Winterson, Jeanette 1959–
Winterson, Jeanette 1959–
PERSONAL: Born August 27, 1959, in Manchester, England; daughter of a factory worker and Constance (Brownrigg) Winterson. Education: St. Catherine's College, Oxford, M.A., 1981.
AWARDS, HONORS: Whitbread Award for best first novel, Booksellers Association of Great Britain and Ireland, 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.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (also see below), Pandora Press (London, England), 1985, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1987.
Boating for Beginners, illustrations by Paula Youens, Methuen (London, England), 1985.
The Passion, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1987, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1988.
Sexing the Cherry, Bloomsbury (London, England), 1989, Atlantic Monthly Press (New York, NY), 1990.
Written on the Body, J. Cape (London, England), 1992, 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.
(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), produced 1986.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (television screenplay; adapted from Winterson's novel; produced 1991), published in Great Moments in Aviation; and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Two Filmscripts, Vintage (London, England), 1994.
Great Moments in Aviation (screenplay; produced 1993), published in Great Moments in Aviation; and Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Two Filmscripts, 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.
The King of Capri (for children), illustrations by Jane Ray, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2003.
WORK IN PROGRESS: An Internet project for the BBC.
SIDELIGHTS: Jeanette Winterson is an English writer who has drawn attention due to the radical nature of both her literary works and her sexuality. A Contemporary Novelists contributor noted that Winterson "is often described as one of the most controversial yet innovative fiction writers in contemporary English literature," while Laura Miller commented in Salon.com that Winterson "has a reputation as a holy terror, a lesbian desperado and a literary genius." A Gay and Lesbian Biography writer affirmed that Winterson "has challenged the conventions of the novel form," and Ann Hancock observed in Dictionary of Literary Biography that the outspoken author is "the most visible lesbian writer in mainstream British culture." Kelleher Jewett, meanwhile, acknowledged Winterson in a Nation review, as "one of England's hottest … writers and London's most celebrated literary lesbian."
Winterson began her literary career in 1985 with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, a novel about an adopted daughter's ties to her mother, a religious fanatic. The heroine, Jeanette, is raised to perceive sin as ever present, and she blindly adheres to her mother's plans for her to become a missionary. A social outsider, Jeanette serves her mother's organization, Society for the Lost, and regularly participates in church functions and activities, including prayer meetings and the dispensation of materials at street corners. But she also falls in love with another church member, Melanie, with whom she enjoys sexual relations. After discovering the affair, Jeanette's mother openly humiliates the lovers at a church service. Jeanette ultimately enters into another lesbian love affair, then comes to realize that she must make some important decisions about her life.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which won England's Whitbread Prize for best first novel in 1985, earned Winterson substantial acclaim as a novelist. Joseph Olshan, in his review for Chicago's Tribune Books, hailed the author's literary debut as a "daring, unconventionally comic novel" and he deemed it "penetrating." Another reviewer, John Clute, wrote in New Statesman of Winterson's "brisk, glittering, vengeful accuracy … for detail and character and the taut strength of her handling of material." Equally impressed, Sarah Gold commented in Washington Post that Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is "a strikingly quirky, delicate and intricate work," and Roz Kaveney praised it in Times Literary Supplement as an "excellent" novel. In Contemporary Popular Writers the novelist received recognition for her handling of the heroine's lesbianism. "Though some critics have chided Winterson for not exploring the issue of lesbian identity," wrote the book's essayist, "the fact that Jeanette's lesbianism is simply one fact of her life and not the central issue in [the novel] … is one of its most positive attributes."
Winterson followed Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit with Boating for Beginners, a novel—as David Lodge noted in New York Review of Books—that "transfers the story of Noah to our own commercialized and media-ridden times." Lodge described the novel as "an extremely funny travesty" and added that "the comedy is often blasphemous, [but] it is based on affection for as well as familiarity with the Bible."
In 1987 Winterson received the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize for The Passion, an historical novel wherein a cook from Napoleon Bonaparte's army befriends a woman whose husband sold her to a cruel soldier after discovering her affair with another woman. The cook and the woman eventually undertake a treacherous trek across the wintery Russian landscape in an effort to reach Venice, where the heroine hopes to regain her sense of self. Chicago Tribune reviewer Alan Cheuse found The Passion a compelling, powerful work. "If you require strong medicine for your heart before bedtime," Cheuse advised, "take this novel in a few large doses." David Lodge, meanwhile, declared in New York Review of Books that the novel "represents a remarkable advance in boldness and invention" when contrasted with Winterson's earlier works.
Sexing the Cherry is a fantastical historical work about a young man's magical adventures in seventeenth-century England. Found floating down the Thames River as a newborn, the hero—Jordan—is raised by Dog-Woman, a foul-smelling, pock-marked giantess. Jordan eventually leaves his squalid home, which is inhabited by more than two dozen dogs, and sets sail with a botanist determined to bring rare plants back to England. The hero's travels take him to magical realms, including a land of flying princesses. He falls in love with the youngest of these females and expends considerable energy, and imagination, in attempting to meet her. Dog-Woman, meanwhile, affords a second narration, fighting in military conflicts and opposing religious injustices. Her path eventually crosses with that of the wandering Jordan, and the novel culminates in some surprising and timely revelations.
Sexing the Cherry won praise as a provocative, entertaining, and occasionally experimental novel. Los Angeles Times reviewer Richard Eder contrasted the novel with James Joyce's Finnegan's Wake, and New York Times critic Michiko Kakutani deemed it "wonderfully inventive." Kakutani added that 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." Another critic, Nancy Wigston, likened Sexing the Cherry to works of Swift and Italian novelist Italo Calvino, and she claimed, in her Toronto Globe and Mail appraisal, that the book "shows an astonishing imagination at work." Wigston contended that "Winterson combines the outlook of a philosopher with the energy of a catapult," and further declared that Sexing the Cherry "sparkles with youthful virtuosity." Michael Gorra, meanwhile, wrote in New York Times Book Review that Sexing the Cherry "fuses history, fairy tale and metafiction into a fruit that's rather crisp, not terribly sweet, but of a memorably startling flavor."
In Winterson's Written on the Body, an unnamed narrator recalls a love affair with a married woman, Louise. The novel focuses on the nature of physical passion and the meaning of desire, and it includes both straightforward narrative and prose poems in which the narrator honors Louise. In addition, as Terry L. Allison related in Gay and Lesbian Literature, in her fiction Winterson "removes some of the familiarity of gendered and sexed roles in lovemaking." Andree Pages, writing in American Book Review, criticized the novel as "overly dramatic and unconvincing at times" and commented that "the plot is often unnecessarily baroque." Despite these criticisms, Pages called Winterson "an amazing writer" and noted that in Written on the Body she "achieves a real depth of feeling, a savoring of sex and the body and life itself." Aurelie Jane Sheehan, meanwhile, found the novel "funny and sexy." Asserting that the narrator is a woman, Sheehan added, in her Review of Contemporary Fiction appraisal, that Written on the Body "is a joy even in its most serious moments."
The novel Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd offers three loosely connected plot lines centering around characters named Handel, Sappho, and Picasso, all of whom assume multiple identities. Ann Hancock, writing in Dictionary of Literary Biography, described the novel as "a complete departure from realism." Julie Burchill proved less diplomatic, contending in Spectator, "This is not beautiful writing, despite its frantic claims to the title." She added that Art and Lies constitutes "a garish, artificial, bejewelled mechanical nightingale of a prose style." Mary Scott expressed similar disapproval, claiming in New Statesman and Society that "the one voice in which all the narrators eventually speak becomes dominant" and adding that "it isn't very pleasant and it swiftly destroys the book's power." Times Literary Supplement contributor Lorna Sage accorded the novel a more positive assessment, characterizing it as "safely good." Sage also noted: "Winterson writes beautifully about the value of lightness, about the thrills you can engineer for yourself if you stop trying to represent the world."
In 1997 Winterson published her seventh novel, Gut Symmetries, which relates the sometimes grim, sometimes fantastical aspects of a love triangle in which a husband and wife conduct separate affairs with a young woman. Ann Hancock, in an essay for Dictionary of Literary Biography, expressed reservations about the novel's "incorporation of contemporary scientific theory," but nonetheless conceded that "Winterson's talent for evoking the physicality of passionate feeling is impressive" and added that "the lyricism of Winterson's descriptive writing can be masterful." Similarly, Christopher Paddock wrote in Review of Contemporary Fiction, "Gut Symmetries proves its author's dynamic sense of language." Paddock acknowledged the novel as "a solid addition to an already stellar body of work." Less favorably inclined, Rhonda Johnson concluded in Entertainment Weekly that Gut Symmetries degenerates into "self-conscious posturing," while a Publishers Weekly reviewer contended that it "drifts too far from the loamy shores of the heart and gut."
Winterson takes further experimentation in The.PowerBook, her novel about an e-mail writer who creates online identities for customers who thereupon find themselves, as a Boston Herald reviewer wrote, undergoing experiences that leave them "profoundly changed." Kate Kellaway, writing in the London Observer, remarked that the novel "looks like an Apple Mac manual," and she added that "sometimes [it] reads like a DIY bible." At her Internet home page, Winterson noted the experimental nature of The.PowerBook: "The shape of the book, its structure, its language, is a different way of working." Elaine Showalter cautioned in Guardian, however, that "The.PowerBook is not a playful postmodern experiment" but a novel that "uses the metaphor of email to discuss sexual freedom and power." Reviewer E. Jane Dickson described The.PowerBook in the London Independent as "a heaving, millennial effort of a novel," while David Galef concluded in New York Times Book Review that Winterson "should stop e-mailing and get back to work."
In addition to writing novels, Winterson has completed several screenplays, a children's book, a book on women's health issues, and the collection Art Objects: Es-says on Ecstasy and Effrontery. While a Kirkus Reviews contributor dubbed Art Objects "self-important," Michael Dirda averred in Washington Post Book World that the work shows its author's characteristic—and welcome—tendency to provoke, adding: "Anyone who values literature will want to keep these essays around, to argue with, marvel at, find consolation in."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Allen, Carolyn, Following Djuna: Women Lovers and the Erotics of Loss, Indiana University Press (Bloomington, IN), 1996.
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, Thomson Gale (Detroit, MI), 1999, pp. 301-308.
Gay and Lesbian Biography, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1997.
Gay and Lesbian Literature, St. James Press (Detroit, MI), 1994, pp. 422-424.
American Book Review, March, 1995, Andree Pages, review of Written on the Body, p. 19.
Boston Herald, November 10, 2000, review of The.PowerBook, p. 50.
Chicago Tribune, July 5, 1988, Alan Cheuse, review of The Passion.
Entertainment Weekly, May 9, 1997, Rhonda Johnson, review of Gut Symmetries, p. 77.
Globe and Mail (Toronto, Ontario, Canada), March 31, 1990, Nancy Wigston, review of Sexing the Cherry.
Guardian (Manchester, England), August 27, 2000, Kate Kellaway, "She's Got the Power"; September 2, 2000, Elaine Showalter, "Eternal Triangles."
Independent (London, England), September 2, 2000, E. Jane Dickson, "Dot.com Dominatrix."
Kirkus Reviews, December 15, 1995, review of Art Objects: Essays on Ecstasy and Effrontery, p. 1761.
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.
Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, April, 1995, p. 34.
Nation, February 12, 1996, Kelleher Jewett, review of Art Objects, p. 30.
New Statesman, April 12, 1985, John Clute, review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, p. 25; July 1, 1994, Mary Scott, review of Art and Lies, p. 38.
New York Review of Books, September 29, 1988, David Lodge, review of The Passion, pp. 25-26.
New York Times, April 27, 1990.
New York Times Book Review, November 8, 1987, p. 26; April 29, 1990, Michael Gorra, review of Sexing the Cherry, p. 24; February 14, 1993, p. 10; March 26, 1995, p. 14; February 25, 1996, p. 20; November 19, 2000, David Galef, review of The.PowerBook.
Observer (London, England), August 27, 2000, Kate Kellaway, "She's Got the Power."
Publishers Weekly, March 17, 1997, review of Gut Symmetries, p. 76.
Review of Contemporary Fiction, fall, 1993, Aurelie Jane Sheehan, review of Written on the Body, p. 208; fall, 1997, review of Gut Symmetries, p. 225.
Spectator, June 25, 1994, Julie Burchill, review of Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd, p. 26.
Times Literary Supplement, March 22, 1985, p. 326; November 1, 1985, p. 1228; June 17, 1994, p. 22.
Tribune Books (Chicago, IL), November 8, 1987, Joseph Olshan, review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Washington Post, October 1, 1987, Sarah Gold, review of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Washington Post Book World, May 13, 1990, p. 9; March 24, 1996, Michael Dirda, review of Art Objects, p. 3.
Salon.com, http://www.salon.com/ (April, 1997), Laura Miller, "Rogue Element."