A Feminist Reading Of Jeanette Winterson

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A Feminist Reading Of Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion And A Brief Analysis Of The Relationship Betw Essay, Research Paper Trust her. She’s telling (hi)stories. And what was myself? Was this breeches and boots self any less real than my garters? (pp. 65-66) The theme of female identity dominates both modern feminist critical theory and Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion. The question `What is woman?’ has all too often received a male answer in a patriarchal society. A woman is defined in relation to men – woman as mother, woman as lover. One of the key objectives of feminism is to question and challenge the existing images of women, drawing on authors such as Winterson whose works are part of an `alternative tradition of women’s writing’.1 This branch of feminism

has been termed `woman as writer’ by Elaine Showalter: with woman as the producer of textual meaning, with the history, themes, genres and structures by women.2 A key element of this type of feminist criticism is to concentrate on texts in which women writers challenge the existing patriarchal conventions of literature. Showalter describes this form of writing as that in which `feminine values penetrate and undermine the masculine systems which contain them’.3 Three areas in which feminist writers attempt to challenge the structures of patriarchy in literature are gender stereotypes, narration and the gender of the central characters. Traditionally we are conditioned to read texts written by males (or from a male viewpoint), about males and in which the characters conform to

pre-conditioned roles and characteristics dictated by their gender. Jeanette Winterson’s The Passion overturns these conventions. Villanelle is a character who does not conform to gender stereotypes. Even her name, which can be corrupted to make `Villain-elle’ and interpreted as `Villain-female’, suggests that she is a figure who will not conform to the patriarchal gender laws of society. One of the most striking features of the early part of Villanelle’s narrative is the absence of her father: `How like him, she thought, to be as absent in death as he was in life’(p.51). It seems appropriate that Villanelle is born into a male-free environment which is somewhat counteracted by her webbed feet, a characteristic unique to male Venetians. Possession of a male physical

feature is another indication that Villanelle will not conform to female stereotypes. Despite the fact that Villanelle possesses the webbed feet of a boatman, she is not able to work as one: what I would have most liked to have done, worked the boats, was closed to me on account of my sex (p.53). She is not the only character denied her chosen vocation due to gender. Henri’s mother, Georgette, who wished to enter a convent is instead to be sold off at a cattle fair with the `lumbering bullocks and high-pitched sheep’ (p.10). Here women are reduced to the level of animals, mere units of exchange. Even religion is not available as an avenue of freedom for women. Animals are used as metaphors for women from the very start of the book. The opening description of Napoleon’s

kitchen with `birds in every state of undress’ (p.3) evokes an image of Bonaparte’s chickens like concubines in a harem. The analogy is furthered by the direct comparison of Bonaparte’s wife with his favourite dish: `He liked no one except Josephine and he liked her the way he liked chicken’ (p.3) . When Henri is first shown to the caged birds he is shocked by the `convenient mutilation’ (p.6) they have suffered. Again it is significant that, like women, the beaks of the birds have been removed, symbolising the silencing of women, the removal of a female voice throughout history. It is significant that many of the representations in the text provide a contrast when juxtaposed with Villanelle. Winterson does not only illustrate the patriarchal framework of society, she