Format: Hardcover, 240 pages
Publisher: Knopf Canada
ISBN: 978-0-307-40124-3 (0-307-40124-3)
Pub Date: October 25, 2011
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Heartbreaking and funny: the true story behind Jeanette's bestselling and most beloved novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit.
In 1985, at twenty-five, Jeanette published Oranges, the story of a girl adopted by Pentecostal parents, supposed to grow up to be a missionary. Instead, she falls in love with a woman. Disaster.
Oranges became an international bestseller, inspired an award-winning BBC adaptation, and was semi-autobiographical. Mrs. Winterson, a thwarted giantess, loomed over the novel and the author's life: when Jeanette left home at sixteen because she was in love with a woman, Mrs. Winterson asked her: Why be happy when you could be normal? This is Jeanette's story--acute, fierce, celebratory--of a life's work to find happiness: a search for belonging, love, identity, a home.
About a young girl locked out of her home, sitting on the doorstep all night, and a mother waiting for Armageddon with two sets of false teeth and a revolver in the duster drawer; about growing up in a northern industrial town; about the Universe as a Cosmic Dustbin. She thought she had written over the painful past until it returned to haunt her and sent her on a journey into madness and out again, in search of her biological mother. It is also about other people's stories, showing how fiction and poetry can form a string of guiding lights, a life raft that supports us when we are sinking.
I decided to apply to read English at the University of Oxford because it was the most impossible thing I could do. I knew no one who had been to university and although clever girls were encouraged to go to teacher training college, or to take their accountancy exams, Oxford and Cambridge were not on the list of things to do before you die. The Equal Pay Act had become law in Britain in 1970, but no woman I knew got anything like equal pay – or believed that she should.
In the industrial north of England traditional kinds of blue-collar employment were strong – factory work, manufacture, mining, and men held the economic power.
The women held together the family and the community, but the invisibility of women’s contribution, not measured or paid for, or socially rewarded, meant that my world was full of strong able women who were ‘housewives’ and had to defer to their men. My mother did it to my father. She held him in contempt (and that wasn’t fair), but she called him the head of the household (and that wasn’t true). That marital/domestic pattern was repeated everywhere I looked.
Few women I knew had professional or managerial jobs and those who did were unmarried. Most of my female teachers at school were unmarried. Mrs Ratlow was a widow, and she was head of English, but she still did all the cooking and cleaning for her two sons, and she never took holidays because she said – and I will never forget it: ‘When a woman alone is no longer of any interest to the opposite sex, she is only visible where she has some purpose.’
It is quite a quote, and should have made her a feminist, but she had no time for feminism as a movement. She adored men, even though the lack of one rendered her invisible in her own eyes – the saddest place in the township of invisible places a woman can occupy. Germaine Greer had published The Female Eunuch in 1970 but none of us had read it.
We were not sophisticated. We were northerners. We didn’t live in a big city like Manchester, and feminism seemed not to have reached us. ‘Battleaxe’ has always been a word used both for and against the strong northern working-class woman.
That cleaver image split our identity too. Northern women were tough, and reckoned that way in the home and in popular comedy – all the seaside postcards were drawings of weedy little men and dominating women – and in the drunken working men’s clubs, stage acts like Les Dawson dressed up in headscarves and aprons, parodying, but also celebrating, the formidable women the men loved, feared, and were dependent upon. Yet those women who were supposed to stand at the door waiting to whack their men with a rolling pin had no economic clout. And when they had, they hid it.
WINNER 2012 – Independent Booksellers’ Week Book Award (Adult Category)
WINNER 2012 – Stonewall Awards Writer of the Year
FINALIST 2012 – South Bank Sky Arts Awards—Literature Award
LONGLISTED 2011 – Green Carnation Prize
FINALIST 2013 – ABA Indies Choice Book Awards
FINALIST 2013 – Lambda Literary Lesbian Memoir/Biography Award
“A fierce and funny exploration of her past and of what it means to belong.”
“At every turn . . . her fresh, vivid way of putting things stops one dead in admiration.”
—The New York Times
“She writes in flights of poetry. . . . She is equally deft with straightforward prose, in which she makes sharp, wry observations on her myriad themes—love, sex, technology, society, art, the life and death of the spirit.”
—San Francisco Chronicle
“Arguably the finest and most hopeful memoir to emerge in many years, and, as such, it really should not be missed.”
“Breathtaking: witty, biblical, chatty and vigorous all at once.... Powerful.”
“Remarkable…. Brave and beautiful, a testament to the forces of intelligence, heart and imagination. It is a marvellous book and a generous one.”
JEANETTE WINTERSON, OBE, is the author of ten novels, including The Passion, Sexing the Cherry and Written on the Body, a book of short stories, The World and Other Places, a collection of essays, Art Objects, as well as many other works, including children's books, screenplays and journalism. She has won the Whitbread Award for Best First Novel, the John Llewellyn Rhys Memorial Prize, the E. M. Forster Award and the Prix d'argent at Cannes Film Festival.
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