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Winterson, Jeanette

Entry updated 25 March 2024. Tagged: Author.

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(1959-    ) UK author, much of whose work juggles elements out of the Fantastika toolkit to dramatize deeply held arguments about Gender (see also Feminism); as her work edges constantly into the allegorical it is, however, not easy to think of her as a natural author of the fantastic, though her work is too various and transgressive for her to be categorized as a Mainstream Writer of SF. After her nonfantastic first novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (1985), Boating for Beginners (1985) clearly allegorizes the circumstances it depicts, with a contemporary pleasure boat owner named Noah who has created a God (in passages based on the creation of the Frankenstein Monster in Mary Shelley's Frankenstein [1818]; for Frankissstein [2019] see below); this "God" then "instructs" him to return the world to the good old days, when sins were punished and women relegated to domestic roles: or else [for Allegories, Christian Fantasy, Flood and (below) Twice-Told see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. The Passion (1987) is a Magic-Realist historical fable whose protagonists, in a pattern Winterson would return to, morph through Sex and gender changes through time (see Time in general), being reborn in various guises. The original model for this strategy, as applied to the examination and spoofing of the straitjacket of gender, is Virginia Woolf's Orlando (1928) (see also Temporal Adventuress); it is even more fully utilized in Sexing the Cherry (1989), whose concentration on moments of English history adds intensity to the flow of transformations. The gargantuan Dog Woman (whose strength is of Superpower dimensions) rescues the orphan Jordan from the Thames (see London); their experiences through time and in various iterations of their essential unchanging Identity, with a focus on the English Civil War, and incorporating legend and fairy tales, generates a sense that the Matter of Britain has been addressed [for Matter see The Encyclopedia of Fantasy under links below]. Art and Lies: A Piece for Three Voices and a Bawd (1994), The Powerbook (2000) and Lighthousekeeping (2004), both metafictions, as well as Weight: The Myth of Atlas and Heracles (2005), variously utilize similar devices to explore similar themes. The Young Adult Silver sequence beginning with Tanglewreck (2006) ingratiates a Steampunk-inflected sensibility into romping exercises in Fantastika focused on the eponymous mansion near London, whose name reflects its chaos-inducing immersion in manipulations of time and space (see Time Travel); in the second volume, The Battle of the Sun (2009), which is also set along the Thames at the beginning of the seventeenth century (without Shakespeare), the magus of Tanglewreck must be kept from turning the great City into radiant but lifeless gold.

Of more direct sf interest are some later tales. The Stone Gods (2007) only gradually reveals its structural similarities to her earlier work, in particular Sexing the Cherry. The first section of the tale depicts, in palely obdurate language, a Near Future Dystopia on Orbus, which is distressingly similar to Earth. The protagonist Billie Crusoe is tasked – in terms modestly evocative of C M Kornbluth and Frederik Pohl's The Space Merchants (1953) – to persuade the plebes of Orbus to emigrate to Planet Blue, but she sabotages the campaign and is forced to emigrate herself. Planet Blue resembles Earth aeons earlier, and the colonists' destruction of the native flora and fauna is clearly emblematic of human behaviour in general. Crusoe is then thrust through time to Easter Island, where the long bondage of the islanders to the suicidal construction of the famous idols conveys, as the novel closes in the near future of Earth, a strong image of the fate of Homo sapiens in general: that "Everything is imprinted for ever with what it once was". Just as with the islanders stripping their island bare and starving themselves to death in the Ecological desert they had manufactured, so with us now.

The Gap of Time: The Winter's Tale Retold (2015) "covers" William Shakespeare's The Winter's Tale (performed 1611; 1623); though some Virtual Reality elements enter into some Near Future scenes, it is unusual for a Twice-Told tale in that it rationalizes the illimitable "unreality" of the original. Frankissstein (2019) contains within its Near Future frame a wide-ranging discursive commentary touching on Lord Byron, the Frankenstein Monster, Ada Lovelace and Mary Shelley; the central narrative, itself discursive and occasionally abstracted, conveys the interactions between Ry Shelley, a transgender doctor (see Transgender SF) and Victor Stein, conceives of Ry as Posthuman, a bodily figuration of the future and the inevitable ascension of the AI. In the shape of essays, these concerns shape the nonfiction 12 Bytes: How We Got Here. Where We Might Go Next (coll 2021), whose main focus is the nature of Intelligence in an AI world. A collection, Night Side of the River: Ghost Stories (coll 2023), derives paraphrasable lessons from material more often thought of as containing intrinsic interest.

Winterson was given an OBE (Order of the British Empire) in 2006 and made CBE (Commander of the Order of the British Empire) in 2018. [JC]

see also: Leonardo da Vinci.

Jeanette Winterson

born Manchester, England: 27 August 1959

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