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Jeanette Wintersons life

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester in 1959. She was adopted by Jack and Constance Winterson and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire. Her adoptive parents were members of a Pentecostal Evangelical congregation and trained her to become a missionary. Her education was restricted to the Bible and few other books. Her emerging lesbianism led her to break off with both family and church and move to Oxford, where she entered Saint Catherines college at Oxford University. After completing her master degree in English, she was named to an editorial post at Pandora Press with which she published her first novel Oranges are not the only Fruit. Now she is a full time writer and is the author of twelve novels, one collection of short stories, a volume of crytical essays, and some tv and theatre adaptations of her novels, including Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit and The Powerbook1.

About the novel

With Oranges are not the only Fruit Jeanette Winterson achieved her first public recognition and won in 1985 the Whitbread Award for Best First novel. Even if this novel has been defined as an autobiography, the author refuses this definition. For her, autobiography is only the starting point to create a narrative by means of art. In Oranges the narrator has my name, because I wanted to invent myself as a fictional character []all writing is partly autobiographical in that you draw on your experience.2

Silvia Antosa, Crossing Boundaries: Bodily Paradigms in Jeanette Wintersons Fiction 1985-2000 Aracne editrice S.r.l. of Rome, 2008, pp. 9-11;

Author interview,, Windrush, September 14th 2002.

Oranges is a novel of formation written following the model of the Bildungsroman. However, instead of presenting the growth of a male character, it shows the process of formation of a female character. Her aim is not only to revise the Bildungsroman plot but also to make new linguistic experiments mixing several literary genres. The result of this experiment is a metafiction or fictional novel3 that questions the nature of storytelling and creates a direct dialogue between reader and writer.
Oranges is an experimental novel: its interests are anti-linear. It offers a very complicated narrative structure disguised as a simple one [] You can read it in spirals [] I dont see the point of reading in straight lines. We dont think like that and we dont live like that.4

The title of the novel is related to the dominat ideology that charachterises the community where Jeanette lives. The orange epitomizes the bigoted vision of the world (the dim vision of reality) in which there is no place for the differends. The orange is also a metaphor of heterosexuality, the only identity accepted in Jeanette mothers world. That is why every time Jeanette is upset or loses her way, her mother gives her an orange to delete her sinful identity. But for Jeanette orange is not the only fruit so she refuses to surrender to what oranges represent.
When thick rinds are used the top must be thoroughly skimmed, or a scum will form marring the final appearance5

This epigraph opens the novel and introduces a core concept that will be developed throughout the narration. As the external peel of the orange needs to be mixed with the internal juice to obtain a good marmelade, in the same way the external world of Jeanette needs to be fused with her
3 4

SparkNotes,; Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, Vintage Books, London, 2001, Introduction, p.xiii; 5 Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, The Making of Marmalade, S. O. Beeton, 1859-1861.

interior world to build an harmonious and coherent unity, an identity that reflects her real essence.

Oranges are not the only fruit tells the story of Jeanette, beginning when she is seven years old. She is adopted by a fundamentalist Evangelical family since her mother wanted to have a child in a sexless manner. She wanted Jeanette to become a missionary of God. Jeanette grows in the religious community and is educated reading the Bible and few other books allowed by her mother. At the age of seven her mother is obliged to send her to school, a place that she considers to be a Breeding Ground6 for sin and evil. At school, for the first time, she faces the real world and is marginalized because of her fundamentalist religious beliefs. Thanks to this separation from her mother, she begins to develop her own ideas and to believe in her own potentialities. In her adolescence, Jeanette starts questioning her sexuality, the nature of love, marriage and men. She finds an answer when she meets Melanie and falls in love with her. Jeanettes mother and the community reject their relationship, seeing it as sinful and as an unnatural passion7. The members of the Church decide to exorcize the demons from Jeanette inflicting her a mental torture. She is left in a room without food, water and light in order to make her change her mind. However, Jeanette doesnt repent and continues to believe in her innocence. Melanie disappears and Jeanette falls in love with another girl, Kathy.
6 7

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, Vintage Books, London, 2001, p. 16. Ibidem , p. 7.

Their relationship is found out and Jeanette quits the Church and her mothers home. Left alone and without money, Jeanette takes up many jobs, working even in a funeral parlor. During this period her friend Elsie dies and at her funeral she meets her mother and the other members of the community who blame her for beeing possessed by demons. She leaves the town to change life. Eventually, she comes back home with a new identity. Her mother pretends that nothing has happened, she seems to have softened in her beliefs. This time, instead of giving her the orange as usual, she gives her a pineapple. Maybe it is the beginning of a new form of mother/daughter relationship, a new start.

The novel is made up of eight chapters titled after the first eight books of the Old Testament. The homodiegetic narrator8, Jeanette, tells her semiautobiography rielaborating the biblical narrations. She draws a parallelism shifting from the patriarchal perspective of the Old Testament to a personal journey made into the external world9.

Genesis describes the origins of the world and in Oranges it describes the beginning of Jeanettes life strictly regulated by her mother and the religious community. The chapter introduces the binary opposition between Good and Evil that corresponds to the

8 9

Grard Genette, Narrative Discourse. An Essay in Method, 1987 (1983); SparkNotes,




only acceptable vision of the world for her mother and the community. Exodus: Flight of the people of Israel from Egypt. Oranges: Jeanettes movement towards the external world. Leviticus: Rules and Laws handed down from Moses to the Israelitis. Oranges: Jeanettes mother laws handed down to her. Numbers: Numbering of the Hebrews when they left Egypt. Oranges: investigation on nature of love, marriage and men. Deuteronomy: tells the story of the Hebrews who came back to the Promised Land of Israel from Egypt. It is entitled The Last Book of the Law and contains all Moses teachings. Jeanette subverts the meaning of Deutoronomy rejecting the blind adeherence to the rules of the Bible and questioning the very nature and the truthfulness of history and Law. For the first time in this chapter, the narrator speaks directly to the reader using the second person voice instead of the first and the third used in the other chapters of the novel. It is a sort of philosophical assertation in which the author explains the difference between storytelling and the act of telling history. Joshua marks a turning point in the story. In the Bible the Hebrews, after slavery, struggle to claim their Promised Land. Once the walls of Jerico fall down, the Hebrews can move into their Promised Land. Likewise, Jeanette struggles to claim her real identity. She feels the need to make her own choice and in the end she will break down the walls to accept her homosexuality and make it triumph. Judges: different leaders rule Israel. In Oranges: Jeanette has different external judges (congregation, pastor, her mother). Ruth: in the last chapter Jeanette as Ruth has to face the prejudices for being an outcast. Being a foreigner in Israel, Ruth is victim of prejudices, while Jeanette is victim of prejudices because she is considered a foreigner in her own land, a land dominated by heterosexuality where there is no place for her homosexuality. The only escape from the oppressive family walls is exile.


Winterson as a writer can be placed between the Modernist and the Postmodernist tradition. Even if she prefers to be known as a modernist, many aspects link her to Postmodernism. Firstly, she is a modernist because she experiments with fictional forms. Secondly, she considers art as an ultimate value like Woolf and Joyce10. Joyce defines Art as art that fulfills the function of Art. This means for him that is either beautiful or sublime. It is static in that it stops you in front of it and leaves you speechless11. Woolf defines art as art for the pleasure of art. This means that art has to be seen as representation of itself. Art is for Woolf something that has its own life and that follows only its own way. At the very moment in which art renounces to desire reality, it renounces to itself12. Even if she criticizes Postmodernism, associating it with mass media and with a loss of aesthetic value, her works has many aspects related to it. Firstly, Wintersons novels represent a clear example of a Postmodern aesthetics including temporal dislocation, self-reflexivity, intertextuality and pastiche13. In Oranges intertextuality is obtained by mixing fairy tales, Arthurian legends and dreams. A connection between Winterson and Postmodernism might be also the rejection of any kind of totalizing visions . She rejects the idea of historical truth and promotes ontological relativism believing that the self is not a fixed identity and that the understanding of the world is a subjective process and not an objective one. A further connection is the re-evaluation of plural experiences and marginalized voices. The Postmodern deconstruction of traditional Western narratives with their assumption of objectivity and truthfulness,
10 11

Palgrave macmillan website,; Nazareth College,; 12 Wikipedia, 13 Palgrave macmillan website,

finds a correlative in the problematization of instituzionalized sexual and gender identities, which is the most important aspect of a feminist approach. In the wave of Postmodernist feminists, Winterson proposes a definition of gender as socially constructed and not as the result of biological differences between men and women. The novel Oranges constitutes a narrative project in which women have to fight within the patriarchal/heterosexual cultural frame to find their own sexual identities. From Oranges on, Winterson criticizes heterosexuality, male privilege based society and marriage, considered as an act of conformity. Of Oranges she states:
It exposes the Sanctity of family life as something of a sham; it illustrates by example that what the church calls love is actually a psychosis and it dares to suggest that what makes life difficult for homosexuals is not their perversity but other peoples 14

n analysing Oranges we found out similarities with Lyotards thought, especially regarding the concept of identity and gender, as socially constructed entities. The influence of the society, defining gender and identity is a constant both in Winterson and Lyotard. He writes in The Postmodern Condition
The self does not amount to much, but no self is an island; each exists in a fabric of relations [...]15

According to Lyotard, the self is not an indipendent entity but its existence is bound up with the social interaction within which it exists16. Similarly, Winterson thinks that the social environment plays an essential role in shaping gender and identity.

14 15

Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, Vintage Books, London, 2001, Introduction, p.xiii; Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, Minnesota University Press, 1984, p.15. 16 Alemseghed Kebede, John Rawls and Jean-Franois Lyotardon Pluralism:Themes of Convergence and Divergence, California State University, Bakersfield, pp.12-13;

A further connection between them regards the Postmodern abandonement of meta-narratives of Knowledge, Truth, Meaning and History 17. n the postmodern age they have been substituted by many and different ideas that cannot be linked together to form one unifying vision. Consequently, as Lyotard points out in The Postmodern Condition there is no absolute truth because it is impossible to prove everything. The production of proofs is a neverending process that could not bring any definitive result. About this point he says
What I say is true because I prove that it is but what proof is there that my proof is true? 18

Winterson shares this point of view claiming in the fifth chapter Deuteronomy that nothing can be proved, everyone sees the world differently and every fact is shaded by the subjective perspective. She suggests for this reason that all stories should be viewed skeptically because one can never write a "true" history that is purely based on fact.
Everyone who tells a story tells it differently, just to remind us that everybody sees it differently. Some people say there are true things to be found, some people say all kinds of things can be proved. I dont believe them. The only thing for certain is how complicated it all is, like string full of knots 19

Winterson agrees with Lyotard also in defining history as a reducing of stories which do not offer a truthful account of past events, but only a forced one-sided version of it brought by the patriarchal system20. She rejects the idea of historical truth and puts forward the idea that narrative can help in the process of rediscovering meaning and real ideas in a world dominated by the instability of the self and cognitive relativism. Lyotard, in the echo of the Nitzschean philosophy, describes narrative in the form of storytelling as a way of consuming the past, a way of forgetting21
17 18

Palgrave macmillan website,; Ibidem, p.24; 19 Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, p. 91; 20 SparkNotes, 21 Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, Foreword, p.xii ;

being it made of accent and rythm. Narrative, including proverbs, myths, tales is not only a legitimation of knowledge, but also a legitimation of social relations, of customs and culture in the society because narrative is intrinsic in the society, is part of it. Following this assumption, Lyotard shares with Winterson the idea that narrative could function as unifying factor to build continuity between the self of today and the self of tomorrow sorting out the discontinuity of the self in the postmodern age.
People have an enormous need to separate history, which is fact, from storytelling, which is not fact And the whole push of my work has been to say, you cannot know which is which 22

Winterson believes that history can be manipulated and shaped by historians to look the way they want it to, thus becoming a means of denying the past23. This manipulation has been used over the centuries to mantain political empires and pursue economic profits. She explains these ideas in a straight-forward tone with even a comic edge. She describes the act of constructing history through the metaphor of making sandwiches and she warns the reader against believing blindly in what is passed for history, suggesting that the better choice is to think for yourself.
If you want to keep your own teeth, make your own sandwiches...24

In Oranges Winterson questions the concept of consensus through the character of Jeanette, who is excluded from the community because her behaviour breaks the rules of the Bible. In the same way, Lyotard rejects the principle of consensus as a criterion of validation because it involves a terroristic behaviour that destroys heterogeneity, represses culture and excludes from social life who doesnt agree . Paralogy, on the contrary, promotes pluralism and inventiveness. He thinks that
Consensus is only a particular state of discussion, not its end. Its end, on the contrary, is paralogy25
22 23

Palgrave macmillan website, ; Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, p.92; 24 Ibidem, p. 93. 25 Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, pp.65-66;

Paralogy is the principle that legitimates postmodern science and knowledge redefining them as a search not for consensus but for instabilities because, as Lyotard says, invention is always born of dissension26. n the same way, we could say that Winterson recognizes in the coexistence of different visions of the world and different ways of living the principle that legitimates the subjectivity of individuals because the identity is shaped by mixing them. As far as culture and the mercantilization of knowledge are concerned, they both agree with the idea that knowledge lost its informative value and it is produced in order to be sold and to create new productions. On this issue Winterson writes
Supermarket bookselling is interested in turnover not culture. Big chains want big profit and show themselves ignorant of and uninterested in names that are unfamiliar27

Of the same opinion is Lyotard who claims:

Knowledge is and will be produced in order to be sold, it is and will be consumed in order to be valorized in a new production: in both cases, the goal is Exchange28

Oranges marked the beginning of my experiment with style, structure and language[...] It employs a very large vocabulary and a beguilingly straightforward syntax.29

26 27

ibidem, Introduction, p.xxv; Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, Introduction, pp.xii-xiii; 28 Jean-Franois Lyotard, The Postmodern Condition, pp.4-5. 29 Jeanette Winterson, Oranges are not the only fruit, Introduction, pp. xiii-xv;

In an echo of Ezra Pounds phrase make it new30 Winterson believes that the main task of a writer is to remake language by experimenting with it. Even if she doesnt consider herself to be a poet, in all her works she creates a language full of poetic density in which every word should do its work31. From a narrower point of view, language in Oranges is characterized by the repetition of key phrases or refrains32. For example: Oranges are not the only fruit (p. 29) Time is a great deadner (p. 91 ) There are different sort of treachery, but betrayal is betrayal wherever you find it (p. 110), Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (p. 31).

Through these phrases repeated in different passages of the novel, Winterson shows how language is citational and how it assumes different meanings in different contexts. Another important feature of language in Oranges is the manipulation of formal and informal styles mixed together33. This can be seen, for example, in a passage from the second chapter Exodus, where the author talks about her experience at primary school. Here, she uses for the childs voice words like green knickers, shoebags, willies and smelly as well as direct speech like What me Miss? No Miss. Oh Miss. I never did.34

Palgrave macmillan website, ; ibid.; 32 bid.



Ronald Carter, Angela Gobbard, Danuta Reah, Keith Sanger and Maggie Bowring, Working with Texts: a core book for language analysis,2001, Routledge, pp.125-126;

Examples taken from J.Winterson, Oranges, pp.32-33;

In contrast, there is the more complex and abstract language of adults, in which vocabulary items like untold horrors, adapt, fundamental tortures and sweet sainthood are used35. Following Deborah Schiffrins studies, we analysed the novel and found out the following examples.

Problematic referrals
Type 1 Continue referring expression and continue referent

Ex. 1. They ran the paper shop and sometimes, on a Wednesday, they gave me a banana bar with my comic. (p. 7) Ex. 2 Perhaps this will help. And she began to stroke my head and shoulders. I turned over so that she could reach my back. Her hand crept lower and lower. She bent over me. (p. 104)

The speaker continues to use the same referring expression to evoke the same referent. Type 2 Change referring expression and change referent

Ex.1. You had to make salvation relevant to them, to their minds. (p. 34)

A type 2 repair, is a typical form of self-repair to specify insufficient firstmentioned information. Type 3 Change referring expression but continue referent



Ex.1. Course, I was young then, but my mother, she wore her fingers to the bone making wreaths. (p. 56) Ex. 2. That Miss Jewsburys Ill bet. Oh, shes not holy, piped out Mrs White. (p. 105)

In these examples the writer abandons a referring expression, but continues the referent previously evoked by that term by substituting a name with a pronoun. In the first example She is anaphoric for my mother, and in the second for Miss Jewsbury. Type 4 Continue referring expression but change referent

Ex.1. Its a visitors privilege to be foolish. Right to the top I climbed, were I could watch the circling snow feel up the town till it blotted it out. (p. 164)

In this last type of problematic referrals, the same referring expression is used for a different referent. As we can see in this example the pronoun it is repeated three times referring to different referents. The first one refers to to be foolish, the second one refers to town and the last one refers to circling snow.

Switching articles

Ex 1. We lived in a town stolen from the valleys, a huddled place full of chimneys and little shops and back-to-back houses with no garden. The hills surrounding us, and our swept out into the Pennines, broken now and again with a farm or a relic from the war.

There used to be a lot of old tanks but the council took them away. The town was a fat blot and the streets spread back from it into the green, steadily upwards. (p. 6) Ex.2. Theres a boy at church I think youre keen on. What? I said, completely mystified. She meant Graham, a newish convert, whod moved over to our town from Stockport . (p. 84)

These examples show the shift of article from an identifiable entity (indefinite) to a more specific recognizable entity (definite). In the first example there is a shift from the indefinite article a to the definite the, while in the second example the indefinite article is substituted by a proper name. The use of one or another is based on knowledge, an intra-subjective space. It depends on the subject, in narrative it depends on time handling.

Reactive and proactive prototypes (vertical repairs)

Ex. 1. Thats why they buy everything from Maxi Balls Catalogue Seconds. The Devil himself is a drunk (sometimes my mother invented theology). Maxi Ball owned a warehouse, his clothes were cheap but they didnt last, and they smelt of industrial glue. (pp. 5-6)

Ex. 2. The feeling I now had in my head and stomach was the same as on that Awful Occasion, and that time, as I stood by the tea urn in the vestry, I had heard Miss Jewsbury say, Of course, she must feel very uncertain. I was very upset. Uncertainty was what the Heathen felt, and I was chosen by God. That Awful Occasion was the time my natural mother had come to claim me back. (p. 98)

Reactive strategy involves syntactic and semantic changes at the clause level. Repairs move down the scale, shifting to terms assuming less familiarity. In both examples the new referral is introduced in sentencefinal position and then is rementioned in sentence-initial position because the reader is already familiar with it36.

Ex.1. I hadnt thought about getting married anyway. There were two women I knew who didnt have any husbands at all; they were old though, as old as my mother. (p. 7) Ex.2. The problem is continued the prince, theres a lot of girls, but no one whos got that special something (p. 59) Ex.3. Theres a boy at church I think youre keen on. What? I said, completely mystified. She meant Graham, a newish convert, whod moved over to our town from Stockport. (p. 84) In the proactive strategy the prototype there is used as a familiarity anchor to provide a means of cohesion to what has been said. There is moves an entity from physical distance (there is not here) to discourse presence37.

36 37

Deborah Schiffrin, In Other Words, Cambridge University Press, 2006, Chap.4, pp.111-127. Deborah Schiffrin, In Other Words, Cambridge University Press, 2006, Chap.4, pp. 127-151.


Silvia Antosa, 2008, Crossing Boundaries: Bodily Paradigms in Jeanette Wintersons Fiction 1985-2000 (p. 9-56), Aracne editrice S.r.l. of Rome;

Isabella Beeton, The Book of Household Management, The Making of Marmalade, S. O. Beeton, 1859-1861; Grard Genette, Narrative Discourse. An Essay in Method, 1987, (1983);

Jean-Franois Lyotard, 1984, The Postmodern Condition: A Report on Knowledge, University of Minnesota Press; Deborah Schiffrin, 2006, In Other Words, Cambridge, Cambridge University Press;;;;

Ronald Carter, Angela Gobbard, Danuta Reah, Keith Sanger and Maggie Bowring,2001, Working with Texts: a core book for language analysis, Routledge; SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on Oranges are Not the Only Fruit. SparkNotes LLC. n.d.. Web. 18 Jan. 2010; Alemseghed Kebede, John Rawls and Jean-Franois Lyotard on Pluralism: Themes of Convergence and Divergence, California State University, Bakersfield.

Eduarda Conti, Daniela Giuffrida, Mancuso Elisa Elif, Silvana Saracino

The End