Written on the Body
The two texts that I am going to consider are Jeanette Winterson’s ‘Written on the Body’ and Charlotte Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’. They will form some interesting contrasts and unexpected comparisons, due to the context, of different time periods. Bronte’s references to the body are somewhat subtler and do not reveal explicit sexual references, but it will be fascinating to contemplate whether either text conforms to the conventions and ideas of the body within the romantic genre.
I will delve into the writes attitudes to the body and how they divulge these through style, language, metaphors and above all the major theme of love. I will additionally take into account the feminist perception, particularly that of Judith Butler, and literacy criticism of the body and furthermore, touch on Freud’s theory and its connection to the texts. The body has numerous definitions but even the body itself as “a. The entire material or physical structure of an organism, especially of a human or animal. b. The physical part of a person. c. A corpse or carcass.
“1 denotes a great deal. The body can signify numerous things within a narrative due to its sexual connotations, complexity, social values and above all connection to our identity. Both, Winterson’s ‘Written on the Body’ and Bronte’s ‘Wuthering Heights’, engage critically with matters surrounding the theorisation of the self and body connection, where the body is considered an object increasingly exposed to human scrutiny and ideals. Butler states, “we feel our way into these roles, slowly establishing (under the watchful eyes of powerful social forces) the way we will occupy them”.
Nonetheless her key insistence and strong view against ideologies is that “nothing is natural”2 However, to understand the fundamental themes of Wuthering Heights we have to consider this normality of the Victorian era. There were severe restraints on sexuality in the Victorian period, especially on that of woman and the higher class. We can comprehend this due to the lack of intimacy and reference to the body, in the novel, compared to that of a Post-modernism text such as Written on the Body. Here is a prime example of what flows throughout the text, “We lay down on my floor, our back to the day…
what other places are there in the world than those discovered on a lover’s body? “3 Every aspect of the body is touched on here, her “fingers”, “skin”, “nerve ends” “eyes” and “spine, which generate the idea of erotic sensation whilst the is back symbolically blocking out the world, as a stance of oblivion and ignorance to society, The body metaphorically become a whole new world and experience. Furthermore, connecting to Butler’s above statement about society, a central concept within Wuthering Heights is the self-imposed confinement and repression.
Catherine and Heathcliff find their bodies prisons, which capture their sprits and avert the contentment of their desires. Catherine longs to be united with Heathcliff, with a loss of childhood freedom, whilst Heathcliff wants possession of Catherine. Both are confined with in their identity, the body which society glares over, due to class constraints. Catherine, the definition of a typical Victorian lady, does not contemplate personal feelings, but as a substitute, she focuses on her superficial, outer appearance to society.
“Edgar Linton will be rich and I shall like to be the greatest woman of the neighbourhood whereas if Heathcliff and I married, we should be beggars”4 Winterson escapes these gendered, social restrictions by devising an androgynous narrator. It highlights that gender is not significant between lovers and that it is a connection of the souls and inner self rather than the outer body, usually what comprises desire and sexual decision. Most choose to presume that the narrator is a disguised lesbian lover even though Winterson says that she does not “think people’s sexuality is really that fixed”5, she, in the book, address many lovers.
The gender of the character is both and throughout the book it changes “sometimes it’s female, sometimes it’s male”6. In Written on the Body, Winterson disturbs rigid boundaries and firm gender identities that signify the body in order to form a concept that is adjustable and allows scope for changes and merging with other bodies. Freud indicates that “the story teller has a peculiarly directive power over us … he is able to guide the current of out emotions. 7 She holds the body by connection and interaction between parts rather than a stable body image and a gendered identity.
According to Butler, “the solution, or way to expose heterosexuality’s false claim to originality and normatively, may be a matter of working sexuality against identity, even against gender”8 In comparison to Winterson’s theory, Catherine suggests that her love for Heathcliff is eternal and spiritual with the means survive on some other level than her relationship with Linton, which is conventionally romantic. Death is perhaps the only process she comprehends for this which will leave here soul and technically makes here genderless. This is discussed further later in the essay.
Butler supports this assertion, “Our culture’s understanding of sexuality is ill-equipped, therefore, to recognize bodies that confound that strict binary division between male and female, of desires that cross, combined, or otherwise fail to conform to a fairly narrow as sex as genital intercourse between two people, one “naturally” female, the other “naturally” male”9 The ungendered narrator in Written on the body, insinuate that the body image of the narrator is somewhat vague. She only makes references to the genitals of her lovers, a key aspect of the body attached to gender.
She describes, “She nuzzled her cunt into my face like a filly at the gate”10. Winterson employ “n. Vulgar Slang”11 , “cunt” for the female genital organs. It is an extremely suggestive and overt sexual reference. The body here is perhaps symbolic for her stance in society. She believes that people should not be constrained and should behave and voice what they feel, she declares in the Guardian, “protecting yourself from difference is a natural response to fear”, however she makes it clear that “it is a response that a civilised society must avoid”12.
The narrator believes that “written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a life time gather there”13 Whether this is concealed and only visible to the lover, or perhaps references to lovers will never know. Winterson’s coding of the body corresponds with Butler’s theory of inscription onto the body. This, however, is contrived from Foucault’s essay on genealogy, where he reveals the body being unravel as a blank page or a surface, and subsequently the body is “culturally inscribed”14 with a “surface of events”15. Foucault’s interpretation can be distinguished in Wuthering Heights.
As indicated, Bronte depicts the social positioning of a woman. The inscription upon Catherine is to some extent more precise. Her struggles, unhappiness and strains have perhaps marked the body physically but also her culture, as Foucault exemplifies, is also marked upon her body as her identity, that of a Victorian woman. Female writes of the time additionally experienced these constraints. Emily Bronte wanted to be judged on her literary merit rather than on their gender, in order that she published under a name that was not connected to either sex, Ellis Bell.
James Wood, the Guardian principal book reviewer, says a “book is a walking self advertisement”16. The writer can not escape their identity. Although Winterson escapes gender trouble, her fellow lesbians based “the success or failure of her work to conform to what they consider to be a correct representation of contemporary lesbian-feminist politics”17. Feminist appropriations of the thought within Written on the Body can be complicated; often draw attention to the way in which a coherent body representation is create and then imposed on the body parts, highlighted by the second half of the book.