterson. Review of Contemporary Fiction 19, no. 2 (summer 1999): 143–44.
[In the following review, Lorberer offers a positive assessment of The World and Other Places.]
Fans of Jeanette Winterson's laconic prose will find much to enjoy in this [The World and Other Places], the author's first collection of short fiction. Culling stories from the last twelve years, this book shows that Winterson can sculpt her sentences as precisely in the short form as she does in the novel. Her gift for imagery is startling, whether noticing an aged woman (“with a face like a love-note somebody crushed in his fist”) or a dinner table suspended in the air by chains: “an armoury of knives and forks laid out in case the eaters knocked one into the abyss.” Despite the deft, self-deprecating irony that finds expression in her characters, Winterson's lyricism is the central note struck throughout, as in this passage from “Adventure of a Lifetime”: “I started to think about Hansel and Gretel and how they found their way through the forest by leaving a trail of stones. We left nothing behind but the heat from our bodies and that soon chilled.”
One of the most delightful things about this book is its range; Winterson proves herself equally adept at personal narrative (“The 24-Hour Dog”), fable (“The...
(The entire section is 343 words.)
SOURCE: Lindenmeyer, Antje. “Postmodern Concepts of the Body in Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body.” Feminist Review, no. 63 (autumn 1999): 48–63.
[In the following essay, Lindenmeyer discusses Winterson's reconciliation of postmodern and feminist views of the female body in Written on the Body, highlighting the novel's critique of conventional biological approaches to gender differences.]
It has been said that postmodern theory is inimical to feminist goals, because it effaces the reality of female experience in favour of discursively constructed identities. In embracing postmodern theories of the body, one faces the, as Lisa More puts it, ‘dystopian possibility’ that the ‘discontinuous, heterogeneous experiences, sensations, desires and identifications that pulse through us as we experience our “bodies”’ become chaotic once the identity categories that structure our perception of the body are deconstructed’ (Moore, 1995: 104). However, I believe that Jeanette Winterson, in her novel Written on the Body, develops a postmodern concept of the body that escapes that trap and offers many possibilities for feminist theorizing. The title alone situates her book within an ongoing debate on the relations between bodies and texts, bodies and society: Michel Foucault claims that the body is permanently inscribed by power...
(The entire section is 6218 words.)
SOURCE: Fahy, Thomas. “Fractured Bodies: Privileging the Incomplete in Jeanette Winterson's The Passion.” Mosaic 33, no. 3 (September 2000): 95–106.
[In the following essay, Fahy examines Winterson's use of fragmented bodies in The Passion to represent the restorative powers of postmodern art.]
Many lesbian writers, such as Monique Wittig and Jeanette Winterson, have used images of fragmented female bodies to subvert heterosexist norms and question the politics of gender roles. For these and other authors, shattered or incomplete bodies call into question culturally constructed assumptions about women's bodies as knowable sites—sites which can be possessed and controlled. This fragmentation also destabilizes some of the boundaries placed on bodies to promote possibilities for social and sexual difference. As Judith Butler has argued in Bodies That Matter, objects have a discrete set of boundaries, but bodies do not; instead, it is the act of labeling bodies and sexuality according to heterosexual standards (“woman” or “she is a lesbian”) that creates or defines bodily limitations. Fragmented bodies in postmodern fiction can therefore disrupt traditional images of women's bodies and undermine dominant ideologies; or as Linda Hutcheon has suggested more broadly, postmodern texts can “denaturalize some of the dominant features of our ways of life” (2). But once the...
(The entire section is 4796 words.)
SOURCE: Turner, Jenny. “A Tulip and Two Bulbs.” London Review of Books 22, no. 17 (7 September 2000): 10–11.
[In the following review, Turner discusses the development of Winterson's fiction and offers a mixed assessment of The PowerBook.]
We all know of writers who just keep writing the same book, but what is sadder is when a true writer seems to run out of books. T. S. Eliot observed that to continue to develop stylistically, a writer had to continue to develop emotionally … It is a commonplace of psychology that human beings, beyond a certain age, find it difficult to supplement their personalities with new emotional understandings. If this happens to the writer, she is lost.
Jeanette Winterson, ‘A Work of My Own,’ Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, (1995)
From the outside, Jeanette Winterson's new book looks quite different from what she usually does. Instead of one of those browny-orangey oil paintings she has hitherto put on her covers, this one is sunshine yellow, small and square. It's bright, modern, not blurry: ‘21st-century fiction,’ as the advertisement on the inner flap proclaims. An extended conceit to do with personal computers is carried through to the setting of the author's name—Jeanette.Winterson—and of the title, The.PowerBook, itself. And to GUIesque, tarotish little...
(The entire section is 3694 words.)
SOURCE: Waugh, Teresa. “A Fine Balancing Act on the Tightrope of Fantasy.” Spectator 285 (9 September 2000): 38–39.
[In the following positive review, Waugh evaluates the strengths of The PowerBook.]
The sparkling originality of Jeanette Winterson's new novel, The.PowerBook, is all the more enjoyable for being, despite its extraordinary flights of fantasy and a rich mixture of literary and historical references, entirely unpretentious. This writer may sometimes have been accused of showing off, but if she is doing so here, it is with such wit and subtlety and so much for the reader's pleasure that it is a joy. This reviewer for one was as delighted by Winterson's recipe for tomato sauce as by her list of great and ruinous lovers which rates Burton and Taylor, Oscar and Bosie alongside the likes of Tristan and Isolde and Paolo and Francesca.
The novel takes place—if it can truly be said to take place at all—in Cyberspace where fantasy evolves through the Net, in Paris, Capri and London. It is, like all good novels, about love, passion, possession, time, death, pleasure, the human condition, the search for reality and history. You name it, it's there, yet because of the nature of the book's construction and because of the remarkable darting about in time and space, it all seems like fairyland where nothing is quite as it appears and nothing is tangible.
(The entire section is 614 words.)
SOURCE: Harris, Andrea L. “A Feminist Ethics of Love: Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body.” In Other Sexes: Rewriting Difference from Woolf to Winterson, pp. 129–47. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press, 2000.
[In the following essay, Harris draws upon the feminist theory of Luce Irigaray to examine transpersonal aspects of sexual difference and Winterson's subversion of gendered language and narrative subjectivity in Written on the Body.]
I will explore you and mine you and you will redraw me according to your will. We shall cross one another's boundaries and make ourselves one nation.
—Jeanette Winterson, Written on the Body
How can I say “you,” when you are always other? How can I speak to you? You remain in flux, never congealing or solidifying. What will make that current flow into words? … These streams are without fixed banks, this body without fixed boundaries.
—Luce Irigaray, This Sex Which Is Not One
Like The Waves, Written on the Body is a self-reflexive text preoccupied with language; like Nightwood, it confounds simple gender categorization; and like The Talking Room, it is a meditation on love and loss. As the narrator struggles with the loss of her beloved to cancer,...
(The entire section is 8926 words.)
SOURCE: Gilmore, Leigh. “Without Names: An Anatomy of Absence in Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body.” In The Limits of Autobiography: Trauma and Testimony, pp. 120–42. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2001.
[In the following essay, Gilmore examines Winterson's treatment of gender and sexual self-representation in Written on the Body, as well as discussing the novel's problematic explorations of female identity, lesbianism, and sexual difference.]
A name makes reading too easy.
—Michel Foucault, “The Masked Philosopher”
Written on the Body least resembles autobiography in the context I've developed here. Unlike [Dorothy] Allison, [Mikal] Gilmore, and [Jamaica] Kincaid, Winterson has neither asserted nor acceded to a primarily autobiographical context for understanding her writing. Following her first autobiographical novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, Winterson wrote the kind of postmodern fiction that does not readily lend itself to autobiographical reading. Why, then, read Written on the Body as a limit-case about self-representation? The chapters that precede this one form a context for understanding how Winterson engages autobiography's central issues without reproducing its formal conventions. Indeed, she resists them, not because they are unrelated to her project,...
(The entire section is 10585 words.)
Andersen, Marguerite. Review of Gut Symmetries, by Jeanette Winterson. Herizons 11, no. 4 (fall 1997): 39.
Andersen offers a positive assessment of Gut Symmetries.
Anshaw, Carol. “Power Outage.” The Advocate (21 November 2000): 110.
Anshaw evaluates the weaknesses of The PowerBook.
Boddy, Kasia. “Love, Again.” Times Literary Supplement (1 September 2000): 9.
Boddy offers a negative assessment of The PowerBook, but notes that “there is something touching in the very failure of the project.”
Dieckman, Katherine. “An Ego As Big as the Ritz.” Voice Literary Supplement (11 April 1995): 10.
Dieckman criticizes Winterson's prose in Art and Lies.
Emck, Katy. “On the High Seas of Romance.” Times Literary Supplement (3 January 1997): 21.
Emck examines the combination of fairy-tale, romantic quest, and metaphysical motifs in Gut Symmetries.
Farwell, Marilyn R. “The Postmodern Lesbian Text: Jeanette Winterson's Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body.” In Heterosexual Plots and Lesbian Narratives, pp. 168–94. New York: New York University Press, 1996.
Farwell explores Winterson's juxtaposition of...
(The entire section is 549 words.)