Jeanette Winterson Winterson, Jeanette - Essay


(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.

Biographical Information

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.

Major Works

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 Reception

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.

Principal Works

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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


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Andrea Stuart (review date 18 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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A. N. Wilson (review date 19 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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....

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John Sutherland (review date 24 September 1992)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Pamela Petro (review date February 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Richard Eder (review date 21 February 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Gabriele Annan (review date 4 March 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Valerie Miner (review date May 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Aurelie Jane Sheehan (review date fall 1993)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Julie Burchill (review date 25 June 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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James Wood (review date 7 July 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Laurel Bollinger (essay date fall 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Laura Doan (essay date 1994)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Michelle Field (essay date 20 March 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Rikki Ducornet (review date 23 April 1995)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Kelleher Jewett (review date 12 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Merle Rubin (review date 26 February 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Victoria Redel (review date 31 March 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Christy L. Burns (essay date summer 1996)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Jeanette Winterson and Audrey Bilger (interview date winter 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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David Sexton (review date 4 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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,...

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Amanda Craig (review date 10 January 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Robert Alter (review date 7 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Audrey Bilger (review date 13 April 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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B. Ruby Rich (essay date 24 June 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Christopher Paddock (review date fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Judith Seaboyer (essay date fall 1997)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

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Keryn Carter (essay date fall 1998)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3937 words.)

Eric Lorberer (review date summer 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 343 words.)

Antje Lindenmeyer (essay date autumn 1999)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 6218 words.)

Thomas Fahy (essay date September 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 4796 words.)

Jenny Turner (review date 7 September 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 3694 words.)

Teresa Waugh (review date 9 September 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 614 words.)

Andrea L. Harris (essay date 2000)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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.


(The entire section is 8926 words.)

Leigh Gilmore (essay date 2001)

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)

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...

(The entire section is 10585 words.)

Further Reading

(Contemporary Literary Criticism)


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....

(The entire section is 549 words.)