Monday, 31 October 2011

It's time Jeanette Winterson let her cruel mother rest in peace

If the abuse suffered by Jeanette Winterson as a child at the hands of her adoptive religious zealot mother Constance some forty and more years ago happened today, it would most likely prompt the intervention of social services and possibly the police.
Twenty-five years ago Winterson launched her literary career with the novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit employing a good deal of her personal journey from her mother’s oppression.
Now Winterson has published a memoir Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? (Constance’s question directed at her daughter’s sexuality), the first section of which looks at the real life events behind the writing of Orange.
Winterson’s recent article in The Guardian about her latest venture can be found here. The majority of readers’ comments are favourable. The link is included because I recognise my misgivings are not widely shared.
In the piece Winterson covers much of the same territory as that in the first instalment of the book which she read on BBC Radio 4 this morning, namely what a monster her mother was.
Clearly Winterson doesn't subscribe to the prohibition about speaking ill of the dead.
Why Be Happy etc will no doubt be a thoroughbred of the genre but the beast itself sounds too much like ‘misery literature’ and therefore not my particular cup of bitterness.
Constance Winterson may be as nasty as they come but she was barmy. It seems spiteful to rake over details as trivial as her two pairs of false teeth – one for everyday, one for best.
This is not to excuse her conduct or seek sympathy for her craziness. But you cannot expect the Village Idiot to stop dribbling by wishing it so.
No child of a double amputee would write a book called My Mother Never Hugged Me. So what is the value in a tome that might as well have been entitled My Mad Mother Never Loved Me?
Doubly so in the case of Jeanette Winterson to whom recognition came relatively early and seems to have led a fulfilling if dramatic life ever since Mrs Winterson showed her the door.


  1. Mrs Winterson knew what she was doing. She was deliberately cruel, not "barmy". That is the difference between her and a double amputee who can't hug her child. The amputee would find many other ways to show love.

  2. Whether or not Mrs Winterson was deliberately cruel is irrelevant, the book is about Jeanette's experience. We are all entitled to tell about our experience of the world. Such is the joy of good memoir. To try and impose some kind of ethical dilemma into the scenario, or onto the book, is anti-literature. Fantastic book. Important book. Silly review!


What do you think? GC