Jeanette Winterson, “Sexing the Cherry” (1989) – This was a pretty fun, short read. A gargantua-style “Dog Woman” and her beautiful small non-son Jordan get unstuck in time. They start out mostly in seventeenth century Britain, but seeking out fruit, shelter from civil wars, and love send both characters, but especially Jordan, wandering around getting in various magical realism adventures with a feminist spin. It’s pretty fun and not weirdly self-aware like a lot of big time “literary” writers are when they dip a toe into the speculative side of things. Think Italo Calvino with a sense of humor.
Because I’m weird, I found myself thinking less about its take on time, gender, myth, or any of the other big themes Winterson plays adroitly with, but about one time in particular- the time surrounding the English Civil War. The Dog Woman, the main narrator, falls firmly on the royalist side. The Roundheads are presented as prissy, hypocritical, not allowing of fun, and also totally gay for each other. The executed King Charles is depicted as a tragic figure beloved by all. In short, the Royalist side was the side of the kind of funky, weird, subversive types that Winterson asks the reader to identify with, and the Parliament side represents the martinets who try to keep them down.
It’s less that I object to this — my ideas about the English Civil War are complicated, to say the least — and more that I feel like this isn’t the only artistic work from its era by notional lefties (or at least counterculture habitues) who identify with one or another conservative ancien regime. This is usually held in opposition to some new order, like the Roundheads, supposedly progressive but actually just the force of cold rationality. The ancien regime is seen as more organic, funkier, warmer, authentic. I feel like, but can’t quite remember, others did this with the Royalist side in the English Civil War, or with the Restoration. Definitely you saw it with figures like Richard Brautigan and his “Confederate General from Big Sur,” who lives a life of liberated fecklessness that the narrator seeks to join, fleeing from the buttoned-down life in the rest of the union. Ishmael Reed was a complicated writer but hated many kinds of radicals and tended to prefer figures who carve out spaces of freedom inside of a system whether than trying to overthrow it. You see something like that in parts of Robert Anton Wilson’s “Illuminatus!,” which is basically Ishmael Reed for literal-minded white nerds… anyway, not sure what to make of it but I think it could be a thread worth tugging on. I don’t think it takes away from the book at all, which was pretty good, but I get fixated on weird stuff some times, lay off me! ****’