Literary Analysis

Jeanette Winterson is the author of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, The Passion, Sexing the Cherry, Written on the Body, Art and Lies, Gut Symmetries, The World and Other Places and a collection of essays, Art Objects.



The Passion

Sexing the Cherry

Written on the Body

Art & Lies

Gut Symmetries

The World and Other Places

The PowerBook

Comic Book

Boating for Beginners


Art Objects


Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (BBC TV)

Great Moments in Aviation (BBC TV)

The Passion (Miramax Films)

Jeanette Winterson



This eBook is copyright material and must not be copied, reproduced, transferred, distributed, leased, licensed or publicly performed or used in any way except as specifically permitted in writing by the publishers, as allowed under the terms and conditions under which it was purchased or as strictly permitted by applicable copyright law. Any unauthorised distribution or use of this text may be a direct infringement of the author’s and publisher’s rights and those responsible may be liable in law accordingly.

Epub ISBN: 9781409088561

Version 1.0


‘When thick rinds are used the top must be

thoroughly skimmed, or a scum will form marring

the final appearance.’

From The Making of Marmalade by Mrs Beeton

‘Oranges are not the only fruit’

Nell Gwynn












ORANGES ARE NOT THE ONLY FRUIT was written during the winter of 1983 and the spring of 1984. I was 24. At that time I was sharing two rooms and a hip bath with the actress Vicky Licorish. She had no money, I had no money, we could not afford the luxury of a separate whites wash and so were thankful of the fashion for coloured knickers which allowed those garments most closely associated with our self-esteem, not to be grey. Dinginess is death to a writer. Filth, discomfort, hunger, cold, trauma and drama, don’t matter a bit. I have had plenty of each and they have only encouraged me, but dinginess, the damp small confines of the mediocre and the gradual corrosion of beauty and light, the

compromising and the settling; these things make good work impossible. When Keats was depressed he put on a clean shirt. When Radclyffe Hall was oppressed she ordered new sets of silk underwear from Jermyn Street. Byron, as we all know, allowed only the softest, purest and whitest next to his heroic skin, and I am a great admirer of Byron. So it seemed to me in those days of no money, no job, no prospects and a determined dinginess creeping up from the lower floors of our rooming house, that there had to be a centre, a talisman, a fetish even, that secured order where there seemed to be none; dressing for dinner every night in the jungle, or the men who polished their boots to a hard shine before wading the waters of Gallipoli. To do something large and to do it well demands such observances, personal and peculiar, laughable as they often are, because they stave off that dinginess of soul that says that everything is small and grubby and nothing is really worth the effort.

I wrote Oranges on a £25 office Goliath with an industrial quantity of Tipex. Then, as now, I used recycled paper; then because no-one knew about it and it was a cheap second, now because it’s the right thing to do, although virtue has mysteriously made it more expensive than its tree-gobbling brother. If I were a publisher I should insist that all manuscripts came on recycled paper. Why should nature pay for art?

Why art instead of nature? was the question I asked myself most frequently during the making of the book. I was unhappy in London, didn’t want to be in advertising or banking like most of my Oxford contemporaries, couldn’t bring myself to hold down any job that hinted of routine hours. Then, as now, I was happiest outdoors busying myself with pathetically rustic employment. I hadn’t made a success of London and one doesn’t stay in

that city for health reasons. I was thinking of leaving, and then I started Oranges. It was not an accident, or an experiment, or a whim, it was a downstream force by a high wind. It was as though the book was already written, such was the speed and certainty of its being. How had this thing overtaken me? I realised that I was not going to start a smallholding.

In structure and in style and in content Oranges was unlike any other novel. This didn’t worry me, neither did it worry Philippa Brewster, my publisher at the newly formed Pandora Press. It did worry her bosses though, who couldn’t see its market or its merit, and who were reluctant to waste a hardback on it. Accordingly, it appeared in paperback, went unnoticed except in the most banal way by most reviewers and started to sell at an alarming rate. Small bookshops and word of mouth were the foundations of my career and while big business can’t do much about gossip, it has managed to wreck the market for small booksellers. As far as new work goes, this is a disaster. Supermarket bookselling is interested in turnover not culture. Big chains want big profits and show themselves ignorant of and uninterested in names that are unfamiliar. It’s very difficult for an enthusiastic editor to launch a new writer because support in the bookshops is crucial and that support will very rarely be forthcoming for a ‘low seller’. The only way round it is for the publisher to shove money at the title in terms of promotion. For new writing, especially genuinely new writing, not the old stuff in a new frock, this method is economic suicide. The publisher loses money, the writer gets depressed, the bookchains puff up with a self-righteous and business like ‘told you so’. When Oranges won the Whitbread Prize for best first novel in 1985, W H Smith put in their order.

Oranges is an experimental novel: its interests are anti-linear. It offers a complicated narrative structure disguised as a simple one, it employs a very large vocabulary and a beguilingly straight-forward syntax. This means that you can read in spirals. As a shape, the spiral is fluid and allows infinite movement. But is it movement backwards or forwards? Is it height or depth? Draw several, each drifting into each and all this will be clear. A spiral narrative suits me very well and I have continued to use it and to improve upon it in The Passion and Sexing the Cherry. I really don’t see the point of reading in straight lines. We don’t think like that and we don’t live like that. Our mental processes are closer to a maze than a motorway, every turning yields another turning, not symmetrical, not obvious. Not chaos either. A sophisticated mathematical equation made harder to unravel because X and Y have different values on different days.

Oranges is a threatening novel. It exposes the sanctity of family life as something of a sham; it illustrates by example that what the church calls love is actually psychosis and it dares to suggest that what makes life difficult for homosexuals is not their perversity but other people’s. Worse, it does these things with such humour and lightness that those disposed not to agree find that they do. This has always been the experience of the novel and it proved to work on television too. The BBC had more telephone calls after each episode of Oranges than for any other series or serial. It generated a great deal of debate and it seems that people found in it another way of looking at the world. Of course some hated it, but there is no doubt that in its doub

le incarnation of page and screen, Oranges has broken down many more barriers than it has reinforced.

Oranges is a comforting novel. Its heroine is someone on the outside of life. She’s poor, she’s working class but she has to deal with the big questions that cut across class, culture and colour. Everyone, at some time in their life, must choose whether to stay with a ready-made world that may be safe but which is also limiting, or to push forward, often past the frontiers of commonsense, into a personal place, unknown and untried. In Oranges this quest is one of sexuality as well as individuality. Superficially, it seems specific: an evangelical household and a young girl whose world is overturned because she falls in love with another young girl. In fact, Oranges deals absolutely with emotions and confrontations that none of us can avoid. First love, loss, grief, rage and above all courage, these are the engines that drive the narrative through the peculiar confines of the story. Fiction needs its specifics, its anchors. It needs also to pass beyond them. It needs to be weighed down with characters we can touch and know, it needs also to fly right through them into a larger, universal space. This paradox makes work readable and durable, from its impossible tension, something harmonious is born.

Oranges is comforting not because it offers any easy answers but because it tackles difficult questions. Once you can talk about what troubles you, you are some way towards handling it. I know from my post bag that Oranges has given a voice to many people’s unspoken burdens. And when you have found your voice, you can be heard.

Is Oranges an autobiographical novel? No not at all and yes of course.

There are two things left for me to say:

In 1985 Oranges was published thanks to the initiative of Philippa Brewster and her newly established Pandora Press. Sadly, Pandora has never had independent funding and so it has been bought and sold and bought at the whim of its backers. In 1990 it became the property of Rupert Murdoch. How ironic that Oranges, thanks to a series of big business bungles, should fall into the hands of a self-confessed born-again multi-millionaire. I know that in an increasingly corporate world it’s getting harder and harder to make an ethical decision, either about the brand of baked beans you buy or the House with which you publish. The lines of choice are not clear-cut and compromise is usually inevitable. For myself I have a personal code of practice and stick to it as closely as possible. I decided that I could not leave Oranges at Pandora. ‘Dear Mr Murdoch, please do not buy Vintage.’

Lastly, this new edition comes to you with a guarantee. Oranges marked the beginning of my experiment with style, structure and language, and I made a silent promise that if it proved beyond me to go on doing something different, then I would stop. It is the duty of every generation of writers and artists to find fresh ways of expressing the habitual circumstances of the human condition. To serve up the lukewarm remains of yesterdays dinner is easy, profitable and popular, (for a while). It is also wrong.

In those distant days when I was pegging out my jolly knickers like so many parrots on the line I made a wish. Traditionally it should have been 3 but I hadn’t rescued anybody except myself. ‘Grant me’ . . . fame? money? success? No. Just the knack of knowing when to stop.

Jeanette Winterson

London 1991.


LIKE MOST PEOPLE I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

She hung out the largest sheets on the windiest days. She wanted the Mormons to knock on the door. At election time in a Labour mill town she put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window.

She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies.

Enemies were:

The Devil (in his many forms)

Next Door

Sex (in its many forms)


Friends were:


Our dog

Auntie Madge

The Novels of Charlotte Brontë

Slug pellets

Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit Jeanette Winterson

For Gill Saunders and Fang the Cat

`When thick rinds are used the top must be thoroughly skimmed, or a scum will form marring the final appearence.’

—From The Making of Marmalade by Mrs Beeton

`Oranges are not the only fruit’

—Nell Gwynn


Like most people I lived for a long time with my mother and father. My father liked to watch the wrestling, my mother liked to wrestle; it didn’t matter what. She was in the white corner and that was that.

She hung out the largest sheets on the windiest days. She wanted the Mormons to knock on the door. At election time in a Labour mill town she put a picture of the Conservative candidate in the window.

She had never heard of mixed feelings. There were friends and there were enemies.

Enemies were: ● The Devil (in his many forms) ● Next Door ● Sex (in its many forms) ● Slugs

Friends were: ● God ● Our dog ● Auntie Madge ● The Novels of Charlotte Brontë ● Slug pellets

and me, at first. I had been brought in to join her in a tag match against the Rest of the World. She had a mysterious attitude towards the begetting of children; it wasn’t that she couldn’t do it, more that she didn’t want to do it. She was very bitter about the Virgin Mary getting there first. So she did the next best thing and arranged for a foundling. That was me.

I cannot recall a time when I did not know that I was special. We had no Wise Men because she didn’t believe there were any wise men, but we had sheep. One of my earliest memories is me sitting on a sheep at Easter while she told me the story of the Sacrificial Lamb. We had it on Sundays with potato.

Sunday was the Lord’s day, the most vigorous day of the whole week; we had a radiogram at home with an imposing mahogany front and a fat Bakelite knob to twiddle for the stations. Usually we listened to the Light Programme, but on Sundays always the World Service, so that my mother could record the progress of our missionaries. Our Missionary Map was very fine. On the front were all the countries and on the back a number chart that told you about Tribes and their Peculiarities. My favourite was Number 16, The Buzule of Carpathian. They believed that if a mouse found your hair clippings and built a nest with them you got a headache. If the nest was big enough, you might go mad. As far as I knew no missionary had yet visited them.

My mother got up early on Sundays and allowed no one into the parlour until ten o’clock. It was her place of prayer and meditation. She always prayed standing up, because of her knees, just as Bonaparte always gave orders from his horse, because of his size. I do think that the relationship my mother enjoyed with God had a lot to do with positioning. She was Old Testament through and through. Not for her the meek and paschal Lamb, she was out there, up front with the prophets, and much given to sulking under trees when the appropriate destruction didn’t materialise. Quite often it did, her will or the Lord’s I can’t say.

She always prayed in exactly the same way. First of all she thanked God that she had lived to see another day, and then she thanked God for sparing the world another day. Then she spoke of her enemies, which was the nearest thing to she had to a catechism.

As soon as `Vengeance is mine saith the Lord’ boomed through the wall into the kitchen, I put the kettle on. The time it took to boil the water and brew the tea was just about the length of her final item, the sick list. She was very regular. I put the milk in, in she came, and taking a great gulp of tea said one of three things.

`The Lord is good’ (steely-eyed into the back yard).

`What sort of tea is this?’ (steely-eyed at me).

`Who was the oldest man in the Bible?’

No. 3, of course, had a number of variations, but it was always a Bible quiz question. We had a lot of

Bible quizzes at church and my mother liked me to win. If I knew the answer she asked me another, if I didn’t she got cross, but luckily not for long, because we had to listen to the World Service. It was always the same; we sat down on either side of the radiogram, she with her tea, me with a pad and pencil; in front of us, the Missionary Map. The faraway voice in the middle of the set gave news of activities, converts and problems. At the end there was an appeal for YOUR PRAYERS. I had to write it all down so that my mother could deliver her church report that night. She was the Missionary Secretary. The Missionary Report was a great trial to me because our mid-day meal depended upon it. If it went well, no deaths and lots of converts, my mother cooked a joint. If the Godless had proved not only stubborn, but murderous, my mother spent the rest of the morning listening to the Jim Reeves Devotional Selection, and we had to have boiled eggs and toast soldiers. Her husband was an easy-going man, but I knew it depressed him. He would have cooked it himself but for my mother’s complete conviction that she was the only person in our house who could tell a saucepan from a piano. She was wrong, as far as we were concerned, but right as far as she was concerned, and really, that’s what mattered.

Somehow we got through those mornings, and in the afternoon she and I took the dog for a walk, while my father cleaned all the shoes. You can tell someone by their shoes,’ my mother said.Look at Next Door.’

Drink,’ said my mother grimly as we stepped out past their house.That’s why they buy everything from Maxi Ball’s Catalogue Seconds. The Devil himself is a drunk’ (sometimes my mother invented theology).

Maxi Ball owned a warehouse, his clothes were cheap but they didn’t last, and they smelt of industrial glue. The desperate, the careless, the poorest, vied with one another on a Saturday morning to pick up what they could, and haggle over the price. My mother would rather not eat than be seen at Maxi Ball’s. She had filled me with a horror of the place. Since so many people we knew went there, it was hardly fair of her but she never was particularly fair; she loved and she hated, and she hated Maxi Ball. Once, in winter, she had been forced to go there to buy a corset and in the middle of communion, that very Sunday, a piece of whalebone slipped out and stabbed her right in the stomach. There was nothing she could do for an hour. When we got home she tore up the corset and used the whalebone as supports for our geraniums, except for one piece that she gave to me. I still have it, and whenever I’m tempted to cut corners I think about that whalebone, and I know better.

My mother and I walked on towards the hill that stood at the top of our street. We lived in a town stolen from the valleys, a huddled place full of chimneys and little shops and back-to-back houses with no gardens. The hills surrounded us, and our own swept out into the Pennines, broken now and again with a farm or a relic from the war. There used to be a lot of old tanks but the council took them away. The town was a fat blot and the streets spread back from it into the green, steadily upwards. Our house was almost at the top of a long, stretchy street. A flagged street with a cobbly road. When you climb to the top of the hill and look down you can see everything, just like Jesus on the pinnacle except it’s not very tempting. Over to the right was the viaduct and behind the viaduct Ellison’s tenement, where we had the fair once a year. I was allowed to go there on condition I brought back a tub of black peas for my mother. Black peas look like rabbit droppings and they come in a thin gravy made of stock and gypsy

mush. They taste wonderful. The gypsies made a mess and stayed up all night and my mother called them fornicators but on the whole we got on very well. They turned a blind eye to toffee apples going missing, and sometimes, if it was quiet and you didn’t have enough money, they still let you have a ride on the dodgems. We used to have fights round the caravans, the ones like me, from the street, against the posh ones from the Avenue. The posh ones went to Brownies and didn’t stay for school dinners.

Once, when I was collecting the black peas, about to go home, the old woman got hold of my hand. I thought she was going to bite me. She looked at my palm and laughed a bit. You’ll never marry,’ she said,not you, and you’ll never be still.’ She didn’t take any money for the peas, and she told me to run home fast. I ran and ran, trying to understand what she meant. I hadn’t thought about getting married anyway. There were two women I knew who didn’t have husbands at all; they were old though, as old as my mother. They ran the paper shop and sometimes, on a Wednesday, they gave me a banana bar with my comic. I liked them a lot, and talked about them a lot to my mother. One day they asked me if I’d like to go to the seaside with them. I ran home, gabbled it out, and was busy emptying my money box to buy a new spade, when my mother said firmly and forever, no. I couldn’t understand why not, and she wouldn’t explain. She didn’t even let me go back to say I couldn’t. Then she cancelled my comic and told me to collect it from another shop, further away. I was sorry about that. I never got a banana bar from Grimsby’s. A couple of weeks later I heard her telling Mrs White about it. She said they dealt in unnatural passions. I thought she meant they put chemicals in their sweets.

My mother and I climbed and climbed until the town fell away and we reached the memorial stone at the very top. The wind was always strong so that my mother had to wear extra hat pins. Usually she wore a headscarf, but not on Sunday. We sat on the stone’s base and she thanked the Lord we had managed the ascent. Then she extemporised on the nature of the world, the folly of its peoples, and the wrath of God inevitable. After that she told me a story about a brave person who had despised the fruits of the flesh and worked for the Lord instead….

There was the story of the converted sweep’, a filthy degenerate, given to drunkenness and vice, who suddenly found the Lord whilst scraping the insides of a flue. He remained in the flue in a state of rapture for so long that his friends thought he was unconscious. After a great deal of difficulty they persuaded him to come out; his face, they declared, though hardly visible for the grime, shone like an angel’s. He started to lead the Sunday School and died some time later, bound for glory. There were many more; I particularly like theHallelujah Giant’, a freak of nature, eight feet tall shrunk to six foot three through the prayers of the faithful.

Now and again my mother liked to tell me her own conversion story; it was very romantic. I sometimes think that if Mills and Boon were at all revivalist in their policy my mother would be a star.

One night, by mistake, she had walked into Pastor Spratt’s Glory Crusade. It was in a tent on some spare land, and every evening Pastor Spratt spoke of the fate of the damned, and performed healing miracles. He was very impressive. My mother said he looked like Errol Flynn, but holy. A lot of women found the Lord that week. Part of Pastor Spratt’s charisma stemmed from his time spent as an advertising manager

for Rathbone’s Wrought Iron. He knew about bait. There is nothing wrong with bait,’ he said, when the Chronicle somewhat cynically asked him why he gave pot plants to the newly converted.We are commanded to be Fishers of Men.’ When my mother heard the call, she was presented with a copy of the Psalms and asked to make her choice between a Christmas Cactus (non-flowering) and a lily of the valley. She had opted for the lily of the valley. When my father went the next night, she told him to be sure and go for the cactus, but by the time he got to the front they had all gone. He’s not one to push himself,’ she often said, and after a little pause,Bless him.’

Pastor Spratt came to stay with them for the rest of his time with the Glory Crusade, and it was then that my mother discovered her abiding interest in missionary work. The pastor himself spent most of his time out in the jungle and other hot places converting the Heathen. We have a picture of him surrounded by black men with spears. My mother keeps it by her bed. My mother is very like William Blake; she has visions and dreams and she cannot always distinguish a flea’s head from a king. Luckily she can’t paint.

She walked out one night and thought of her life and thought of what was possible. She thought of the things she couldn’t be. Her uncle had been an actor. `A very fine Hamlet,’ said the Chronicle.

But the rags and the ribbons turn to years and then the years are gone. Uncle Will had died a pauper, she was not so young these days and people were not kind. She liked to speak French and to play the piano, but what do these things mean?

Once upon a time there was a brilliant and beautiful princess, so sensitive that the death of a moth could distress her for weeks on end. Her family knew of no solution. Advisers wrung their hands, sages shook their heads, brave kings left unsatisfied. So it happened for many years, until one day, out walking in the forest, the princess came to the hut of an old hunchback who knew the secrets of magic. This ancient creature perceived in the princess a woman of great energy and resourcefulness.

My dear,’ she said,you are in danger of being burned by your own flame.’

The hunchback told the princess that she was old, and wished to die, but could not because of her many responsibilities. She had in her charge a small village of homely people, to whom she was advisor and friend. Perhaps the princess would like to take over? Her duties would be:

● (1) To milk the goats, ● (2) To educate the people ● (3) To compose songs for their festival

To assist her she would have a three-legged stool and all the books belonging to the hunchback. Best of all, the old woman’s harmonium, an instrument of great antiquity and four octaves.

The princess agreed to stay and forgot all about the palace and the moths. The old woman thanked her, and died at once.

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