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Winterson, Jeanette 1959–

Winterson, Jeanette 1959–


Born August 27, 1959, in Manchester, England; adopted daughter of a factory worker and Constance Winterson. Education: St. Catherine's College, Oxford, M.A., 1981.


Home and office—Gloucestershire, England; London, England. Agent—Caroline Michel, William Morris Agency, 52-53 Poland St., London W1F 7LX, England.


Writer. Verde's (delicatessen), London, England, owner.

Awards, Honors

Whitbread Award for best first novel, and Publishing for People Award, both 1985, both for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit; John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, British Book Trust, 1987, for The Passion; E.M. Forster Award, American Academy of Arts and Letters, 1989, for Sexing the Cherry; Golden Gate Award, San Francisco International Film Festival, 1990, and FIPA d'Argent Award, Cannes Film Festival, 1991, both for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (screenplay); Lambda Literary Award for Lesbian Fiction, 1994, for Written on the Body; International Fiction Award, Festival Letteratura Mantova, 1998; Order of the British Empire, 2006, for services to literature.



The King of Capri, illustrated by Jane Ray, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2003.

Tanglewreck, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (also see below), Pandora Press (London, England), 1985.

Boating for Beginners, illustrations by Paula Youens, Methuen (London, England), 1985.

The Passion, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1987.

Sexing the Cherry, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1990.

Written on the Body, Knopf (New York, NY), 1993.

Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

Gut Symmetries, Knopf (New York, NY), 1997.

The PowerBook, J. Cape (London, England), 2000.

Lighthousekeeping, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2004.

The Stone Gods, Harcourt (Orlando, FL), 2007.


(Editor) Passionfruit (stories), Pandora Press (London, England), 1986.

Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women Who Want to Live Well, Pandora Press (London, England), 1986.

Great Moments in Aviation; and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Two Filmscripts (produce on BBC2), Vintage (London, England), 1994.

Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, Knopf (New York, NY), 1995.

The World and Other Places, Knopf (New York, NY), 1998.

(Author of introduction) Jonathan Swift, Gulliver's Travels, Oxford University Press (New York, NY), 1999.

The PowerBook (stage adaptation of her novel), produced in London, England, 2002.

Weight, Canongate (New York, NY), 2005.


Jeanette Winterson is an award-winning British novelist who has stirred up some measure of controversy during her career due to the radical nature of both her literary works and her sexuality. As a Contemporary Novelists contributor noted, Winterson "is often described as one of the most controversial yet innovative fiction writers in contemporary English literature," while Laura Miller commented in that the experimental novelist "has a reputation as a holy terror, a lesbian desperado and a literary genius."

Winterson began her literary career with 1985's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a quasi-autobiographical novel about an adopted daughter's ties to her mother, a religious fanatic. Other books include Boating for Beginners, the award-winning historical novels The Passion and Sexing the Cherry, and the innovative The

PowerBook. Los Angeles Times reviewer Richard Eder contrasted Sexing the Cherry with James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani deemed the work "wonderfully inventive." As Kakutani added of the innovative writer, Winterson "possesses the ability to combine the biting satire of [Jonathan] Swift with the ethereal magic of [Gabriel] García Márquez, the ability to reinvent old myths even as she creates new ones of her own."

In addition to her highly acclaimed novels for adults, with their literary grounding and sophisticated and mature themes, Winterson has also turned her attention to young readers, inspired by her goddaughter Eleanor. In The King of Capri she teams up with artist Jane Ray to retell an Italian folk story about a greedy monarch who learns what it is like to have nothing when a freak storm blows all his wealth and possessions across the water to the yard of a poor but well-meaning washerwoman. Calling Ray's collage illustrations "by turns magical and exotic," a Publishers Weekly contributor added that Winterson's text features "plenty of whimsy and snappy dialogue," and a Kirkus Reviews writer noted the story's "deeply Italian sensibility." Also remarking on the "whimsy" in Winterson's story, Booklist critic Gillian Engberg concluded that Ray's "stunning watercolor" images for The King of Capri "beautifully extend the fanciful tale."

Geared for middle-grade readers, Tanglewreck takes place on a future Earth where time is becoming distorted by tornado-like fluctuations that move objects from one time period to another in an instant. A collaboration between Winterson and the then-ten-year-old Eleanor, the novel follows the efforts of the evil but beautiful Regalia Mason to harness the power of these time disruptions for her own nefarious purposes. Meanwhile an eleven-year-old orphaned girl named Silver Rivers is aided by friend Gabriel in fulfilling her destiny: to find the Timekeeper that will allow humans to gain control of time. In addition to Mason, Silver is imprisoned by Mrs. Rokabye and the evil alchemist Abel Darkwater in the hopes that she will reveal the location of the powerful timepiece. The novel "combines rousing adventure with time warps, quantum physics, and" several quirky characters, according to Booklist critic Diana Tixier Herald, the critic comparing Tanglewreck to novels by Madeline L'Engle and Lemony Snicket. Noting "the sheer exhilaration of the adventure and the many fascinating historical and scientific allusions" in Winterson's novel, a Publishers Weekly contributor predicted that Tanglewreck "will keep readers engrossed through to the satisfying conclusion."

Biographical and Critical Sources


Contemporary Novelists, 7th edition, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 2001.

Contemporary Popular Writers, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.

Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 207: British Novelists since 1960, Third Series, Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 301-308.


Booklist, October 1, 2000, Donna Seaman, review of The PowerBook, p. 325; November 15, 2003, Gillian Engberg, review of The King of Capri, p. 604; October 1, 2006, Diana Tixier Herald, review of Tanglewreck, p. 54; March 15, 2008, Donna Seaman, review of The Stone Gods, p. 29.

Boston Herald, November 10, 2000, review of The Power-Book, p. 50.

Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1988, Alan Cheuse, review of The Passion.

Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1995, review of Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, p. 1761; August 15, 2003, review of The King of Capri, p. 279; December 15, 2004, review of Lighthousekeeping, p. 1164; February 1, 2008, review of The Stone Gods.

Library Journal, December, 2001, Nancy Pearl and Catherine Ritchie, "Out of the Closet: Gay Literature," p. 212.

Los Angeles Times, May 3, 1990, Richard Eder, review of Sexing the Cherry.

Nation, February 12, 1996, Kelleher Jewett, review of Art Objects, p. 30.

New York Times, April 27, 1990, Michiko Kakutani, review of Sexing the Cherry.

New York Times Book Review, April 29, 1990, Michael Gorra, review of Sexing the Cherry, p. 24; November 19, 2000, David Galef, review of The PowerBook.

Observer (London, England), August 27, 2000, Kate Kellaway, "She's Got the Power."

Publishers Weekly, February 23, 1990, review of Sexing the Cherry, p. 204; March 17, 1997, review of Gut Symmetries, p. 76; October 30, 2000, review of The PowerBook, p. 45; August 11, 2003, review of The King of Capri, p. 279; July 31, 2006, review of Tanglewreck, p. 75; January 28, 2008, review of The Stone Gods, p. 39.

School Library Journal, February, 2004, Wendy Lukehart, review of The King of Capri, p. 125.

Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 8, 1987, Joseph Olshan, review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, p. 8; December 3, 2000, review of The PowerBook, p. 6.

Washington Post, October 1, 1987, Sarah Gold, review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.

Washington Post Book World, May 13, 1990, review of Sexing the Cherry, p. 9; March 24, 1996, Michael Dirda, review of Art Objects, p. 3.


Jeanette Winterson Home Page, (July 14, 2008).

London Times Online, (June 22, 2006), Jane Wheatley, "Time Travel Is Child's Play."

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"Winterson, Jeanette 1959–." Something About the Author. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

"Winterson, Jeanette 1959–." Something About the Author. . (December 17, 2017).

"Winterson, Jeanette 1959–." Something About the Author. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from

Winterson, Jeanette


Nationality: British. Born: Lancashire in 1959. Education: St. Catherine's College, Oxford. Awards: Whitbread award, 1985; John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial prize, 1987. Address: c/o Bloomsbury, 2 Soho Square, London W1V 5DE, England.



Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. London, Pandora Press, 1985; New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1987.

Boating for Beginners. London, Methuen, 1985.

The Passion. London, Bloomsbury, 1987; New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1988.

Sexing the Cherry. London, Bloomsbury, and New York, Atlantic Monthly Press, 1989.

Written on the Body. London, Cape, 1992; New York, Knopf, 1993.

Art and Lies. London, Cape, 1994; New York, Knopf, 1995.

Gut Symmetries. New York, Knopf, 1997.

The PowerBook. New York, Knopf, 2000.

Short Stories

The World and Other Places. New York, Knopf, 1999.

Uncollected Short Stories

"Orion," in Winter's Tales 4 (new series), edited by Robin Baird-Smith. London, Constable, and New York, St. Martin's Press, 1988.

"The Green Man," in The New Yorker, 26 June-3 July 1995.


Radio Plays:

Static, 1988.

Television Plays:

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (series), from her own novel, 1990.


Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women Who Want to Live Well. London, Pandora Press, 1986.

Art Objects: Critical Essays. London, Cape, and New York, Knopf, 1995.

Editor, Passion Fruit: Romantic Fiction with a Twist. London, Pandora Press, 1986.


Critical Studies:

So Far So Linear: Responses to the Work of Jeanette Winterson by Christopher Pressler. Nottingham, England, Paupers' Press, 1997.

* * *

Jeanette Winterson is often described as one of the most controversial yet innovative fiction writers in contemporary English literature. Her promising beginnings as a young talent have been rounded off in the past decade and a half by an increasingly general acclaim. Her fiction has entered the literary canon but still resists categorization.

Winterson's is a dense epigrammatic prose rich in beautiful images and flights of fancy. Her fiction brings in a play of signifiers that result in a continuous deferral of meaning that suggests a number of alternative readings. While abounding in experimental narrative techniques and decentering strategies that have been associated with postmodernist writings, Winterson's texts also show a dialogic relationship with the modernist tradition, especially with Virginia Woolf, T. S. Eliot, and James Joyceas manifest in her volume of essays Art Objects. Winterson self-consciously questions the mechanisms by which narrative texts are produced and partakes of a clear penchant for fantasy, magical realism, and the fabulous. Postmodernist techniques, modernist tradition, metafiction, and magical realism are, however, mere instruments that Winterson deftly combines with a strong political commitment aimed at subverting socio-cultural power structures and, ultimately, at appropriating traditionally male-defined concepts for her lesbian politics.

Winterson began her literary career by reinventing herself in fiction. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is her only explicitly lesbian text to date. Not surprisingly, it has been widely understood as autobiographical: it tells the story of an adopted girl, significantly called Jeanette, growing up a lesbian inside a strict religious community. Oranges is both the most obvious example of Winterson's realist impulse and her first conscious attempt at deconstructing the opposition reality/fiction. Her rewriting the novel into a television script completed this Indian rope trick, which allowed the flesh-and-blood author to disappear behind a double fictionalization. Reading, or watching, Oranges as simply autobiographical would be, then, to disregard the complexity of layers that lie behind Jeanette's/Jess's story. Oranges manipulates several of the monologic narratives on which mainstream culture rests. It tells the story of Jeanette's quest for subjectivity and (homo)sexuality but rejects the traditional appropriation of the theory of the subject by the masculine and emphasizes instead the mother-daughter bonding as a counter-narrative of conventional masculine bondage that highlights female specificity and gender difference.

Boating for Beginners is euphemistically called an early work, despite its having been published immediately after Oranges. This disdainful attitude of the critics has been fuelled by Winterson herself, who regrets having written this "comic book" and separates it from her fiction experiment. Full of funny sketches, Boating rewrites another Biblical episode, the Flood and Noah's Ark. In Winterson's fiction, God has not created men, it is Noah that makes God "by accident out of a piece of gateau and a giant electric toaster." Told by a homodiegetic adolescent female narrator, Gloria, who struggles to find her own identity in a world of distorted fictions that pass for unquestionable realities, the story has many issues in common with Oranges. It is, above all, a demystification of religion, romantic love, and heterosexuality. Gloria, together with the reader, learns to distrust all these long-established truths and to re-evaluate the neglected potential of storytelling.

"Stories were all we had," says Henri, the male protagonist of Winterson's The Passion, which together with Sexing the Cherry constitute two examples of "historiographic metafiction." In these two novels Winterson expands on her quarrel with the nature of time, the instability of the self, love and desire, narrative, and historical discourse that she had initiated in Oranges : "History should be a hammock for swinging and a game for playing, the way cats play. Claw it, chew it, rearrange it." If history is discourse, the notions of objectivity and verisimilitude no longer hold. History is shown to be subjective, limited, biased and open to revision and recontextualization. The Passion is situated in the aftermath of the French Revolution and the rise and fall of Napoleon Bonaparte. It combines the life stories of two character-narrators, Henri, a French soldier-cook from the ranks and files of Bonaparte, and Villanelle, a Venetian bisexual woman who has webbed feet like the men in her society. Set in Puritan England in the years of the English Civil War, the Great Plague, and the Great Fire of London, Sexing the Cherry is also told by two different voices, the Rabelaisian Dog Womana sublime portrait of excess that was prefigured by Jeanette's mother in Oranges and Jordan, a foundling brought by the river to the childless Dog Woman, who travels both physically and mentally in search of his flying selfrepresented in the story by Fortunata, one of the Twelve Dancing Princesses. In both texts Winterson blends high and low art by pairing T. S. Eliot's Four Quartets with Tarot cards and fairy tales. By means of intertextuality, Winterson exposes linguistic and narrative conventions and provides alternative versions of history that focus on groups of people who have been marginalized by official history.

Written on the Body explores the nature of love, desire, and sexuality at the same time as it experiments with the limits of narrative by taking structure away. Having proved in her previous fictions that there is no such thing as a univocal fixed sexual identity, Winterson's character-narrator is unnamed and ungendered. Its storyan obsessive passion for a married woman, Louise, who has decided to leave her husband, a cancer-researcher, but who may be dying from leukemiais not set in a particular place or time. There is no suspense because the whole story is already revealed in the first pages of the book. Written on the Body is Winterson's proof that a story should not be reduced to its plot, that conventions and clichés in narrative do not make good books just as conventions and clichés are useless when talking about love. Winterson's account of abnegation and loss in Written on the Body is an overt critique of romance narratives with their long established sexual roles, their happy endings, and their formulaic expressions. Winterson demonstrates that true love is original and poetic even when the lover resorts to anatomy textbooks for its imagery.

The nature of love, time, and art are again at the core of Art and Lies, a difficult book that has received the harshest criticism together with the most passionate acclamation of the author's oeuvre. The book is a time travel experience for the reader, who shares a high-speed train with Picasso, a young artist escaping from a sexually and emotionally abusive family; Handel, a disillusioned priest turned breast surgeon; and Sappho, the historical poet who, like Woolf's Orlando, has been alive since antiquity. As the title suggests, Art and Lies is more of a philosophical digression about art as artifice and invention than a story in the traditional sense of the term. It criticizes the Platonic notion of art as mimesis and reverences the power of the word. For Winterson art and, by extension, literature, do not simply reflect reality but construct it in and through language. Therefore art and literature not only have the potential but also the responsibility to change givens by opening up endless, more comprehensive possibilities.

Literature becomes multi-dimensional and cosmic in Gut Symmetries. Like Art and Lies the story is told by three different voices, each giving a particular version of the "events." Stella and Jove are a married couple but they "live on different planets." Stella refuses passion because feelings are always painful. Jove is a renowned physicist who works in a new model of the cosmos and lectures on time travel and "The World and Other Places." Alice, also a physicist, brings in a double love affair as she falls in love with both Jove and Stella. Stella, Jove, and Alice are placed in a floating space, a boat, where everything is unstable. There is no conventional plotline, characters are not too convincing, and there is no passion in their love affairs. Passion, though, oozes from Winterson's dense poetic writing, which sublimates the eternal love triangle by making it a part of physics' Grand Unified Theory, the metaphor contained in the title of the book. Gut Symmetries is structured by Tarot cards, alchemy, and cabalistic theology, on the one hand, and by quantum physics and geometry on the other. The result seems to be a world that is both real and virtual, material and philosophical.

Apart from being the title of Jove's lecture in Gut Symmetries, The World and Other Places is Winterson's only collection of short stories, an open window to Winterson's creative trajectory. Written over a period of twelve years beginning soon after the publication of Oranges, these stories chart Winterson's preoccupation with the nature of time, the nature of love in its multiple forms, the search for the self as journey or quest, and the figure of the outsider either in the form of a stranger or because a character is marginalized by society. All these are not only key issues but also leitmotifs in each of Winterson's fictions. It is not surprising, then, that some of these stories prefigure Winterson's major books. "The Three Friends" is an especially significant example in this respect because it is an interlude in Gut Symmetries and resonates with echoes of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Like Jove, Winterson keeps on experimenting on a new model of the cosmos free from the constricting power of gravity. Her fiction transports her readers into a space where time is suspended. Her critical poise, her wonderful way with words, and her ability for outrageous humor are all at the service of feeling and imagination.

Mar Asensio-Aróstegui

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"Winterson, Jeanette." Contemporary Novelists. . 17 Dec. 2017 <>.

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"Winterson, Jeanette." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from