Buy from Waterstones Buy from Hive. It is a story about love and sex; lies and truths; and twelve dancing princesses who lived happily ever after, but not with their husbands. Why did you set this one in the seventeenth century? I liked the stink of the river and I was thinking about pineapples a lot. Why is this the last book you have set in the past?
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Sexing the Cherry is an imaginative tour de force exploring history, imagination, and the nature of time. In a fantastic world that is and is not seventeenth-century England, a baby is found floating in the Thames. The child is rescued by the Dog Woman, a murderous gentle giant who names her newfound trophy Jordan and takes him out for walks on a leash. When he grows up Jordan, like Gulliver, travels the world, but finds that the strangest wonders are spun out of his own head.
The strangest wonder of all is Time. Does it exist? What is its nature? Why does every journey conceal another journey within its lines? What is the difference between seventeenth-century Jordan and twentieth-century Nicholas Jordan, a navel cadet in a warship?
And who are the Twelve Dancing Princesses? With a story full of shimmering epiphanies, Jeanette Winterson again demonstrates the keenness of her craft and the singularity of her vision.
Those who care for fiction that is both idiosyncratic and beautiful will want to read anything [Winterson] writes.
It was night, about a quarter to twelve, the sky divided in halves, one cloudy, the other fair. The clouds hung over the wood, there was no distance between them and the tops of the trees.
Where the sky was clear, over the river and the flat fields newly ploughed, the moon, almost full, shone out of a yellow aureole and reflected in the bow of the water. There were cattle in the field across, black against the slope of the hill, not moving, sleeping. Tall trees flanked it A horse ran loose in the courtyard, its hooves sparking the stone. Then the fog came. The fog came from the river in thin spirals like spirits in a churchyard and thickened with the force of a genie from a bottle.
The bulrushes were buried first, then the trunks of the trees, then the forks and the junctions. The tops of the trees floated in the fog, making suspended islands for the birds. The cattle were all drowned and the moat-light, like a lighthouse, appeared and vanished and vanished and appeared, cutting the air like a bright sword.
The fog came towards me and the sky that had been clear was covered up. It was bitterly cold, my hair was damp and I had no hand-warmer. I tried to find the path but all I found were hares with staring eyes, poised in the middle of the field and turned to stone. I began to walk with my hands stretched out in front of me, as do those troubled in sleep, and in this way, for the first time, I traced the lineaments of my own face opposite me. Every journey conceals another journey within its lines: the path not taken and the forgotten angle.
These are the journeys I wish to record. Not the ones I made, but the ones I might have made, or perhaps did make in some other place or time. I could tell you the truth as you will find it in diaries and maps and log-books. I could faithfully describe all that I saw and heard and give you a travel book. You could follow it then, tracing those travels with your finger, putting red flags where I went.
For the Greeks, the hidden life demanded invisible ink. They wrote an ordinary letter and in between the lines set out another letter, written in milk. The document looked innocent enough until one who knew better sprinkled coal-dust over it. What the letter had been no longer mattered; what mattered was the life flaring up undetected till now.
I discovered that my own life was written invisibly, was squashed between the facts, was flying without me like the Twelve Dancing Princesses who shot from their window every night and returned home every morning with torn dresses and worn-out slippers and remembered nothing. I resolved to set a watch on myself like a jealous father, trying to catch myself disappearing through a door just noticed in the wall. I knew I was being adulterous; that what I loved was not going on at home.
I was giving myself the slip and walking through this world like a shadow. The longer I eluded myself the more obsessed I became with the thought of discovery. My mother carved this on a medallion and hung it round my neck the day she found me in the slime by the river. I was wrapped up in a rotting sack such as kittens are drowned in, but my head had wedged uppermost against the bank. I heard dogs coming towards me and a roar in the water and a face as round as the moon with hair falling on either side bobbed over me.
She scooped me up, she tied me between her breasts whose nipples stood out like walnuts. She took me home and kept me there with fifty dogs and no company but her own. Begin your discussion of this incredibly inventive work by talking about the ways in which the narrative structure moves away from conventional realism.
Did you find the format of the novel challenging? The putrid stench of bawdy seventeenth-century London rips through the novel, immersing the reader in the brutality and physicality of life under Charles I during the civil wars, but how true would it be to say that this is a historical novel?
How does she use history? Plucked from the River Thames as an abandoned baby, Jordan spends his life on a quest: searching out exotic fruits on far-flung shores, seeking a dancer he saw once at a dinner, looking for answers to questions about time and space, about his different selves.
How much of his peripatetic, exploratory nature do you think comes from the fact that he is adopted? Do you believe he is trying to understand his own story by traveling the world and finding his place in it? Talk about his awareness that his life with the Dog-Woman is his by chance—and the accompanying thought that, therefore, many other lives are possible.
What does she mean by this, and what is its relevance to the novel as a whole? If, for Jordan, all paths lead away from home, is it because he is running away? How does he view his home, his upbringing, and most importantly, the Dog-Woman, the only mother he has ever known? How does she affect his attitude to life, to other women? If he is not running away, what is he running toward? Does he know? Take this opportunity to discuss the formidable character of the Dog-Woman, the strong and immensely likable presence at the center of the novel.
Is she a living contradiction or is she a fully rounded, flawed example of human nature? The Dog-Woman briefly describes her loveless childhood ending with the murder of her father. Is it surprising that, having known no love in her own life, she is able to love Jordan as she does? What does she believe about love? Does she fear it for herself? For Jordan? Continuing this line of discussion, talk about love as it is portrayed throughout the novel.
What about Jordan? Where does he stand in all this? What is he hoping for when he pursues the dancer? Look at the way that Winterson mixes the familiar and strange, and the effect that has on the narrative.
Winterson weaves myth and fairytale throughout the text, highlighting themes and expanding upon ideas and further reminding us that this is not a conventional realistic narrative. How does reading the stories of the twelve dancing princesses help with our understanding of the book as a whole?
What about the myth of Artemis and Orion? Discuss how their stories fit into this rich tapestry of disparate histories. When John Tradescant first meets Jordan he sees something of his past self in the young boy. To Jordan, Tradescant becomes a hero.
Why is this? They occupy time comfortably. With some leeway, they are predictable. Does Jordan see this as a failing in himself or in Tradescant? On his travels Jordan meets a member of the Hopi, an Indian tribe and learns that their language has no tenses for past, present, and future.
Using this quote as a springboard, discuss the place of time in the novel. Does Jordan believe that it is possible to exist in more than one time? Why and how? Give examples. If the existence of time itself can be questioned then what does that say about the nature of reality? Empty space and points of light. On all his journeys—and his journeys within journeys—Jordan is on a mission. Ultimately, what do you think that mission is? What is he searching for and does he ever find it?
Does that help to clarify your responses? In one of the most moving parts of the novel we realize the disconnect that exists between the Dog-Woman and Jordan. What was your response to this? Was it hard for you to believe? What do you think Winterson is saying about the nature of the reality we project? Or the subjective nature of truth? Can we ever know ourselves if it is so hard to fathom others?
Sexing the Cherry Background
Sexing the Cherry is an imaginative tour de force exploring history, imagination, and the nature of time. In a fantastic world that is and is not seventeenth-century England, a baby is found floating in the Thames. The child is rescued by the Dog Woman, a murderous gentle giant who names her newfound trophy Jordan and takes him out for walks on a leash. When he grows up Jordan, like Gulliver, travels the world, but finds that the strangest wonders are spun out of his own head. The strangest wonder of all is Time. Does it exist?
Sexing the Cherry
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Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson (1989): In praise of older books
These notes were contributed by members of the GradeSaver community. But those are just the physical temporal context of the book. The book and its characters defies time and matter, location and reality. It plays with the idea of reality and history and explores the limitless realm of imagination. Or rather her dogs discover him, who are an extended part of her identity. Having forgotten her names years ago, and going by the moniker Dog Woman , she decides to give the child a river name, Jordon, and raises him along with her dogs.
Sexing The Cherry
Sexing the Cherry is a novel by Jeanette Winterson. She is also hideous, with smallpox scars in which fleas live, a flat nose and foul teeth. Her son, however, is proud of her, as no other mother can hold a good dozen oranges in her mouth all at once. Ultimately, their journey is a journey in search of The Self.
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