Jeanette Winterson

 Jeanette Winterson is an LGBTQ+ English author and poet most famous for her novel, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985) and her autobiography, Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? (2012). Her works blend reality with non-fiction, fiction and the realms of magic, making her novels accessible to a wide audience as well as critically acclaimed.

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Table of contents

    Sensitive content warning. This article contains details of themes including discrimination and abuse that may affect some readers.

    Jeanette Winterson: Biography

    Jeanette Winterton was born in England in the Northern city of Manchester in August 1959. Her mother was unable to support her, so she was put up for adoption. In January 1960, was adopted by John and Constance Winterson and moved to their home in Accrington, Lancashire. Her adoptive parents were Pentecostal Christians, and Jeanette was raised to fulfil a role as a missionary. Her first sermons were written by the time she was just six years old.

    Pentecostal Christianity is a form of Evangelical Protestantism. The religion is characterised by the belief that the Bible is without any errors and is often interpreted literally.

    As she grew older, her strictly Pentecostal Christian upbringing was at odds with her LGBTQ+ sexuality. Her family organised an exorcism with the help of the church to rid her of her preference for relationships with other women. At sixteen, in 1975, she was given an ultimatum and had to choose to stay at home or live in a mini with her then-girlfriend, Janey. She decided to leave home.

    After holding down a series of odd jobs to support herself while attending the vocational school, Accrington and Rossendale College, she completed her BA at St Catherine’s College, Oxford. Winterson then moved to London. During a job interview for an assistant editor role at Pandora Press, she shared stories about her life that impressed the editor, who encouraged her to write a book. She also got the job.

    Winterson’s first book, Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit, a blend of autobiography, fiction and fable, was published in 1985. It became a bestseller and won the Whitbread Prize (1985) for a first novel. Her next novel, The Passion (1987), tells the tale of a web-footed girl, Villanelle, and the man who serves Napoleon's daily chicken, Henri. These two works set the genre-bending themes and tone of much of Winterson’s future novels. Themes that consistently run through her work are those of religion, sex, gender, sexuality, love, and loss.

    As well as writing award-winning novels, Winterson has written several children’s books, from The Kind of Capri (2003) to The Battle of the Son (2009). Her works also include screenplays for Oranges Are Not The Only fruit (1990) and Great Moments of Aviation (1994). In addition, Winterson has written her own poetry, and commentary on the work of Carol Ann Duffy, the UK Poet Laureate from 2009 to 2019. She also penned essays on culture, 'Art Objects' (1989).

    In 2012, she published her autobiography, Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. The title is relayed as her mother's verbatim response to Winterson’s statement that her girlfriend made her happy and that she chose to leave home.

    Since her debut novel, Winterson has won numerous awards, from the EM Forster Award in 1989 to a British Academy Film Award (BAFTA) in 1990. In 2016, she was elected as a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and in 2018, she was awarded a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to literature. Her latest novel, Frankisstein (2019), was longlisted for the Booker Prize.

    Winterson has had several long-term partners since she came out as a lesbian at 16, including her marriage to psychologist and author Susie Orbach. The couple separated in 2019.

    Currently, Winterson is a lecturer at Manchester University.

    Jeanette Winterson Jeanette Winterson StudySmarter

    Fig. 1 - Jeanette Winterson (b. 1959), British writer.

    Jeanette Winterson: Novels

    As an author well-known for novels that blend autobiography with fiction, fable and legend, Winterson has written several novels that have achieved critical and commercial success. Let's take a look at a few in a little more detail.

    Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit

    Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is Winterson’s debut novel, published when she was just 23. It tells the story of Jeanette, the protagonist and narrator, who grows up in a strictly religious home with an absent father and an abusive mother. The novel is a Bildungsroman, following the transformative journey of the young protagonist on her path to greater self-understanding and acceptance.

    A Bildungsroman is a type of coming-of-age novel that follows a protagonist's spiritual or emotional development.

    With chapters named after books within the Bible, the novel addresses Jeanette’s upbringing from the age of seven. The narrative follows her development from a child who unquestionably accepts her mother’s religious indoctrination, despite being ostracised at school because of it, to the teenager who finds her sexuality at odds with the beliefs of the church community that she has been raised in.

    The title is a reference to the oranges that Jeanette’s mother always offers her. Jeanette also refuses to accept an orange from her girlfriend, after Melanie had renounced their relationship to appease the church. Jeanette’s mother seems to believe that oranges are the only fruit, whereas Jeanette sees the other options. The word 'orange', whether referring to a colour or the fruit, is a multi-layered symbol within the book.

    Frankisstein: A Love Story

    Frankisstein (2019) is Winterson’s latest novel. It is a novel about Artificial Intelligence (AI), cyborgs, gender, Mary Shelly and Victor Frankenstein. By blending speculative and historical fiction with comedy, Winterson explores several themes that are pertinent to our current age.

    The novel begins with Mary Shelly writing her novel Frankenstein (1818), but soon jumps to the more recent narrative of Ry Shelley. Ry is the first-person narrator, a transgender medical professional who relays their story and those of others, like Victor Stein. Stein is a professor working at the cutting edge of AI research and development. Through these linked characters and the more minor character of Ron Lord, Stein’s business partner, Winterson explores transsexuality, transhumanism, and ideas around the role of technology in the future of humankind.

    Ry, as the narrator who self-identifies as a 'hybrid', is depicted as strangely absent from the creation of a transhuman future, despite their personal experience with dual identities and interest in the subject. Stein and Lord are both masculine representations of the almost total opposite approaches to the possible applications of AI in our future. Stein represents the transhumanist approach, while Lord is depicted as misogynistic.

    Transhumanism is the philosophy around the future intersections of humanity and technology. Loosely defined by Max Moore in 1990, transhumanism supports the view that humanity can be further optimised by integrating science and technology with our physical bodies. Cyborgs would be one well-known application of this philosophy.

    Artificial Intelligence (AI) as a defined field was thought to have begun in the early 1960s. Fundamentally, it is the use of computer science and datasets to solve problems. There are many different types and applications of AI, but mostly they tend to make use of algorithms that progressively learn based on data inputs.

    Jeanette Wintesron Artificial intelligence StudySmarter

    Fig, 2 - Artificial intelligence features in Winterson's Frankisstein.

    Jeanette Winterson: Autobiography

    Winterson’s autobiography is the more gritty and in-depth version of Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit. Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal? was written many years later and reveals more of the details of her upbringing. In addition to the extreme religious indoctrination that she was subjected to, she relays her experience of physical and emotional abuse.

    Following Winterson’s journey from childhood to her adult breakdown and the search for her natural mother, the novel deals with themes of love, loss, and identity.

    Jeanette Winterson: Poems

    Winterson is well-known for her commentary on Carol Anne Duffy’s 1999 collection, The World's Wife, but she has written poems too. Her poem 'Brontesaurus' was published in 2018 for the Bronte Stones project.

    Jeanette Winterson: Quotes

    Winterson is an LQBTQ+ identifying author interested in a diverse range of themes. As a result, she has many interesting quotes that are relevant to our times. Let's take a look at some of her more famous ones that tie into a few of her main themes.


    Love is a central theme for Winterson, but this theme is not limited to the various norms of love between heterosexual partners. She also deals with the forms of maladjusted love in dysfunctional families and the types of love between LGBTQIA+ couples. This is an example from one of her novels, Sexing The Cherry (1989):

    Islands are metaphors of the heart, no matter what poet says otherwise. — Sexing The Cherry.


    Religion and its impact on her life, as well as religious history and philosophies, is another key theme in Winterson’s work. This quote references the old pagan religions that were often replaced with Christianity during the rule of the Roman Empire. The example below is from her novel, The Stone Gods (2017).

    In my country, there are no gods left. The Romans have driven them out. - The Stone Gods.

    Identity and gender

    Themes of identity, sexuality and gender norms feature throughout Winterson's works. As a lesbian woman whose sexuality was viewed as abnormal by her religious community, she often explores characters' journeys towards finding non-typical identities.

    Saddest of all are the women who were brought up to believe that self-sacrifice is the highest female virtue. — Art and Lies (1994).

    Do you know which poet Winterson referenced when she wrote about people, hearts and islands? Find out if you do not know and think about your opinion on this.

    Jeanette Winterson - Key takeaways

    • Jeanette Winterson is an English LGBTQ+ author who writes novels, poems, essays and screenplays.
    • She has written two works about her upbringing in a Pentecostal Christian home: her novel Oranges Are Not The Only Fruit (1985) and her autobiography Why Be Happy When You Can Be Normal?’ (2012).
    • In addition to novels and works of non-fiction, she has also written essays, poetry, screenplays, and children's books.
    • Key themes in her works include gender fluidity, identity, sexuality, and religion.
    • Winterson has won several awards; from the Whitbread Prize (1985) to an EM Foster Award (1989), and an OBE in 2018.


    1. Fig. 1: Jeanette Winterson (b. 1959), British writer tps:// by Mariusz Kubik licensed by CC BY 2.5
    Frequently Asked Questions about Jeanette Winterson

    When was Jeanette Winterson born?


    Who is Jeanette Winterson?

    Jeanette Winterson is an award winning author, essayist and poet who identifies as LGBTQ+.

    Does Jeanette Winterson have children?

    No, Jeanette Winterson does not have any children.

    Where is Jeanette Winterson from?

    Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester and raised in Lancashire in England.

    What is art for Jeanette Winterson?

    Jeanette Winterson has said that 'art the essential equipment for the task of being human.'

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