Written on the Body by Jeanette WintersonWritten on the Body by Jeanette Winterson

Written on the Body

byJeanette Winterson

Paperback | September 27, 1993

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The most beguilingly seductive novel to date from the author of The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. Winterson chronicles the consuming affair between the narrator, who is given neither name nor gender, and the beloved, a complex and confused married woman.
A novelist whose honours include England’s Whitbread Prize, and the American Academy’s E. M. Forster Award, as well as the Prix d’argent at the Cannes Film Festival, JEANETTE WINTERSON burst onto the literary scene as a very young woman in 1985 with Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Her subsequent novels, including Sexing the Cherry, The...
Title:Written on the BodyFormat:PaperbackDimensions:192 pages, 7.98 × 5.19 × 0.54 inPublished:September 27, 1993Publisher:Knopf CanadaLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0394280148

ISBN - 13:9780394280141


Rated 5 out of 5 by from Re-writing On My Body I called this review Re-Writing On My Body, because this is a book that I have read five or six times, always picking it up in times of huge change, often full of mourning for things lost. Winterson writes this love story in the genderless first person... at any moment in the narrative, the writer could be a man or a woman, writing about the defining love affair of their life... a love affair that changes the writer, not only in mind and soul, but so deeply that the story is literally written on his/her body. When this was first published, at a time when sexual orientation and coming out were much in the popular media, in part, because of the AIDS crisis, much was made of Winterson's being an 'out' lesbian and so many have assumed that this book should be read from a woman's point of view. I, a heterosexual woman, am guilty of slipping into this conceit, and on occasion, it has pulled me out of what would otherwise be a narrative that holds my attention completely, but I have also made it through the book (which makes it sound like work... which it isn't... it is a joy, a pleasure, and a misery to read, because of its emotional rawness)... reading it from the point of view of a man, and of a woman, wholly, and it doesn't matter. It is not what is important, either to the story or how it impacts the reader. In this, just as in many other ways, this piece of story-telling is a wonder. I don't know if I can enumerate the other ways this tale is wondrous except to say that each time I have read it, it has changed me, the story has changed, its meaning has changed, and it has coloured and in some respects, given deeper meaning to the change I am experiencing. It is a story about the joy, the pleasure and the misery of love, and which can accompany love and the way it shapes us, body and soul... or soul and body. It is, without a doubt, a book that may disappear from one's awareness as the reader moves away from having read it. Each time I have read it, I have been going through profound change in my life, and as I move forward from the good and bad that accompanies that change, I internalize the lessons this beautifully crafted love story has gifted me, and they become written on my body... and because they become part of me, I forget where I learned them. I don't think this is a bad thing. It means they are organic and not fabricated or forced. It means they can be internalized so effortlessly that Winterson has achieved what every fiction writer should aspire to - writing a story that we forget is a story insofar as we suspend our disbelief and then move forward into the the world and our lives as if it is part of our own lives... Not in the sense that we live a lie, but that it carries with it things so personal to us, so personally meaningful to us that we can imagine ourselves in the story, and because of that, it changes us, and informs our lives meaningfully... joyfully, pleasurably, and if necessary, informs our mourning for thing past, and our hope for things future. It helps us to see our pain as a lesson which we can use to bring us to where we need to get. In this, as in so much of her writing, Winterson accomplishes this in Written On the Body, and the fact that one can read it over and over, and have it be a different story, or rather, a story with different but equally relevant meaning, is testament to what a wonder this tale is.
Date published: 2009-05-27
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Gender Questioning and Mind Buggling I read this awhile ago but it is very good. I loved it. I found it moving, profound and culturally interesting all in one. I actually found this book by mistake, when I saw it in box my mom got from an auction, but it surpassed what I thought it would be and made me question everything. The reason I love this book is because it represents love transcending everything, but mainly gender. The book is all about relating to the narrator and her feelings and triumphs and failures. I love it!!!
Date published: 2007-10-30
Rated 4 out of 5 by from A Groundbreaking Gender Bend of a Read! Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body is a piece that calls into question our preconceived notions of gender and sexuality while it also presents a sharp critique of medical discourse. In the novel, Winterson presents the reader with a genderless protagonist who is in love with a woman with cancer. The narrator candidly discusses a stream of affairs with males and females as she progresses through a quest to define what love means. Page after page the reader will attempt to distinguish the protagonist's sex through socially constructed gender clues, but to no avail a firm gender identity cannot be established. What Winterson seeks to accomplish in this novel is to critique gender assumptions and to focus on what really matters in a relationship; that being love. Although, her writing can be incredibly complex due to its alignment with gender theorists such as Judith Butler, Winterson's use of evocative language casts a type of love driven spell over the reader that makes s/he long for the love of the protagonist and Louise.
Date published: 2006-06-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from OMG This book is written so beautifully, it was all I could do but cry my eyes out. If I could write half as good as Ms. Winterson, I would be not only happy, but rich. Everybody should read this book.
Date published: 2006-05-07
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Best Book This is definately the best love story I have ever read - and is by far way up there with my top favorite books of all time. A definate read. It is beautiful and romantic and intense, moving and poetic all in one.
Date published: 2004-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from intensely moving This is perhaps one of the best books that I have ever read. Winterson's equation of love with loss creates the most intense love story that I have ever come across (thus far). I recommend this book to everyone who enjoys reading passionate works.
Date published: 1999-08-04
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Sensually spectacular Probably the most beautiful and erotic piece of literature I have ever read.The fact that the storys narators gender is never revealed only underpins something that we overlook when it comes to intense erotic experiences of the heart. It dosnt matter! The experience detailed is of equal relevance to both men and women, that both men and women are capable of the intense passion dealt with in this spectacularly beautiful, and belivable love story!
Date published: 1999-05-22

From the Author

It's a simple story; love found, love lost, love found again - maybe. The unnamed narrator falls for a married woman called Louise. Louise leaves her husband but when she finds she has cancer, she leaves her new lover too.Written on the Body is a journey of self-discovery made through the metaphors of desire and disease.All of my books are about boundaries and desire - the boundaries we should try to cross, like fear and class and skin-colour and expectation, and the boundaries that seem to define us, such as our sense of self, our gender. Disease, especially a disease like cancer or aids, breaks down the boundaries of the immune system and forces a new self on us that we often don't recognise. Our territory is eaten away. We are parcelled out into healthy areas and metastasised areas. Parts of us are still whole, too much has been invaded. Against this, I wanted to look again, (I am always looking again) at love's ability to shatter and heal simultaneously. Loving someone else destroys our ideas of who we are and what we want. Priorities change, friends change, houses change, we change. Part of the strangeness of being human is our need of boundaries, parameters, definitions, explanations, and our need for them to be overturned. For most people, only the positives of love and faith (and a child is both), or the negatives of disaster and disease, achieve this. Death comes too late. The final shattering affects others, but not ourselves.

Read from the Book

The interesting thing about a knot is its formal complexity. Even the simplest pedigree knot, the trefoil, with its three roughly symmetrical lobes, has mathematical as well as artistic beauty. For the religious, Kind Solomon's knot is said to embody the essence of all knowledge. For carpet makers and cloth weavers all over the world, the challenge of the knot lies in the rules of its surprises. Knots can change but they must be well-behaved. An informal knot is a messy knot.Louise and I were held by a single loop of love. The cord passing round our bodies had no sharp twists or sinister turns. Our wrists were not tied and there was no noose about our necks. In Italy in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries a favourite sport was to fasten two fighters together with a strong rope and let them beat each other to death. Often it was death because the loser couldn't back off and the victor rarely spared him. The victor kept the rope and tied a knot in it. He had only to swing it through the streets to terrify money from passers-by.I don't want to be your sport nor you to be mine. I don't want to punch you for the pleasure of it, tangling the clear lines that bind us, forcing you to your knees, dragging you up again. The public face of a life in chaos. I want the hoop around our hearts to be a guide not a terror. I don't want to pull you tighter than you can bear. I don't want the lines to slacken either, the thread paying out over the side, enough rope to hang ourselves.I was sitting in the library writing this to Louise, looking at a facsimile of an illuminated manuscript, the first letter a huge L. The L woven into shapes of birds and angels that slid between the pen lines. The letter was a maze. On the outside, at the top of the L, stood a pilgrim in hat and habit. At the heart of the letter, which had been formed to make a rectangle out of the double of itself, was the Lamb of God. How would the pilgrim try through the maze, the maze so simple to angels and birds? I tried to fathom the path for a long time but I was caught at dead ends by beaming serpents. I gave up and shut the book, forgetting that the first word had been Love.In the weeks that followed Louise and I were together as much as we could be. She was careful with Elgin, I was careful with both of them. The carefulness was wearing us out.One night, after a seafood lasagne and a bottle of champagne we made love so vigorously that the Lady's Occasional was driven across the floor by the turbine of our lust. We began by the window and ended by the door. It's well-known that molluscs are aphrodisiac, Casanova ate his mussels raw before pleasuring a lady but then he also believed in the stimulating powers of hot chocolate.Articulacy of fingers, the language of the deaf and dumb, signing on the body body longing. Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark. The pads of your fingers have become printing blocks, you tap a message on to my skin, tap meaning into my body. Your morse code interferes with my heart beat. I had a steady heart before I met you, I relied upon it, it had seen active service and grown strong. Now you alter its pace with your own rhythm, you play upon me, drumming me taut.Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story. I didn't know that Louise would have reading hands. She has translated me into her own book.We tried to be quiet for Elgin's sake. He had arranged to be out but Louise thought he was at home. In silence and in darkness we loved each other and as I traced her bones with my palm I wondered what time would do to skin that was so new to me. Could I ever feel any less for this body? Why does ardour pass? Time that withers you will wither me. We will fall like ripe fruit and roll down the grass together. Dear friend, let me lie beside you watching the clouds until the earth covers us and we are gone.Elgin was at breakfast the following morning. This was a shock. He was as pale as his shirt. Louise slid into her place at the foot of the long table. I took up a neutral position about half way. I buttered a slice of toast and bit. The noise vibrated the table. Elgin winced.'Do you have to make so much noise?''Sorry Elgin,' I said, spattering the cloth with crumbs.Louise passed me the teapot and smiled.'What are you so happy about?' said Elgin. 'You didn't get any sleep either.''You told me you were away until today,' said Louise quietly.'I came home. It's my house. I paid for it.''It's our house and I told you we'd be here last night.''I might as well have slept in a brothel.''I thought that's what you were doing,' said Louise.Elgin got up and threw his napkin on the table. 'I'm exhausted but I'm going to work. Lives depend on my work and because of you I shall not be at my best today. You might think of yourself as a murderer.''I might but I shan't,' said Louise.We heard Elgin clatter his mountain bike out of the hall. Through the basement window I saw him strap on his pink helmet. He liked cycling, he thought it was good for his heart. Louise was lost in thought. I drank two cups of tea, washed up and was thinking of going home when she put her arms around me from behind and rested her chin on my shoulder.'This isn't working,' she said.

From Our Editors

Written on the Body is an intensely sensual novel that celebrates the beauty, pain and impermanence of human existence. The narrator has neither name nor gender; the beloved is a married woman. As Winterson chronicles their consuming affair, she compels us to see love stripped of cliché and category, as visceral as blood and organs and as strange as an undiscovered continent.

Editorial Reviews

"Winterson displays awe-inspiring control over her materials - over language - and a gift for the most searing insights into human nature." The Globe and Mail"Fun, challenging, often astonishing." The Toronto Star"Overall, the novel is a cleverly worked and lively meditation on finding love and being lovers, a book that leaves out neither the glory nor the limitations." The Kingston Whig-Standard"More immediate and more accessible than anything Winterson has written before. The simple elegance of Written on the Body becomes the author's already impressive oeuvre wonderfully well." Calgary Herald"Boldly explores that elusive language of love with characteristic versatility, wit and precision." The Gazette"A gorgeous, intensely sensual novel that celebrates the most inescapable fact of human existence in all its beauty, pain and impermanence." The Vancouver Sun"Winterson's writing, with all its vivid detail, startling intensity and aching intimacy, leaves an indelible impression." Now "As well written as it is intelligent, as funny as it is compelling." Xtra!"A hymn of praise to erotic passion...the book has an unforgettable virtuosity. Winterson is an exciting writer. She has literary talent of a high order." Victoria Glendinning, Vogue, UK"An ambitious work, at once a love story and a philosophical meditation...a work that is consistently revelatory about the phenomenon of love. Winterson has been compared to an unlikely pantheon of literary figures from Flannery O'Connor through Gabriel García Márquez...The hyperbole seems not only imprecise; it obscures the originality of her voice, her distinctive mix of romanticism and irony, erudition and passion." New York Times Book Review"A comedy that delves deeply into our most sacred desires. A tragedy that reads like a playful narrative." San Francisco Chronicle"The best evidence yet to [support] Gore Vidal's oft-quoted declaration that Winterson is 'the most interesting young writer I have read in twenty years'. She has once again proved to be a storyteller of compelling interest and exceptional grace." The Atlantic"Moving and compassionate, a love letter as much as a love story." Harper's Bazaar"The most highly esteemed writer of her generation." The Guardian"Many consider her to be the best living writer in this language....In her hands, words are fluid, radiant, humming." The Evening Standard"Often very funny, like a stand-up comic turn...Winterson, with characteristic and endearing effrontery, wants to take all the tired old language and make it new." —The Observer (UK)