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.
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.
Tanglewreck, Bloomsbury Children's Books (New York, NY), 2006.
NOVELS FOR ADULTS
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.
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 Salon.com 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.
London Times Online,http://www.timesonline.co.uk/ (June 22, 2006), Jane Wheatley, "Time Travel Is Child's Play."
"Winterson, Jeanette 1959–." Something About the Author. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/winterson-jeanette-1959
"Winterson, Jeanette 1959–." Something About the Author. . Retrieved September 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/children/scholarly-magazines/winterson-jeanette-1959
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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.
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.
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.*
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 Joyce—as 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 Woman—a 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 self—represented 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 story—an obsessive passion for a married woman, Louise, who has decided to leave her husband, a cancer-researcher, but who may be dying from leukemia—is 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.
"Winterson, Jeanette." Contemporary Novelists. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/winterson-jeanette
"Winterson, Jeanette." Contemporary Novelists. . Retrieved September 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/education/news-wires-white-papers-and-books/winterson-jeanette
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BORN: 1959, Manchester, England
NATIONALITY: British, English
GENRE: Fiction, nonfiction
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
Sexing the Cherry (1989)
The PowerBook (2000)
The Stone Gods (2007)
Provocative and talented, Jeanette Winterson has influenced both popular and literary culture in England. Whether writing newspaper articles or novels, she is unafraid of controversy and never apologizes for her moral stances on topics ranging from women's rights to global politics. By challenging such institutions as marriage and family, Winterson aims to transcend established boundaries of gender and sexual identity with her presentation of a feminine perspective of passion, romantic love, and the search for self-knowledge. Inspired by the modernists, Winterson writes fiction that combines intriguing characters with postmodern self-consciousness, at the same time exploring unconventional concepts of reality and dimension.
Works in Biographical and Historical Context
Adoption and Missionary Training Winterson was born in Manchester, England, on August 27, 1959. Adopted in infancy by Pentecostal evangelists John and Constance Winterson, she grew up in Lancashire, in northern England. Winterson's father worked in a local television factory. Her mother, a religious zealot, oversaw her education, limiting the literature available in their household to the Bible as she trained her daughter to become a missionary. At the age of eight, Winterson was composing sermons, a practice that sharpened the rhetoric skills she would later use in her career as a writer. During her teenage years, she became a voracious reader when, in a public library, she discovered the wide worlds of literature and history beyond the Bible.
On Her Own: Leaving Home After being scorned by her family and rejected by the church for having an affair with one of its female converts, Winterson left home when she was sixteen, supporting herself by working odd jobs as a makeup artist in a funeral parlor, an ice cream vendor, and an orderly in a psychiatric hospital. During this time, Margaret Thatcher was the prime minister of the United Kingdom, a leader not popular among many people in the working class, most particularly for her emphatic stance against trade unions. In 1981, Winterson received a master's degree in English from St. Catherine's College, Oxford. After an editor, who was interviewing Winterson for a position at Pandora Press in 1985, admired her gift for language and storytelling, Winterson began writing creatively.
Reinventing Life in Fiction Winterson began her literary career by reinventing her life in fiction. When Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit debuted in 1985, it was an immediate critical and popular sensation and won the 1985 Whitbread First Novel Award, despite its openly lesbian theme and its controversial view of family and religious values. At once sardonic and comedic, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit remains noteworthy as Winterson's most overtly autobiographical and structurally conventional work.
Although Winterson's second novel, Boating for Beginners (1985), a satiric rendition of the biblical story of Noah, was less successful, her next two novels garnered important literary awards: the John Llewellyn Rhys Prize for The Passion (1987) and the E. M. Forster Award for Sexing the Cherry. She also won a British Academy of Film and Television Arts award for her 1990 screenplay adaptation of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
Human Possibility and Truth In 1992, a major change in Winterson's writing emerged: She was moving away from magical realism. That year, Written on the Body was published. The novel is mostly a plotless narrative that explores gender and sexual identity while addressing the problems involved in conveying a love story without succumbing to romantic cliché. Art and Lies followed in 1994. This novel is another deviation from her earlier work in that it uses Handel, Picasso, and Sappho as characters who examine not only sexuality, but also art, music, and philosophy. Winterson's message here concerns the responsibility of art to transcend what is known, thereby revealing human possibility and life's truths.
Although Winterson's next work of fiction, Gut Symmetries (1997), contains allusions to such disparate subjects as fairy tales and quantum physics, it defiescategorization as fantasy or science fiction. Similarly, The PowerBook (2002) cannot be considered science fiction, despite delving into the possibilities of technology by investigating the impact of e-mail and the Internet on writers, as well as the whole of literature. In 2002, Winterson adapted The PowerBook for the Royal National Theatre London and the Theatre de Chaillot, Paris.
Artistic Versatility and Personal Life An author of many talents, Winterson has also written children's stories, including The King of Capri (2003), Lighthouse-keeping (2004), and Tanglewreck (2006). The Stone Gods (2007) is a return to fantasy and science fiction. Currently, Winterson divides her time between a cottage in the woods of Gloucestershire and an apartment in London, located above Verdes, a natural foods shop she owns. In addition to writing regularly for various newspapers in the United Kingdom, Winterson is at work on a series of Internet films with the BBC.
LITERARY AND HISTORICAL CONTEMPORARIES
Winterson's famous contemporaries include:
Deborah Tannen (1945–): Tannen's linguistic books, such as That's Not What I Meant!, focus on everyday conversations and the effects they have on relationships.
Maya Lin (1959–): Lin is an American sculptor best known for designing the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington D.C.
Annie Dillard (1945–): Dillard won the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, a combination of meditative observations of nature and philosophical explorations that some consider a work of mysticism.
Angela Carter (1940–1992): With its blend of fairy tales, parody, myth, and gothic components, Carter's work deliberately challenges the realistic representation of British writing during the 1960s.
Carol Ann Duffy (1955–): Duffy is a Scottish-born playwright and poet whose work often deals with time, change, and loss, in addition to social criticism.
Dorothy Allison (1949–): Centered around a girl's abuse and molestation by her stepfather, Bastard Out of Carolina, Allison's semiautobiographical novel, also offers a look at the depth of a dysfunctional mother-daughter relationship.
Works in Literary Context
Magical Realism Winterson's early exposure to the stories, characters, poetic rhythms, and morality of the Bible has left its mark on her work since the beginning of her career. Even more influential, however, have been literary classics and modernist writers, including T. S. Eliot, Virginia Woolf, Ezra Pound, and Gertrude Stein, writers whose ideas have motivated Winterson to create new realms for fiction. Winterson's caustic satire is frequently compared to that of Jonathan Swift, her magical realism to that of Gabriel García Márquez, her textual experimentation and adaptation of myth and fairy tale to that of Italo Calvino. Some critics have even attributed Winterson's comedic abilities to the influence of Monty Python.
Supported by a strong narrative drive, works of magical realism blend elements of dreams, myths, or fairy tales with everyday occurrences; what is realistic merges with what is inexplicable. Because of her ability to combine historical events with the mythical elements of fairy tales, Winterson has found a place in the school of magical realism alongside such storytellers as Angela Carter and Jorge Luis Borges. For Winterson, who masterfully manipulates narrative forms and storytelling, play between the fantastic and the real is meant to contradict readers' expectations and reveal the power of imagination. This intention is clear in the “Book of Deuteronomy” in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: “People like to separate storytelling which is not fact from history whichis fact. They do this so that they know what to believe and what not to believe.” By rewriting fairy tales and myths, along with creating new ones of her own, Winter-son confronts the absurdity that passes for truth in traditional history.
Literary Legacy Most likely a result of her unwavering belief in the power of literature to transform one's life, Winterson's body of work exhibits many different themes. The nature of love, the discovery of one's sexual identity, the implications of time, the search for self, the functions of art—all are themes that Winterson explores, at the same time continuing to challenge literary and social standards. In her diligent pursuit of new possibilities for the genre of fiction, Winterson reveals a commitment to linguistic and artistic experimentation that will surely benefit generations of writers to come.
Works in Critical Context
Because she is simultaneously one of the most original and controversial voices to have emerged in British fiction during the late twentieth century, Winterson evokes deeply divided critical response. In The New York Times, Michiko Kakutani praised Winterson as a writer who “possesses an ability to dazzle the reader by creating wondrous worlds in which the usual laws of plausibility are suspended.” Many critics also commend Winterson's finesse in infusing feminist beliefs into the traditional fairy-tale form. Others, however, consider her to be a writer who lacks the talent to repeat the brilliance of her debut novel. These are the same people who claim that Winterson's subsequent work is self-absorbed and resorts to sentimentality and superficial devices to gain attention.
Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit Most reviewers agree that Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit demonstrates exceptional humor, talent, and skill. Critic Jonathan Keates remarks, “[The] comic detachment with which the narrator beats off the grotesque spiritual predatoriness surrounding her is matter for applause.” Certainly, the manner in which Jeanette interacts with her mother is one of deadpan wit. Some critics contend that the humorous parables interjected into the narrative of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit reflect Jeanette's sexual identity crisis and spiritual confusion. As such, the novel is considered a work of unparalleled originality. Others, like critic Lyn Pykett, prefer the “gritty realism” of this work to her later efforts.
COMMON HUMAN EXPERIENCE
Many of Winterson's novels feature what literary scholars call “unreliable narrators”: voices that may or may not be telling the truth. Other authors have used the device of the unreliable narrator to great effect. Their works include:
As I Lay Dying (1930), a novel by William Faulkner. Written as a series of interior monologues from different characters, this work presents events from a variety of perspectives. The characters, all deeply flawed, often shape their telling of the story to suit themselves.
“My Last Duchess” (1842) and “Soliloquy of the Spanish Cloister” (1842), poems by Robert Browning. In both of these dramatic monologues, the speakers gradually reveal aspects of their true character of which they themselves are not aware.
Vantage Point (2008), a film directed by Pete Travis. In this movie, five witnesses recount what they saw during an assassination attempt on the president of the United States.
Personal Criticism Winterson the individual has earned the same degree of divisive criticism as her work. While many readers regard Winterson to be a fresh, innovative literary voice, detractors believe she is conceited, so much so that her self-importance overshadows her work. Without a doubt, Winterson is proud of her accomplishment and gift for the written word. In fact, she offended many people by nominating herself as the greatest living writer in the English language and by choosing her Written on the Body as Book of the Year in 1992. Because of such hubris, she has been deemed too arrogant and self-aggrandizing for the literary world.
Responses to Literature
- Many writers have based their fiction on actual events in their lives. Anne Sexton and Sylvia Plath, for example, wrote confessional poetry that revealed intimacies not previously seen in poetry. What do you think about these writers who “bare their souls” in their work? What is the tradition of this style? How does talk-show television perpetuate the confessional trend?
- Consider the characters' perspectives on evolution versus creation in Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. What statement do you think Winterson is making about the debate between religion and science? How does this statement relate to religious debate today? In your own belief system, how do you reconcile the fundamentals of religion with scientific advancement?
- In an interview, Winterson said, “Always in my books, I like to throw that rogue element into a stable situation and then see what happens.” How does having knowledge of this technique affect your reading of Winterson's work? What are some examples of rogue elements that you might use when writing a short story or novel?
- The settings for love stories portrayed in Winterson's novels have ranged from the French Revolution to cyberspace. When you considered her fiction as an ongoing whole, what truth, potential, and resolution do you believe Winterson offers in regard to love?
O'Rourke, Rebecca. “Fingers in the Fruit Basket: A Feminist Reading of Jeanette Winterson's Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.” In Feminist Criticism: Theory and Practice. Edited by Susan Sellers. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 1991.
Anshaw, Carol. “Into the Mystic: Jeanette Winterson's Fable of Manners.” Village Voice, June 12, 1990, 516–17.
Gerrard, Nicci. “The Prophet.” New Statesman and Society 2 (September 1, 1989): 12–13.
Hind, Hilary. “Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit: Reaching Audiences Other Lesbian Texts Cannot Reach.” New Statesman and Society 2 (September 1, 1989): 12–13.
Marvel, Mark. “Jeanette Winterson: Trust Me, I'm Telling You Stories.” Interview XX 10 (October 1990): 162, 168.
Kakutani, Michiko. “Books of The Times: A Journey Through Time, Space and Imagination.” Retrieved April 14, 2008, from http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0CEFDF1031F934A15757C0A966958260&sec=&spon=&pagewanted=2#.
Smith, Jules. “Jeanette Winterson.” Retrieved April 4, 2008, from http://www.contemporarywriters.com/authors/?p=auth100“.
"Winterson, Jeanette." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Encyclopedia.com. (September 22, 2018). http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/winterson-jeanette
"Winterson, Jeanette." Gale Contextual Encyclopedia of World Literature. . Retrieved September 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/winterson-jeanette