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Jeanette Winterson

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English Literature

Jeanette Winterson is an English author best known for her debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985). Winterson has led a fascinating life which influenced her debut novel. Read on to learn more about how her life experiences have impacted her other literary works.

Jeanette Winterson: biography

Jeanette Winterson (1959–present) is an English author, journalist and professor at the University of Manchester, England. She was born in Manchester and adopted by Constance and John William Winterson in January 1960. After being adopted, Winterson spent her formative years growing up in Accrington, Lancashire, in the north of England.

Winterson was raised as a member of the Elim Pentecostal Church. Her mother raised her to become a missionary. From the tender age of 6, Winterson wrote sermons and evangelised in her church. As a teenager, she was subjected to an exorcism by her church congregation when it was discovered that she was in a relationship with one of the girls at her church. She was locked in a room during her exorcism, starved, and refused water. She eventually pretended to repent so she could be let out of the room and given food.

At 16 years old, Winterson left her mother’s home after coming out as a homosexual and took up various odd jobs to support herself. She attended Accrington and Rossendale College and went on to study English at St Catherine’s College, Oxford University. Winterson was awarded a bachelor’s degree in 1981.

During her interview for an editor’s assistant position at Pandora Press after she graduated, she realised the interview was going poorly and decided to relate anecdotes from her own life. The interviewer was fascinated and encouraged her to write them down, which resulted in the novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), written over two years. Winterson also got the job, so it was a win all-around! The novel was adapted for TV in 1990. It was a BBC television drama, directed by Beeban Kidron and written by Winterson herself. The TV drama won a BAFTA award for the Best Drama category.

Winterson received the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) honour in 2006 for her work.

Winterson married Susie Orbach, British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer, in 2015. The couple separated in 2019.

Jeanette Winterson's famous books and poems

What are some of Winterson's most famous books and poems?

Poetry

Winterson writes commentary on poetry, such as her commentary featuring in The Guardian on Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife (1999). In this commentary published in 2015, she details what poetry means to her and relates it to Carol Ann Duffy’s style of poetry, including what she has learnt from it.

'Brontesaurus' (2019)

Winterson writes commissioned poems for news outlets and poems for others' projects, such as the poem ‘Brontesaurus’ (2018) written for the Brontë Stones project, and published in the Financial Times Newspaper.

Books

The following novels are Winterson's most notable books.

Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)

Jeanette Winterson’s most famous novel is her debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985). It is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman that details the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil.

The themes in this novel are religion, sexuality, homosexuality in particular, oranges, women and womanhood. It is a semi-autobiographical novel because it features elements and events from Winterson’s life. Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) is also known as bildungsroman because it details the protagonist's experiences, Jeanette, in her formative years.

Bildungsroman

A novel that details a person's years as they grow up. A bildungsroman is typically a coming-of-age story chronicling the protagonist's maturity.

Winterson received the Whitbread Award in 1985 for Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985) for the best debut novel.

The Passion (1987)

The Passion (1987) is Winterson’s second novel. It explores the adventures of an enslaved Venetian woman names Villanelle who is rescued by Henri, a foot soldier in Napoleon’s army. The novel is set in 1805, during the Napoleonic era, and details Henri's rise in the ranks as he is first assigned to be an army cook. The Passion (1987) is considered a historiographical metafiction novel as it reimagines the occurrences during the Napoleonic wars. Henri is initially assigned as a cook instead of a soldier, and he has to serve Napoleon personally. Henri sees Napoleon as a symbol of France’s ambition. Villanelle is a boatman's daughter, and she cross-dresses to secure her livelihood in a casino. She falls in love with a mysterious woman known as the Queen of Spades, and they have a love affair.

Historiographical metafiction

This type of metafiction questions the veracity of historical records of the past and which version of the truth one should consider

Sexing the Cherry (1989)

Sexing the Cherry (1989) is a fantasy novel beginning in 17th Century London about the relationship between Jordan and his mother, known as the Dog-Woman. The novel plays with the concept of time and teleportation. Jordan was not birthed by his mother but found by her at a riverbank. When he is older, Jordan is hired by Tradescant as a gardening assistant, and he moves to Wimbledon with the Dog-Woman for this work. The three return to London for the trial and execution of King Charles I.

Jordan questions ideas of gender roles. One way he is linked to this is that Dog-Woman is depicted as having traditionally masculine characteristics, which goes against societal norms of femininity. Winterson creates a link between Jordan boldly exploring gender roles and the princesses.

Winterson uses the classic German fairy tale called 'The Twelve Dancing Princesses' ('Die zertanzten Schuhe') to comment on the nature of femininity in a patriarchal society. In the original fairy tale, the princesses are locked in the same room together by their father, the King, whilst they are sleeping. Each morning, they wake up with their dancing shoes worn, as though they had been dancing all night.

The King promises his kingdom and daughters to the man who can discover how this comes to be. Failure to do so correctly will result in that man's execution. The soldier who takes up the challenge discovers that the princesses have been escaping to dance each night. One night, he sees them getting into a boat with twelve princes and informs the King upon their return. The soldier marries the eldest princess, and the twelve princes are cursed for as many nights as they dance with the princesses.

In Sexing the Cherry (1989), Winterson gives the princesses a voice in her rendition of the tale. She shows the princesses running away with their secret lovers and killing their husbands. Similarly, Jordan develops his voice in exploring gender roles and the expectations that come with them.

Written on the Body (1992)

Written on the Body (1992) is about an unnamed narrator who falls in love with a married woman named Louise. The

narrator has romantic relations with men and women, and their sex is not made explicitly clear. The novel explores the theme of love and removes the typical considerations of gender and sexuality that are often discussed.

The narrator decides that their habit of falling in love with married women always ends terribly, though the love affair excites them. The narrator tries to have a relationship with an unmarried Jacqueline but soon informs Jacqueline that the relationship won’t work and pursues their love affair with Louise. Louise divorces her husband Elgin and moves in with the narrator. The narrator finds out from Elgin that Louise has leukaemia and must receive treatment at his research labs in Switzerland, though Louise is adamant that her condition is not serious. The narrator leaves Louise, believing Elgin’s argument that it will result in Louise getting treatment. At the end of the novel, the narrator finds out that Louise did not go to Elgin but waited for the narrator instead.

Art and Lies (1994)

Art and Lies (1994) follows the adventures of Picasso, a painter, Sapphi, an incarnation of a Greek lyric poet, and Handel, a priest and doctor, in a futuristic London. The three cross paths as they are trying to flee London by train. They discover an ancient book with contributions compiled by several writers known throughout history. The novel details their adventures after finding this book, and it deals with themes like sex, religion, and patriarchy.

Gut Symmetries (1997)

Gut Symmetries (1997) is a novel which explores the love triangle between the characters Alice, a British physicist, Jove, a male physicist at Princeton, and Stella, Jove’s wife. Alice engages in a relationship with both Jove and Stella. The novel plays on the Grand Unified Theory (GUT) model in particle physics, which involves quantum physics and cosmology ideas. Winterson explores the principles explored in physics, such as the exchange of energy, and principles of attraction and unification through the characters’ relationships with one another.

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)

Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011) is Winterson's memoir, detailing her experiences growing up in the northern town of Accrington after she was adopted at a young age. This memoir sheds light on some of the experiences detailed in Winterson's debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985).

Amongst Winterson's other novels are:

  • Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women who Want to Live Well (1986)

  • Passion Fruit: Romantic Fiction with a Twist (1986)

  • Boating For Beginners (1990)

  • The Twilight Gate (1993)

  • Art Objects (1995)

  • The World and Other Places (1998)

  • The Powerbook (2000)

  • The King of Capri (2003)

  • Lighthousekeeping (2004)

  • Weight (2005)

  • Tanglewreck (2006)

  • The Stone Gods (2007)

  • The Lion, The Unicorn and Me (2009)

  • The Battle of the Sun (2009)

  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)

  • The Daylight Gate (2012)

  • The Gap of Time (2015)

  • Frankissstein: A Love Story (2019)

  • Hansel and Greta: A Fairy Tale Revolution (2020)

  • 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go Next (2021)

Winterson's other writings

Below are some of Winterson's other writings.

Midsummer Nights (2008)

Midsummer Nights (2008) is a collection of reimagined stories from some of the most famous operas.

The Best of Books and Company: about books for those who delight in them (2010)

The Best of Books and Company: about books for those who delight in them (2010) is a collection of essays about authors’ favourite books. Winterson features in this novel detailing her favourite books to inspire others to read them.

Common themes in Winterson’s main focus

Winterson’s main focus is writing unconventional, quirky novels. Common themes within these unconventional novels are sexuality, gender, adolescence, and love. Winterson’s novels are fictional and often fantastical, as they explore a different world entirely with fantasy elements whilst exploring themes readers can relate to in this reality.

Quotes of Jeanette Winterson

I have a theory that every time you make an important choice, the part of you left behind continues the other life you could have had.—Chapter 'Ruth', Oranges are not the Only Fruit (1985)

The protagonist, Jeanette, thinks about her turbulent relationship with her mother as she visits her at the end of the novel. She notes her mother treats her the same as always and does not talk about Jeanette’s homosexuality, as Jeanette chose to live in her truth. Her mother acts as though the parts of Jeanette that she is still comfortable with continue to live the same life she lived under her roof.

The body shuts down when it has too much to bear; goes its own way quietly inside, waiting for a better time, leaving you numb and half alive.”—Chapter 1, The Passion (1987)

This quote details the experience of the protagonist, Henri, a foot soldier, as he journeys through the freezing cold for miles. His experience sleeping in such temperatures is described in great detail, as readers get an idea of how numbing the cold was and how tiresome his task was as a foot soldier during the Napoleonic era.

Love demands expression. It will not stay still, stay silent, be good, be modest, be seen and not heard.—Chapter 'The Cells, Tissues, Systems and Cavities of the Body', Written on the Body (1992)

The unnamed narrator thinks about the qualities of love. They wonder how love is depicted as an emotion that needs loud expression. The narrator does not feel comfortable calling something ‘love’ if it does not fit their precise understanding of love, which causes them to shy away from it and have difficulty finding ‘the one’ or ‘the ones’ for them.

Jeanette Winterson - Key takeaways

  • Jeanette Winterson (1959–present) is an English author, journalist and professor at the University of Manchester, England.
  • Winterson received the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) honour in 2006 for her work.
  • Winterson married Susie Orbach, British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer, in 2015. The couple separated in 2019.
  • Winterson's debut novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), is a semi-autobiographical bildungsroman.
  • Amongst Winterson's most notable works are Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), The Passion (1987), Sexing the Cherry (1989), Written on the Body (1992), Art and Lies (1994), Gut Symmetries (1997), Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011).

Jeanette Winterson

  • Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985)
  • Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women who Want to Live Well (1986)
  • Passion Fruit: Romantic Fiction with a Twist (1986)
  • The Passion (1987)
  • Sexing the Cherry (1989)
  • Boating For Beginners (1990)
  • Written on the Body (1992)
  • The Twilight Gate (1993) 
  • Art and Lies (1994)
  • Art Objects (1995) 
  • Gut Symmetries (1997)
  • The World and Other Places (1998) 
  • The Powerbook (2000)
  • The King of Capri (2003)
  • Lighthousekeeping (2004)
  • Weight (2005)
  • Tanglewreck (2006)
  • The Stone Gods (2007)
  • The Lion, The Unicorn and Me (2009)
  • The Battle of the Sun (2009)
  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)
  • The Daylight Gate (2012)
  • The Gap of Time (2015)
  • Frankissstein: A Love Story (2019)
  • Hansel and Greta: A Fairy Tale Revolution (2020)
  • 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go Next (2021) 

Jeanette Winterson was formerly married to Susie Orbach, British psychotherapist, psychoanalyst and writer, in 2015. The couple separated in 2019.   

Jeanette Winterson (1959–resent) is an English author, journalist, and professor at the University of Manchester, England.  

Jeanette Winterson is no longer married to Susie Orbach. The couple married in 2015 and separated in 2019.

Winterson’s main focus is writing unconventional, quirky novels.

Final Jeanette Winterson Quiz

Question

Why is the book called 'Oranges are not the only Fruit'?

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Answer

The novel is called 'Oranges are not the only Fruit' because the protagonist, Jeanette, is offered oranges by her mother whenever things are going awry. These oranges become symbolic of her mother’s dominance in her life and how her mother imposes her values and principles onto Jeanette.  

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Question

What happens at the end of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)? 

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Answer

At the end of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) Jeanette returns from the city to visit her mother during Christmas. 

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Question

What is the message of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)?

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Answer

The main message of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) is that themes that are seen as binaries do not have to be in conflict with each other.

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Question

Who is the author of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)?

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Answer

The author of Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) is Jeanette Winterson.

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Question

What is Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) about?

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Answer

Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) is about the experiences of the protagonist and first-person narrator, Jeanette, as she grows up with her extremely religious mother and grapples with her sexuality and notions of good and evil. 

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Question

How are the chapters structured in the novel?

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Answer

The chapters in Oranges are comprised of Bible verses. In order, there is Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, Joshua, Judges, Ruth. These correlate to the stories being told within each chapter.

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Question

What type of novel is Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)?

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Answer

Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) is a semi-autobiographical Bildungsroman. 

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Question

What is a bildungsroman?

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Answer

A bildungsroman is a novel dealing with one person's formative years or spiritual education.

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Question

What are the key themes in Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)?

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Answer

The key themes in Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) are religion, oranges, women and womanhood, and sexuality- homosexuality. 

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Question

What does the orange demon in Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) represent?

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Answer

The orange demon that Jeanette hallucinates about during her 36 hours of confinement after her relationship with Melanie is revealed is representative of religion and of Jeanette’s process of self-acceptance in the face of religious teachings. 

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Question

Does Jeanette Winterson write poems?

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Answer

Jeanette Winterson writes commissioned poems for others' projects, such as  ‘Brontesaurus’ (2018) for the Brontë Stones project. She also writes commentary on poetry. 

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Question

Who is Jeanette Winterson? 

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Answer

Jeanette Winterson (1959-present) is an English author, journalist and professor at the University of Manchester, England. 

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Question

Is Jeanette Winterson still married? 


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Answer

Jeanette Winterson is no longer married to Susie Orbach. The couple married in 2015 and separated in 2019. 

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Question

What is the main focus of Jeanette Winterson? 

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Answer

Winterson’s main focus is writing unconventional, quirky novels.  

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Question

What are the books written by Jeanette Winterson? 


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Answer

  • Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)

  • Fit for the Future: The Guide for Women who Want to Live Well (1986)

  • Passion Fruit: Romantic Fiction with a Twist (1986)

  • The Passion (1987)

  • Sexing the Cherry (1989)

  • Boating For Beginners (1990)

  • Written on the Body (1992)

  • The Twilight Gate (1993)

  • Art and Lies (1994)

  • Art Objects (1995)

  • Gut Symmetries (1997)

  • The World and Other Places (1998)

  • The Powerbook (2000)

  • The King of Capri (2003)

  • Lighthousekeeping (2004)

  • Weight (2005)

  • Tanglewreck (2006)

  • The Stone Gods (2007)

  • The Lion, The Unicorn and Me (2009)

  • The Battle of the Sun (2009)

  • Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011)

  • The Daylight Gate (2012)

  • The Gap of Time (2015)

  • Frankissstein: A Love Story (2019)

  • Hansel and Greta: A Fairy Tale Revolution (2020)

  • 12 Bytes: How We Got Here, Where We Might Go Next (2021)

Show question

Question

What are common themes in Jeanette Winterson’s works?


Show answer

Answer

Common themes within these unconventional novels are sexuality, gender, adolescence and love. Winterson’s novels are fictional and often fantastical, as they explore a different world entirely with fantasy elements, whilst exploring themes readers can relate to in this reality. 

Show question

Question

What prize did Winterson win for Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985)?

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Answer

Winterson received the Whitbread Award in 1985 for Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) for the best first novel. 

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Question

What is Winterson's book Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (2011) about and why is it important?

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Answer

This book is a memoir detailing her experiences growing up in the northern town of Accrington after she was adopted at a young age. This memoir is especially important as it sheds light on some of the experiences which are detailed in Winterson's debut novel Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985). 

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Question

What is a bildungsroman and how is Winterson's novel Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) an example of this?

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Answer

A bildungsroman is a novel that details a person's years as they grow up. Oranges are not the only Fruit (1985) is an example of this because the novel follows the protagonist, Jeanette, as she grows up in her religiously conservative mother's house and in her church community. 

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Question

What significant award of recognition did Winterson receive for her literary works in 2006?

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Answer

Winterson received the Office of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) honour in 2006 for her work.  

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