To Understand Passion, Read Jeanette Winterson

Posted: July 28, 2010 in books
Tags: , ,

I discovered Jeanette Winterson back in high school, picking up “The Powerbook” by chance. I remember being enamored with the language and theme, despite the seemingly jarring narrative. Maybe I loved the worlds she created, I don’t know.

Much has been said that “The Powerbook” was not representative of Winterson’s work. So about ten years after I discovered Winterson (with pit stops of “Oranges are Not the Only Fruit”, “Written on the Body” and “Sexing the Cherry” during my college years), I finally found a copy of “The Passion,” which some say was Winterson at her best.

“The Passion” is told from two narratives: Henri, a young Frenchman enamored by his belief in Napoleon Bonaparte and who followed the Empreror as part of his army/court in various conquests; and Villanelle, a Venetian girl with the feet of boatmen and with a flair for cross-dressing as a casino worker. Both characters weave fantastical stories of their worlds, which eventually meet when both characters find themselves struggling to survive in the unforgiving Russian winter.

The book explores the multiple facets of passion—what we choose to do in life, what we choose to risk/gamble when the chance comes, and how love consumes us, among others.

“The Passion” is filled with Winterson’s fluid language that I would otherwise describe as poetry. She has recreated the excesses of Napoleon’s court and the festivities of Venice with much mastery, to the point that it becomes necessary for the characters to remind you that they are just simply telling stories.

Here are some of my favorite passages:

How is it that one day life is orderly and you are content, a little cynical perhaps, but on the whole just so, and then without warning you find the solid floor is a trapdoor and you are now in another place whose geography is uncertain and whose customs are strange?

Travelers at least have a choice. Those who set sail know that things will not be the same as at home. Explorers are prepared. But for us who travel along the blood vessels, who come to the cities of the interior by change, there is no preparation. We who were fluent find life a foreign language.


Whoever it is you fall in love with for the first time, not just love but be in love with, is the only one who will always make you angry, the one you can’t be logical about. It may be that you are settled in another place, it may be that you are happy, but the one who took your heart wields final power.


Love, they say, enslaves and passion is a demon and many have been lost for love. I know this is true, but I know too that without love we grope the tunnels of our lives and never see the sun.

  1. Ally says:

    Yes, The passion is my favorite Winterson book as well 🙂

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