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Winterson’s “Written on the Body”: Feminist Text


A distinctive feature of Written on the Body would be an attempt to go beyond the main idea and significantly expand the range of problems and relationships. The work, thanks to the skillful pen of the author, is filled with subtle and vivid psychological portraits. It seems reasonable to state that among a plethora of important themes contained in the book, the one regarding feminism has a crucial part here. This paper aims to prove that Written on The Body is a feminist text, providing a discussion of feminist criticism based on Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms that will be the primary theoretical background for this work.

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Written on the Body Plot Summary

It might be suggested that the book is kind of an erotic narration of love. The novel provides a significant sequence of events that are accompanied by the narrator’s thoughts and reflections. The main feature of the book is that the gender of this narrator is never revealed by the author. He or she, after a great number of unlucky relationships, finds Louise, who becomes the narrator’s soulmate. Nevertheless, there is a turning point when there is a necessity to make a choice for the narrator – the couple’s temporary but true happiness or Louise’s life. The narrator chooses the latter and starts regretting it to a great extent. Winterson creates the story of love that contains no stereotypes, puts an emphasis on the purity of love – not on gender and sexuality, and ends the plot in an optimistic manner, leaving the audience feeling sympathy for the main characters from the first to the last page.

Feminist Criticism by Abrams’ A Glossary of Literary Terms

At this point, it is important to explore the ideas provided by Abrams regarding feminist criticism in his A Glossary of Literary Terms. There are three of them, which will be presented below in order to subsequently consider Written on the Body as a feminist text. The first issue that feminist literature aims to address is the founding perspective that Western civilization is mostly patriarchal, according to which this civilization is ruled and controlled by a man. According to Abrams, social order “is organized and conducted in such a way as to subordinate women to men in all cultural domains: familial, religious, political, economic, social, legal, and artistic” (89). Throughout their whole life, women are being taught to undoubtedly accept the regnant patriarchal foundations. It leads to the derogation of the dignity of the female sex, as well as women’s own participation in this derogation because they assimilate these principles at the unconsciousness level.

The second idea is formulated as follows. Abrams states, “It is widely held that while one’s sex is determined by anatomy, the prevailing concepts of gender… are large,…, cultural constructs that were generated by the pervasive patriarchal biases of our civilization” (89). Here, Abrams gives an expedient citation of Simone de Beauvoir, according to which an individual is not born but becomes a woman, and it is a civilization that produces this social construct (89). The latter has determined that the masculine is perceived as an active and dominant element of society, while – in contrast – the feminine is systematically understood as passive and timid. Within the scope of this idea, the critical point is that culture is not to give any determinants regarding a person’s gender identity – he or she should be provided with the opportunity to define this identity independently.

Then, Abrams provides the third argument that is directly related to the literary dimension. He claims, “patriarchal… ideology pervades those writings which have been traditionally considered great literature, and which until recently have been written mainly by men for men” (Abrams 89). The scholar refers here to numerous examples that prove – literature has, indeed, been focusing on males’ virtues and feats while neglecting female significance and reducing women’s roles to a minimum. It should be noticed that according to Abrams, the three mentioned issues in conjunction are the ones that feminism aims to address in various ways (90). Now, founding on the presented rationale, the discussion of why Written on the Body is a feminist text will be provided.

Discussion on Written on the Body’s Feminism Inclusion

For Winterson, the problem of identity is the key one, which is reflected in almost the entire work as a whole. The author addresses this issue in the following ways. First, there is no gender given to the narrator, which is not clarified intentionally to show the necessity of the absence of any bias in this regard. Then, in the novel, there is the posing of the problem of the narrator – uncertainty in the chosen life partner from the point of view of his or her own attitude towards this partner. The mental “experience” of a possible cancer disease of Louise leads to an emotional state in which the narrator learns about his or her own anxieties and feelings (Winterson 149). Here, it is emphasized that regardless of the narrator’s gender, his or her affectation to Louise is so apparent that it is reflected in one of the soundest themes of the novel – love has no gender. It addresses both the first and second issues given by Abrams – patriarchal foundations do not rule the world, and society cannot decide whether a person should love or not.

Then, Winterson embodies this concept in the following sense. For example, one of the narrator’s girls declares that the narrator’s body belongs to her, “When we were over, I wanted my letters back. My copyright she said but her property. She had said the same about my body” (Winterson 17). The body is included in the world of culture, as it begins to perform social functions, is used in various types of human activity. Body and corporeality are in a valued relationship. One can be the owner of his or her body but not the owner of its value if the use of bodily forces and abilities is not inherent in order to achieve their even greater development.

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The term “body” appears in a neutral context and in a biological sense when describing the disease and the body itself. In addition, there are namesake terms of medical origin, “I didn’t only want Louise’s flesh, I wanted her bones, her blood, her tissues, the sinews that bound her together” (Winterson 51). This highlights the novel’s inclusion of feminism because, according to the second Abrams’ idea (addressing it, more precisely), such neutrality depicts human’s desire of one’s body genderless.

Moreover, although the text is full of detailed descriptions not only of the appearance but also of the body parts of Louise and the features of her body, the emphasis is on the fact that not only the body is important for the narrator. In the finale of the novel, the narrator is ready to accept his or her beloved even at the moment of the destruction of the body, thereby showing not exclusive interest in the body but in the unity of body and soul. Anxiety is caused not by a painful change in the body, but precisely by its loss, and as a consequence of the connection with the beloved soul. This, again, addresses the second idea significantly – regardless of the narrator’s gender, the outcome would be the same when it comes to love. Finally, Abrams’ third issue is resolved by the fact that the whole novel might be dedicated to the claim that genders are equal and love is not prejudiced in this regard.


To conclude, the discussion above seems to prove the fact that Written on the Body is a feminist text. Abrams’ arguments in the framework of feminist criticism served as a theoretical foundation for the analysis. Given the fact that all three of Abrams’ issues within the theme are addressed in the novel, the latter may be perceived as a feminist piece of art.

Works Cited

Abrams, Meyer. A Glossary of Literary Terms. Earl McPeek, 1999.

Winterson, Jeanette. Written on the Body. Vintage Books, 1994.

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