“It’s the clichés that cause the trouble”

In Written on the Body, the line “it’s the clichés that cause the trouble” (10) is one that not only is repeated in the novel but is a foundation for the way the narrator speaks. The narrator expresses their desire for Louise extensively through metaphors of nature, the universe, amongst various other elements. The narrator early on refers to love as an inexplicable thing but contradicts themself by finding different ways of explaining that for himself. In another passage, the writer details ties that “twitched when Louise walked by and the suits pulled themselves in a little.” (32) The narrator knows that Louise attracts everyone’s attention, including those of married people like themself. This is also an example of how cliches don’t do Louise’s beauty justice to the narrator, nor the complexities of the affair. At the end of the passage, they remind themself that the ring is capable of burning them. Louise is the muse for the narrator, a sin in flesh and a symbol of internal conflict about morals they choose to embody. 

In a different passage, the narrator has us visualize a conversation with Louise, who tell them that they don’t want false confessions of their love for her. The lover in their mind has a dispute, comparing Louise to the angel in Love and the Pilgrim, a work of art that shows an angel guiding a person out of vines. They say “Find your own way through and you shall win your heart’s desire. Fail and you will wander for ever in these unforgiving walls.” (54) The cliche here would have been, “art imitating life” but this individual weeds out the issue, while giving us detailed description of the manifestation of their problem in the artwork. The lovers are both actors in painting that almost reveals as if it was fate that brought them together. If the clichés are what cause the trouble, then the metaphors and imagery are what reveal the intensity of those troubles. 


2 thoughts on ““It’s the clichés that cause the trouble””

  1. This comment is so interesting because of the connection between the trouble that is the narrator’s relationship with Louise and the angel in the painting, Love and the Pilgrim. The narrator explains that “An angel in clean garments leads by the hand a traveller footsore and weary. The traveller is in black and her coat is still caught by the dense thicket of thorns from which they have both emerged. Would Louise lead me so?” (Winterson 54). The narrator sees Louise as the angel leading the narrator, who is the traveller, out of the thicket of thorns. In Written on the Body, Louise is the narrator’s angel, but she is not without fault: she is cheating on her husband with the narrator. This painting, Love and the Pilgrim, depicts the angel in a way that is not stereotypical of most angels. While it does have wings, the wings of angels are generally white, whereas these wings are black. The fact that the narrator chose to compare Louise to this angel, the one with black wings, may say something about how Louise is imperfect and not entirely angelic. She may have malicious intent–certainly, Elgin might see it that way, as Louise pulls away from him and toward the narrator–and this painting is representative of that hidden intent.

  2. Your analysis of this passage and this portrayal of Louise is so wonderful. In a broader sense, however I can also appreciate that in this sense Louise isn’t used as a moralizing point. As you pointed out, she is cheating on her husband, so she’s not this perfect holy figure, but she also isn’t used in a “lady of the night leads you to hell” way. These are very common clichés that aren’t used. Winterson balances the imagery of heaven and the imagery of hell. In one passage the narrator would “eat my way into perdition to taste you” (91) implying that Louise takes them to hell. But all throughout the novel, Louise is placed in light which creates a more holy image. Winterson rejects clichés all throughout the novel, or sometimes creates new ones. But she definitely seems to reject the idea that the people we love either save us or damn us. Louise is human, and our narrator is saved or damned due to their own actions and choices. By introducing this idea, our idea of how to approach and discuss relationships can change. We can eliminate the idea that our significant others have to be a conduit for our personal growth.

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