Written on the Body

Paperback | September 27, 1993

byJeanette Winterson

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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.

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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...

From the Publisher

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...

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Format: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

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Customer Reviews of Written on the Body


Extra Content

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)