Written on the Body Characters

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

Author: Jeanette Winterson

First published: 1992, in Great Britain (first pb. in US, 1993)

Genre: Novel

Locale: London and Yorkshire, England

Plot: Picaresque

Time: The late twentieth century

The narrator, unnamed and of unspecified gender. Significantly a professional translator, the narrator also acts as sole interpreter, through whose perspective all other characters and events are viewed. The character of the narrator is unfolded through revelations of his/her romantic and sexual exploits, which are relayed in retrospective meditations alternating among despair, cynicism, humorous self-mockery, and romantic lyricism. Although the narrator often is flippant and cynical in recalling past loves, the context within which these are related is a mournful, obsessive, and sincere account of the most recent and traumatically ended affair, with the adored Louise, who is later discovered to be dying of leukemia. The self-portrait is a mixture of romantic and sexual renegade with selfless and devoted lover. There are the other aspects of the narrator's character implicit in the narrative, rather than self-acknowledged; among these less sympathetic qualities is the casualness with which former lovers are abandoned. The narrator admits to an addiction to passion and to dismissing comfortable or contented relationships, specifically marriage, as hypocritical and deadening.

Louise, the central focus of the narrator's monologue, discussed or addressed in absentia. Revealed through this impassioned perspective, she is described as a pre-Raphaelite beauty with flaming red hair. The Australian is unhappily married to Elgin, a physician and cancer researcher. She is the only one of a series of married lovers of the narrator who immediately decides to leave her husband to be with her/him. Halfway through the novel, it is revealed that Louise is dying of lymphocytic leukemia. Her absence results from the fact that the narrator reluctantly has abandoned her to ensure her return to Elgin's expert care.

Elgin, Louise's husband, a physician who specializes in the treatment of cancer. Portrayed through the narrator's eyes, he appears boring, clinical, and cold. This characterization is supplemented by references to Louise expressing her disappointment in Elgin who, when she had married him, had more humane ambitions for his medicine but, seduced by fame, abandoned his original intention of practicing in the Third World in favor of research. He is the son of poor Jewish shopowners, Esau and Sarah Rosenthal. It was his mother Sarah's death from cancer that inspired Elgin to choose his particular field of medical research.

Jacqueline, the most recent of the narrator's former lovers. Jacqueline is abandoned in favor of Louise. Jacqueline works as an animal psychologist at the zoo, helping the animals to adjust to their unnatural surroundings. Physically unprepossessing, Jacqueline is portrayed as a kind and practical but unexciting person. The affair with her is presented in direct (and unflattering) contrast to the subsequent heady, obsessional passion with Louise. On being confronted with the affair with Louise, Jacqueline tears up the apartment she shared with the narrator in an uncharacteristic rage, then leaves.

Esau and Sarah Rosenthal, Elgin's parents, Jewish shopowners.

Inge, a Dutch “anarcha-feminist,” a former lover of the narrator.

Bathsheba, a married dentist, a former lover of the narrator.

Crazy Frank, the giant son of midgets, a former lover of the narrator.

Bruno, a furniture mover who finds Jesus while trapped under a wardrobe. He is a former lover of the narrator.

Gail, the manager of a Yorkshire wine bar in which the narrator temporarily works. She is both lascivious and maternal toward the narrator, encouraging him/her to search for Louise.

Categories: Characters