Written on the Body’s Narrator is a Snake

On page 131 of Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, the narrator calls their ex-lover Louise a “fallen angel”. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a fallen angel is “[one] who rebelled against God and was cast down from heaven”. In the Bible, Lucifer is the only fallen angel so by claiming Louise is one as well, then the narrator is saying that there is a different God who cast their ex-lover down, but who could that be?

The God that the narrator is referring to is Louise’s ex-husband Elgin. He is a doctor who is researching how to cure cancer and has given himself a god-complex. Louise was married to Elgin for 10 years until she started an adulterous relationship with the narrator, therefore breaking her relationship, as well as one of the 10 Commandments. There is also an abundance of “s” sounds on page 131 like in the words “shuttered”, “suspects”, and “shoulder”. These sounds create the image of a snake preparing to hunt its prey, that prey being Louise and the snake being the narrator, which parallels the story of Adam and Eve. In that story, The Devil transforms himself into a snake to hide in the Garden of Eden and eventually convinces Eve to eat the Forbidden Fruit, therefore causing the fall of man. The narrator feels as if they are the devil that has now convinced Louise to start a relationship with them and for her then being cast down from high society, her home, her marriage, and eventually, top of the line medical care.

Elgin’s job is the cause of his god-complex and he learns that Louise has cancer, he finds a way to use it as a bargaining chip. He believes that he has the right to decide when a person can die by dangling treatment and the possibility of a better and longer life in front of Louise and giving the narrator, not Louise, an ultimatum; give her back or let her die. The narrator chooses for Louise, one again placing all three of them in a Devil versus God scenario. Despite that scenario, Elgin and the narrator aren’t all that different. They both decide what Louise can and can’t do and therefore removes all agency from Louise’s life. While the angel had a choice in leaving Elgin, the narrator believes it was their vicious ways that seduced her and then ultimately decides for Louise that she should go back to her “God”. The narrator has now left Louise after she has fallen victim to their prey but with no place to go. She could go back to Elgin, but she would never go back to the life she lived before. Instead, she would be forever stuck between the two opposing ends of the spectrum that Elgin and the narrator have created as God and Devil.

3 thoughts on “Written on the Body’s Narrator is a Snake”

  1. The narrator’s characterization of Louise as a “fallen angel,” always struck me as a bit odd. At least on the issue of Louise’s cancer, Elgin is the one offering a metaphorical apple to the narrator that ends up dooming the relationship between the narrator and Louise, which is their personal “Garden of Eden.” Personally, I find that parallel more intriguing than the narrator’s idea, which you discuss here, with Louise as a “fallen angel.” To me, Elgin is the swindling fallen angel Lucifer, while the narrator is Eve being seduced by his supposed knowledge. The narrator just isn’t able to see that yet.

    1. I completely understand what you are saying here. I think this scene can be read in multiple different ways. At first, I was going to place the narrator in the role of “God” since they are given a name or gender in the novel and God is supposedly a genderless creature in the Bible (though many people say “He” but that is another conversation), but I think Elgin’s god-complex forces himself into that role. I definitely see what you are saying though about the narrator being interpreted as Eve instead.

      1. I agree, this post definitely emphasizes the different ways in which this scene can be understood. At first, I also interpreted the narrator as the role of “God” but in the sense that the text strongly emulates a white male-run capitalist society (that the white man rules in the way God does). I didn’t think about the narrator as Eve in the beginning, so our class discussions and this text with Christianity definitely expanded my understanding of the text. I am curious about the parallels between Louise being seen as a fallen angel and how LGBTQ+ people are viewed in a similar manner within the church. Do you have any thoughts on this?

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