Death is Weird

“To return to the hole, as we all will. Six feet long, six feet deep and two wide is the standard although this can be varied on request. It’s a great leveler the hole, for no matter what fanciness goes in it, rich and poor occupy the same home at last. Air bounded by mud. Your basic Gallipoli, as they call it in the trade. A hole is hard work. I’m told this is something the public don’t appreciate. It’s an old-fashioned time consuming job and it has to be done frost or hail. Dig while the ooze soaks through your boots. Lean on the side for a breather and get wet to the bone. Very often in the nineteenth century a gravedigger would die of the damp. Digging your own grave wasn’t a figure of speech then. For the bereaved, the hole is a frightful place. A dizzy chasm of loss. This is the last time you’ll be by the side of the one you love and’ you must leave her, must leave” (Winterson 177) 

The above passage from Written on the Body, not only depicts the true representation of the words it speaks, but also a deeper understanding and subtle sentences that set the tone to more morbid as Louise’s death approaches. In addition to what this passage brings to the literature I also just was very invested in these words, and I read them a few times over. The grave is representative of the eventual demise of the narrator and Lousie’s relationship. Everything that follows the first sentence about the grave itself is just a different way of telling the narrator’s downfall. I found this to be particularly interesting because the description of this scene is simply so dramatic that it makes me reevaluate the tragedy and ending that was Louise and the narrator. The quote itself is basically screaming negativity, screaming about the hole that life is and how it just gets deeper and deeper. There really is not much to understand, however it is still significant in setting the tone for the next parts of the story. It also gives the reader another look into just how dark the narrator’s mind is. There are so many parallels the narrator could have used however they chose death. 

The book does not discuss death until the final pages. The rest of the book is full of life, not necessarily the positive aspects of life, but a character who is very much alive as are the people in their life. There are hardships and upsetting moments in the story but nothing as intense as death until the end of the story. It was a predictable yet mildly surprising change of tone. The quote above does a lovely job of reflecting how the narrator views things, which is usually in a negative light. Where Winterson writes about, “the last time you’ll be by the side of the one you love and’ you must leave her, must leave” was for me, honestly, the first real indication that the narrator did not have a chance of a happy ending. Yes, the entire book indicated this through displays of self-sabotage and messy relationships, but there seemed to still be potential for a turnaround.  

The Act of “Writing” on Bodies

The focus and title of this novel is centered around the body. Jeanette Winterson uses the word “body” four times in the first paragraph of page 178. The first three uses seem to address Louise’s body, her dying and eventually dead body. The second to last sentence is about the proximity of bodies–Louise and the narrator’s. The last line in the paragraph says “This is the body where your name is written” (Winterson 178). The word “written”, like the word “body”, is also included in the title. This prompts the question of what Winterson means by “written” or the act of writing on a “body.” I think that this action of writing isn’t literal but a literary way of symbolizing the marks people leave on eachother. For the narrator of Written on the Body, Louise is the one who has left a mark on the narrator and their life. And if writing is just a symbol, then so is the body, or rather, the body is a physical extension of the soul/consciousness in each human being. Winterson wants readers to focus on the body because this passage says that this “written on the body” is “passing into the hands of strangers.” Because Louise is dying/dead, one can understand that those involved in the cleaning, embalming, and dressing up this body are “the hands of strangers,” but what can also be noted is the ambiguity of this sentence. “This body where your name is written” could also be the narrator’s, and so the hands of these strangers may also be the narrator’s other lovers. “You [Louise] were intimate with every muscle, privy to the eyelids moving in sleep” (Winterson 178). Here, there is an understanding of two bodies that are in close and intimate, almost sacred, proximity, that makes the hands of these strangers possibly a violation of that intimacy between two bodies. These two sentences evoke emotions of possession and jealousy, but also grief as the state of the body being discussed is a decaying one. In the larger context of the novel, this is just one example of the language related to writing/reading and its relationship to the focus of the physical, bodily, corporeal, carnal, and mortal description and reality of Louise and the narrator’s affair.


Sunset Time of Year

“I am living in a red bubble made up of Louise’s hair. It’s the sunset time of year but it’s not the dropping disc of light that holds me in the shadows of the yard. It’s the colour I crave, floodings of you running down the edges of the sky on to the brown earth on to the grey stone. On to me,” (Winterson 138). 

 In this passage, natural imagery is used as a means of measuring time and constructing identity in regard to the narrator’s relationship with Louise. While Written on the Body follows a non-linear path, the narrator’s references to months, seasons, and natural processes acknowledge the passing of time and relationships. By referring to the “sunset time of year” which Louise herself personifies in this passage, the narrator suggests what they perceive to be the ending of their relationship. Notably, in this metaphor Louise is not the “dropping disc of light” that will return to the sky the next day; rather, she is the “colour” that floods everything, an ephemeral element that will never return in the same way twice. This generates an air of finality for their relationship, which the narrator struggles with due to both the mistakes they made and Louise’s cancer diagnosis.  

Though the narrator is devastated over the end of their relationship with Louise, there is a sense of the inevitability of nature and time within the sunset metaphor. Just as sunsets are bound to last only a short time each day, the narrator’s “circadian clock” supposedly ends their relationships once a short six months have passed (Winterson 79). Despite their efforts, the narrator’s exclusive relationship with Louise ended within this time frame, which casts doubt on whether they are capable of fully changing.  

The “circadian clock” also represents the process of reinvention the narrator goes through with each new relationship. As seen throughout this novel, the narrator has an unstable sense of self; though the narrator tries to break their circadian rhythm to stay with Louise, they still restructure their identity around their relationship with her. Louise’s influence, which is demonstrated through her red hair and colorful sunset, seemingly brings life to the narrator, who stands in “shadows” contrasted before her light. The “bubble” of Louise’s bright hair, which “holds” them in place and which they “crave,” suggests that her presence fully encompassed their life and identity. Since Louise’s hair is represented throughout this novel as something made of life and energy, its inclusion in this passage seems to suggest that Louise gives new life to the narrator. Additionally, the repeating idea of her light flooding “on to brown earth,” “grey stone,” and the narrator lumps these items into a category unified by their drab qualities and the color and life Louise brings to them.  

Overall, though the novel ends with the possibility of a second chance for the narrator and Louise, passages such as this call into question whether the narrator ever truly changes their nature for the better.

Inevitability of the Wheel

“I bought a bicycle to cover the twenty miles that separated the bar from my rented hovel. I wanted to be too exhausted to think. Still every turn of the wheel was Louise” (107).

For me, this passage encapsulates the novel itself for two reasons: First, the tension and contradiction created within the narrator’s own mind and second, the thread of cyclical inevitability throughout the novel. The first part of the passage illuminates the guilt the narrator feels, “I wanted to be too exhausted to think” they write, referring to leaving Louise without saying goodbye (107). If they do not think about what they did to Louise then they cannot feel guilty about it, further, if they do not think about Louise at all, then they can’t feel guilty about it. Looking at this scene by itself, is an example of how the narrator keeps themselves very compartmentalized and almost a cold distance away from their lovers—they break up after six months, date mostly taken women, don’t feel much sadness when getting broken up or breaking up with someone—thus, everyone is kept at a distance, even themselves.

But like Louise is a contradiction for the narrator, the next line is a contradiction of their earlier goal. “Still,” Gives the impression to the reader that even though they are trying their best to not think of Louise, it’s inevitable that they will (107). “Every turn of the wheel was Louise” emphasizes the spinning of the wheel of the bicycle, the RPMs repeating over and over as the wheel spins. The fate of the wheel is to spin, just as it feels like fate for the narrator to continue to think of Louise. Further, the connection between the inevitableness of the fate of the wheel to spin connects to Louise by writing, “…the wheel was Louise” (107). The wheel and Louise have become the same for the narrator—no matter what they do, pedaling their bike to forget about Louise just serves to remind them of Louise.

This small passage illuminates the narrator’s internal monologue and battle with themselves and for me, allows to see the humanity and faults in the narrator. The internal battle within the narrator resonates with the reader, especially in the context of queerness, this push-pull between fate and force. The fate of the wheel, fate of thinking of Louise and force of their own will, and force of their own guilt about Louise. It’s one of the points in the novel where the narrator admits to their own emotions, conflictual as they may be.

Hero or Villain

“Run out on her? That doesn’t sound like the heroics I’d had in mind. Hadn’t I sacrificed myself for her? Offered my life for her life?” (159)

In Written on the Body by Jeanette Winterson, this passage is one of the first times that the narrator’s perspective is acknowledged as being biased. Throughout most of the novel, the narrator frames themselves as a side character as other people use them as a tool to mess up their relationships. During this passage, they start to question if they actually are morally in the right. Using the phrase “had in mind” draws attention to the fact that this whole story is the internal monologue of the narrator. It is entirely their perspective of events. At this point in the novel, it seems like the narrator’s narration of the story starts to be questioned. I think that this is the start of the narrator realizing that they might have been the one to mess things up with Louise.

A theme throughout the novel was a lack of a gender for the narrator. The author frequently made the reader question their own gender stereotypes by doing this. In this passage the author uses both feminine and masculine words to describe the narrator questioning their actions. Using ‘heroics’ and ‘sacrificed’ seems like a continuation of this. Heroics is usually thought of as a masculine thing whereas sacrifices are stereotypically thought of as feminine. Running out on someone, as a way to describe leaving someone, is used predominantly used when describing men leaving women. I think that ‘offered my life for her life’ however seems like a feminine role in a relationship. This might be a stretch but in this sense, I think its referencing sacrificing your happiness for someone else’s and that to me is something that has been associated with femininity. The authors use of both feminine and masculine stereotyped words adds even more question to the gender of the narrator.

The Wriggle of Grief

“The worm of doubt has long since found a home in my intestines. I no longer know what to trust or what is right. I get a macabre comfort from my worm. The worms that will eat you are first eating me. You won’t feel the blunt head burrowing into your collapsing tissue. You won’t know the blind persistence that mocks sinew, muscle, cartilage, until it finds bone.”

The worm of doubt is an apt descriptor. The way doubt wiggles and squirms and feels wrong, like a parasite is inhabiting your body and you are no longer you, but taken over by something outside of your control. The narrator is taken over by doubt, fear, grief, and love after Louise dies. They lost themself in her, they found themselves in her, and when they lost her, they lost themself again.

Throughout the novel, the narrator has been a blank canvas, shaped by the desires of their lovers. They blew up urinals with Inge, begged Frank to go to England with them, and went to church with Bruno. But Louise “has translated [them] into her own book.” (89). She dug them out of the hole they were in, and patched the missing pieces of them with her own story.

I also interpreted this line as the narrator starving themselves out of grief or a loss of appetite due to grief and depression. I’m aware that it’s a stretch but with the heavy connection to the body throughout the book, ties to identity, and the queerness of all of it, it allows you to project parts of yourself onto the narrator. While many projected their ideas of gender based on aspects of the narrator (particularly emotional competence, violence, and their interpersonal relationships), I reflected aspects of depression onto the narrator, and way it causes you to lose sense of who you are. Louise was the narrator’s reason to live. On page 107 the narrator thinks “What is the point of movement when movement indicates life and life indicates hope? I have neither life nor hope”.

The worms are both literal and figurative. Figuratively the worms can be so many things. It could be their grief at the loss of Louise, that’s taking over all their thoughts. The ”macabre form of comfort” that grief can bring is the loss of apathy and the dulling of the senses. It’s raw and painful, but the grief itself is a comfort because it’s real, visceral and means they truly loved Louise. The grief is a reassurance that they can feel. The worm could also be love, particularly the parasitic way the narrator loves, by taking pieces of their lovers to build themselves anew.

The worms are now eating at Louise’s corpse. She’s buried and dead, six feet under, and with that loss of life, loss of love, the narrator no longer feels alive. It’s also a ”macabre form of comfort” to the narrator that Louise will never have to feel the same grief that the narrator is from her loss, because the dead can no longer feel, but the living have to. What I am really trying to say here is that I think the narrator is losing themself in grief, both grief that Louise is dead, and grief that the only person who saw them for who they really are is dead.  It’s both a selfless and a selfish form of grief, nevertheless it’s all consuming and bone deep.

Written on the Body Post

Passage location: pg 89 “Written on the body is a secret code only…..She has translated me into her own book”

This passage is significant because it touches on a central theme that the body is like a text. In this passage, there are many refences that compare the body to a piece of text. Words such as written, code, palimpsest, and letters all cluster together to communicate this idea. When the narrator compares themselves to a palimpsest, it is their way of communicating to us that their story is not linear. Their story has been “so heavily worked” that it is hard to read. Moreover, there is a lot of repetition when it comes to words that have to do with writing. The word choice shows that there is a theme of comparing the body to a text. Thus, this passage also delves into identity and how there is more than meets the eye. The following is another interesting cluster of words from the passage: never, secret, away, only, rolled, and certain. These words feed into the idea that they like to keep their body “rolled”. Just as a book is folded, so too is the narrator’s body. According to the narrator, Louise is the only one that can read their body. The narrator is describing their body exactly how it is being read by Louise. We are readers, share a special bond with Louise and in turn with the narrator as we too are actively reading the book that the narrator’s body has made. In sum, the passage is about how the narrator tries to stay rolled up so that no one can truly know who they are. However, the word choices show that they are doing the opposite Louise. The narrator is contradicting themselves when they are with Louise. What I am really trying to say here is that I think these lines are an essential aspect to the novel and touch upon the idea that the body is like a text.

Narrator and trust

“To borrow against the trust someone has placed in you costs nothing at first. You get away with it, you take a little more and a little more until there is no more to draw on. Oddly, your hands should be full with all that you are taking, but when you open them up there’s nothing there.” (pg 77)

At this moment in the novel, the narrator is reflecting on their experiences with cheating on their partners. I thought that this section reflected on their attitude regarding sleeping with married women, and them trying to rationalize their actions. The first part of the quote shows that the initial break of trust does not cost them anything. This then leads from going to a one time mistake, to a full blown affair. I think that the second part where the author says “you open them up and there’s nothing there” reflects the little remorse that they are actually feeling. In the case of Louise, they are so caught up in their obsession with her that they barely even notice the trust they are taking from Jacqueline. 

  I think that the narrator repeats “more” and “take” showing that they think that they are holding the power in their situation. They can take their fidelity from their partner and they still believe that they have the upper hand. I also found it interesting that with many other parts of the novel, the metaphor that was used was related to the body, using hands as the method of taking. This shows the  

I connected this to the narrator’s feelings on marriage. In a similar passage they say that “no one can legislate love” (pg 77) and “marriage is the flimsiest weapon against desire.” I think they are passionate about their distaste for marriage as a way to justify their affairs. This also connects to the novel as whole with the theme of trust. Although they believed they were doing the right thing when they left Louise with Elgin, they broke her trust. They continue to see themselves in a position of power, deciding how and when the relationship ends. They believed that they were morally correct in this situation, despite taking the same that they took from Jaquiline in the beginning of their affair, her trust. 


Lost and Found: An Exploration of The Narrator

“’Explore me,’ you said and I collected my ropes, flasks and maps, expecting to be back home soon. I dropped into the mass of you and I cannot find the way out. Sometimes I think I’m free, coughed up like Jonah from the whale, but then I turn a corner and recognize myself again. Myself in your skin, myself lodged in your bones, myself floating in the cavities that decorate every surgeon’s wall. That is how I know you. You are what I know” (120).

This passage has three intersecting themes based on the language: exploration, the body, and the self. As the narrator describes exploring Louise, the words in this first cluster extend beyond literal exploration (ropes, flasks, maps) to a subcategory of being stuck, unable to find a way out, even lodged in her bones. The narrator transitions into clinical, rather than sensual, language to describe the body, and specifically how they feel connected to Louise. They experience more than an emotional attachment, though; they basically imply that they are or have become Louise by virtue of falling in love with her—seeing themself in her skin, her bones, and the cavities of her body. In being physically part of Louise, they lose themself to her, to the extent that she becomes all that they know. But even with the emphasis on Louise’s body, their focus is clear from their repetition of the word “myself.”

Throughout the novel, the narrator meanders between feeling lost and found—lost throughout their numerous relationships (as displayed by their non-linear narration), found with Louise, only to become lost again when they leave her. But interestingly, here they describe feeling lost when they recognize themself. They allude to the Biblical story of Jonah, who is saved from drowning by a whale that releases him back on shore, the lesson being to repent instead of running from God. Essentially, once Louise “saves” the narrator and teaches them to “repent” for their less-than-considerate behavior, they being to rediscover themself. But instead of providing clarity, discovering their identity is disorienting. They have lost their sense of self, and instead attempt to carve their identity out of their relationship.

Repeatedly, the narrator describes relationships in which they attempt (in some form) to transform into that which most pleases their partner, but it is never enough. I think that instills in them a fear of commitment that causes them to find comfort in loneliness and self-centeredness, however ironic and frustrating it may seem. Even when they finally find comfort with Louise, they run away under the guise of playing the “hero,” despite doing exactly what hurts her the most. As much as they want to understand Louise, they are too afraid to be understood, afraid to have strings attached. So, as we have discussed in class, Louise reads, writes, and unravels them, but I think that ultimately, they are too lost to even be found.

Nature: Who Needs It?

“In the heat of her hands I thought, This is the campfire that mocks the sun. This place will warm me, feed me and care for me. I will hold on to this pulse against other rhythms. The world will come and go in the tide of a day but here is her hand with my future in its palm” (Winterson 51).

In this passage, the power of the narrator’s devotion to Louise is illustrated through a binary between nature and body. These two themes are prominent throughout the entirety of the story, but in this passage they are positioned in a contrast which signifies the narrator’s obsessed love for Louise. The body, which is linked with warmth and intimacy, is indicated by words like “hand,” (which is used twice), “pulse,” and palm.” The contrasting symbol of nature represents everything distant and outside their love, and is shown through words like “sun,” “world,” “tide,” and “day.”

In every sentence of this passage, the symbol of the body is positioned opposite the symbol of nature. “This is the campfire that mocks the sun” is the first thought the narrator has. The campfire is a manmade thing, which in this instance symbolizes the love of the narrator and Louise, and by “mocking the sun” it is implied that this feeling makes everything else seem inadequate. The narrator is so overpowered by their emotion they have no need for anything else, even things that have kept them alive their entire life, since the sun is obviously essential for the existence of living things. This metaphor also implies a sort of self-awareness of the narrator, since when you are close to a campfire it may seem like the greatest heat source imaginable, but of course you know the sun is a million times stronger. This hints that the narrator knows deep down that the relationship is not truly this all-powerful force, but they will cling tightly to it nonetheless.

The second sentence, “This place will warm me, feed me and care for me,” positions Louise’s love not only as a thing but as a place, which has swallowed the narrator whole. The repetitive structure of this sentence implies that the narrator is drilling these things in their mind, trying to convince themself of their truth. “I will hold on to this pulse against other rhythms” returns to the body/nature divide, with “this pulse” being the heartbeat (of themself or of Louise) and “other rhythms” referring to everything beyond their bodies. “Rhythms” is such a vague word, and yet nature is full of repeated sounds: the rushing of a stream, the blowing of the wind, birdcalls, even the tides, which is referenced again in the last sentence. The rhythm of their bodies (heartbeats and perhaps the rhythm of physical contact as well) is all the narrator needs to survive. The passage ends with “The world will come and go in the tide of a day but here is her hand with my future in its palm,” rounding out the message with explicit symbolism: the outside world (referenced by name) with its rhythms and structures (“the tide of a day”) is separated completely from the body and the narrator’s relationship with Louise, suggesting the narrator has no desire for any aspect of life beyond their love.