The A-Z

Jeanette Winterson

Take a trip to the exotic, colourful, passionate world of Jeanette Winterson, author of Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion, and Sexing the Cherry. Here's our handy A to Z guide of what to expect there...


A is for Arch Enemies

These should be identified, itemised and eliminated. Well, so says Mrs Winterson, the Old Testament-inclined matriarch of Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, whose list of nemeses is extensive:

The Devil (in his many forms)
Next Door
Sex (in its many forms)

B is for Beliefs

Beliefs are behind myriad conflicts in the world of Winterson, and quite the conundrum arises in Written on the Body when feminism tussles with romanticism:

'She knew the Eiffel Tower was a hideous symbol of phallic oppression but when ordered by her commander to detonate the lift so that no-one should unthinkingly scale an erection, her mind filled with young romantics gazing over Paris and opening aerograms that said Je t'aime.'

C is for Cosmos

Though the universe is nicknamed the cosmic dustbin by Mrs Winterson, Jordan in Sexing the Cherry is a bit more awestruck by the whole thing:

'If I were up there on the moon, or by the Milky Way, I'd want to feel the stars around my head. I'd want them in my hair the way they are in paintings of the gods.'

D is for Dining Decisions

From the personal dignity of whelks to the nightmare-inducing qualities of sardines, the selection of food is no piece of cake. All advice is welcome then, especially in The Powerbook:

'A friend once warned me never to consider taking as a lover anyone who disliked either artichokes or champagne… better advice might have been never to order artichokes or champagne with someone who should not be your lover.'

E is for Exorcism (see also: Unnatural Passions)

A lengthy procedure traditionally involving the laying-on of hands, exhortations of renunciation, and, when the teenaged Jeanette has her demons banished in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, endless Earl Grey tea:

'My mother made cups of tea and forgot to wash the dirty ones. The parlour was full of cups. Mrs White sat on one and cut herself, someone else spilt theirs, but they didn't stop.'

F is for Fairytales

Fairytales abound in these realms: The hunchback who milked goats, the story of Winnet and the wizard, the hunter who turned into a fox – not forgetting the dancing princess who (spoiler alert) fell in love with a mermaid:

'After a few months of illicit meetings, my husband complaining all the time that I stank of fish, I ran away and began housekeeping with her in perfect bliss.'

G is for Gambling

In Venetian casinos, aboard a Royal frigate in uncharted seas, or just with someone else's heart – gambling is the rule of the day in the Winterson principalities, as spelt out in The Passion:

'You play, you win, you play, you lose. You play.'

H is for Hearts

Hearts have a terrible habit of being removed, or stolen, or preserved in a jar by a ne'er-do-well lover in her six storey house – and even if hearts evade third party interference, the troublesomeness persists:

'It is easier to track a barnacle goose than to track the trajectories of the heart.'

I is for Incognito

Sure, '90s Britpop harped on about girls who were boys who liked boys to be girls (etc), but was the career advancement potential afforded by gender-disguise ever highlighted? No. For tips, head to Sexing the Cherry:

'After my experience in the pen of prostitutes, I decided to continue as a woman for a time and took a job on a fish stall.'

J is Johnny Cash, Jesus and Jane Eyre

Three heroes for Mrs Winterson; the first two unconditionally, the latter only once the unseemly Mr Rochester has been excised, as Jeanette later discovers:

'I found out, that dreadful day in the back corner of the library, that Jane doesn't marry St. John at all, that she goes back to Mr Rochester.'

K is for Knowledge

Or rather, knowledge of oneself - an important attribute, often propagated in abbreviated form. Please see below for the motto in its entirety, excavated in Art & Lies:

'"Know thyself," said Sappho, "and make sure that the Church never finds out."'

L is for Love (see also: Hearts)

Invariably perilous: manifests itself as a hazardous liquid to be contained, an ice berg that'll sink you, and in fact:

'Another way of writing FALL IN LOVE is WALK THE PLANK.'

M is for Marriage (see also: No)

Marriage can sometimes end happily ever after:

'My own husband? Oh well, the first time I kissed him he turned into a frog. There he is, just by your foot. His name's Anton.'

N is for No (see also: Marriage)

A not unusual response to a marriage proposal here; to be embellished as seen fit:

'I shook him off shouting that I'd never marry him, not for all the Veuve Clicquot in France nor a Venice full of codpieces.'

O is for Oranges are Not the Only Fruit

Such is the preponderance of alternatives when travelling in the regions of Winterson (pineapples, bananas, grapes and pomegranates), that scurvy won't be an issue during your stay.

P is for Painting

Like all creative endeavours, painting is treated with suspicion when it gets its claws into women:

'Picasso's father didn't mind how much his daughter read. It was the painting he disliked. He felt it revealed an excess of testosterone.'

Q is for Quantum Mechanics of Time Travel

Jordan's theory on the nature of time in Sexing the Cherry is much easier to understand:

'Lies 1: There is only the present and nothing to remember.
Lies 2: Time is a straight line.
Lies 3: The difference between the past and the future is that one has happened while the other has not.
Lies 4: We can only be in one place at a time.'

R is for Romance (see also: Hearts; Love)

Is never what it's cracked up to be:

'"Was it romance you wanted?"
"Doesn't everyone?"
"Download Romeo & Juliet"
"Teenage sex."
"Wuthering Heights."
"The weather's bad and I hate the clothes."'

S is for Stories

Fact, fiction, history, art, lies, autobiography – the world of Winterson is no place for labels. What matters is:

'I'm telling you stories. Trust me.'

T is for Tulip Bulbs

You'll never buy them for your mum again after The Powerbook:

'Well, where would you store a precious pair of bulbs?
That gave me the idea.
In the same place as a priceless pair of balls!
Yes! Yes! Yes!'

U is for Unnatural Passions (see also: Exorcism)

Feared by the flock, embraced by the young Jeanette in Oranges are Not the Only Fruit, it's unnatural passions that land her in trouble with the Pastor:

'"The demon," he announced very slowly, "had returned sevenfold."'

V is for Vigilantism

Taking the law into your own hands isn't a rare occurrence, and The Dog Woman of Sexing the Cherry exhibits an admirable attitude towards public duty:

'I snatch world leaders from motorcades… I force all the fat ones to go on a diet and all the men line up for compulsory training in feminism and ecology.'

W is for Words

The ultimate gift: no receipts needed, and they don't expire like John Lewis vouchers.

'My companion… caught a sonnet in a wooden box and gave it to me as a memento. If I open the box by the tiniest amount I may hear it, repeating itself endlessly.'

X is for X Marks the Spot

So says any treasure-hunter, and in Winterson Land, every lover is such:

'"Explore me," you said and I collected my ropes, flasks and maps, expecting to be back home soon. I dropped into the mass of you and I cannot find the way out.'

Y is for Yorkshire

Apparently not conducive to grand passions. Just ask the narrator of Written on the Body:

'"The trouble with you is that you want to live in a novel."
"Rubbish. I never read novels. Except Russian ones."
"They're the worst. This isn't War and Peace, honey. This is Yorkshire."'

Z is for Zzzzzz

Snores of boredom and inertia (NB: these will feature NOT AT ALL during your jaunt with Jeanette).

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