Cover image for Sexing the cherry
Sexing the cherry
Winterson, Jeanette, 1959-
Personal Author:
First Atlantic Monthly Press edition.
Publication Information:
New York : Atlantic Monthly Press, 1990.

General Note:
"First published in Great Britain in 1989 by Bloomsbury Publishing Ltd."--T.p. verso.
Format :


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Material Type
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Item Holds
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Library
FICTION Adult Fiction Central Closed Stacks

On Order



Tells the story of the Dog Woman, a giantess whose size varies according to her need, and her foster son, Jordan, an explorer.

Author Notes

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester, England in 1959 and graduated from St. Catherine's College, Oxford.

Her book, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, is a semi-autobiographical account of her life as a child preacher (she wrote and gave sermons by the time she was eight years old). The book was the winner of the Whitbread Prize for best first fiction and was made into an award-winning TV movie. The Passion won the John Llewelyn Rhys Memorial Prize for best writer under thirty-five, and Sexing the Cherry won the American Academy of Arts and Letters' E. M. Forster Award.

(Bowker Author Biography) Jeanette Winterson lives in London & the Cotswolds.

(Publisher Provided)

Reviews 4

Booklist Review

We're told that "time is one," and indeed time is fluid in this inventive tale by an award-winning young British author. Dog Woman is a shape-changer living in London in the 1600s. She has strange powers and tremendous strength. Finding an abandoned baby by the Thames, she names him Jordan and raises him along with her hounds. Eventually Jordan takes to the sea, and his wanderings bring him to many fantastic lands--places where people don't use floors, and words are scrubbed from the sky to clear the air. Suddenly it's 1990, and Jordan is seemingly reincarnated as a young seaman who lives with a woman whose life is dedicated to fighting water pollution. Then we're back in seventeenth-century London, by the "stinking Thames." Winterson has spun us around, making us accept the inexplicable and visualize the improbable, and while we're spinning, she douses us with a bracing shower of feminism and ecological warning. Well received in England, this phantasmagorical novel makes a fine addition to contemporary fiction collections. --Donna Seaman

Publisher's Weekly Review

Evoking modern physics and antique metaphysics, Winterson's ambitiously eccentric narrative challenges her readers to rupture the boundaries of conventional perceptions and linear experience of time. Her narrative voices, alternating between a Rabelaisian giantess and her foundling son, collapse at times into one another and the characters plunge vertiginously through time and space. On the one hand reworking fairy tales, and on the other evoking the filth, squalor and exuberant bawdiness of 17th-century England in the throes of civil war, Winterson ( The Passion ) eventually locates her characters in present-day London. Graced with striking similes and poetic cadences, the author's prose is clean and strong, and the disjunctive elements of her narrative are integrated elegantly. But the novel's freakish characters and flights of surreal fancy are insufficient to redeem its overwrought artifice. The work is further limited by its stridently dogmatic feminism, which, contemptuously belittling all men as arrogantly stupid bullies who are vastly women's inferiors in maturity and moral fiber, vitiates its ostensible intent to transcend the narrowness of human perception. (Apr.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Bizarre images and bawdy laughter galvanize this splendid English farce about a prodigious giantess and her explorer son in 17th-century London. Jordan fetches the first pineapple to the court of Charles II, while his mother, The Dog Woman, wreaks vengeance upon Puritans in a brothel. The plague; the flying princesses who defy laws of the courts and gravity; Jordan's travels to the floating city and the botanical wonders of the New World--the tale nips easily in and out of history and fantasy. The two characters eventually merge into the grievously polluted life of modern London. Metaphors abound with polemics on environmental concerns and politics of past and present. Not for the Jackie Collins set: readers need a background in surrealism to follow this story.-- Maurice Taylor, Brunswick Cty. Lib., Southport, N.C. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Believing every mappable journey conceals an uncharted one, Jeanette Winterson has shaped her new novel to create a historical-political-feminist-philosophical tale told by both feminine and masculine narrative voices, and propelled through time by the literal and metaphorical journeys of Jordan, adoped son of the 17th-century gigantic London Dog Woman whose immensity becomes the metaphor of a 20th-century river-watcher's rage over the dying fish in a mercury-laden river. Once cleansed by the Great Plague and the Great Fire, London now stumbles toward Apocalypse again. Life, however, dominates as Jordan, naturalist-explorer, brings the pineapple to London and learns to graft a female cherry tree that has neither parent nor seed. Simultaneous with these explorations, Jordan journeys toward love in a series of tales filled with passion and humor; feminist fairy tales like that of the princess who kissed her prince, who immediately turned into a frog; linguistic cautionary tales of the City of Words with its house with no floors, only ceilings, so its occupants drift ever upward, ignoring the abyss where the crocodiles live. Although echoes of Gunter Grass, Salman Rushdie, Angela Carter, and Jonathan Swift sound through the tales, the voice that evokes them is wholly Winterson's voice, her creation and acknowledgment of crocodile and princess alike. Highly recommended for academic and public libraries. -J. Sudrann, emerita, Mount Holyoke College



My name is Jordan. This is the first thing I saw. 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 top 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. One light, glittering from the only house, looked like the moat-light of a giant's castle. 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 top 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 fist 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 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. Occasionally, in company, someone would snap their fingers in front of my face and ask, 'Where are you?' For a long time I had no idea, but gradually I began to find evidence of the other life and gradually it appeared before me. 'Remember the rock from whence ye are hewn and the pit from whence ye are digged.' 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 was 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 of her own. I had a name but I have forgotten it. They call me the Dog-Woman and it will do. I call him Jordan and it will do. He has no other name before or after. What was there to call him, fished as he was from the stinking Thames? A child can't be called Thames, no and not Nile either, for all his likeness to Moses. But I wanted to give him a river name, a name not bound to anything, just as the waters aren't bound to anything. When a woman gives birth her waters break and she pours out the child and the child runs free. I would have liked to pour out a child from my body but you have to have a man for that and there's no man who's a match for me. When Jordan was a baby he sat on top of me much as a fly rests on a hill of dung. And I nourished him as a hill of dung nourishes a fly, and when he had eaten his fill he left me. Jordan... I should have named him after a stagnant pond and then I could have kept him, but I named him after a river and in the flood-tide he slipped away. When Jordan was three I took him to see a great rarity and that was my undoing. There was news that one Thomas Johnson had got himself an edible fruit of the like never seen in England. This Johnson, though he's been dead for twenty years now, was a herbalist by trade, though I'd say he was more than that. When a woman found herself too round for her liking and showing no blood by the moon, it was Johnson she visited with only a lantern for company. And when she came back all flat and smiling she said it was Mistletoe or Cat-nip or some such, but I say he sucked it out for the Devil. Nevertheless, it being daylight and a crowd promised such as we see only for a dog and a bear. I took Jordan on a hound-lead and pushed my way through the gawpers and sinners until we got to the front and there was Johnson himself trying to charge money for a glimpse of the thing. I lifted Jordan up and I told Johnson that if he didn't throw back his cloth and let us see this wonder I'd cram his face so hard into my breasts that he's wish he'd never been suckled by a woman, so truly would I smother him. He starts humming and hawing and reaching for some coloured jar behind his head, and I thought, he'll not let no genie out on me with its forked tongue and balls like jewels, so I grabbed him and started to push him into my dress. He was soon coughing and crying because I haven't had that dress off in five years. 'Well, then,' I said, holding him back, the way you would a weasel. 'Where is this wonder?' 'God save me,' he cried, 'a moment for my smelling salts, dear lady.' But I would have none of it and whipped off the cover myself, and I swear that what he had resembled nothing more than the private parts of an Oriental. It was yellow and livid and long. 'It is a banana, madam,' said the rogue. A banana? What on God's good earth was a banana? 'Such a thing never grew in Paradise,' I said. 'Indeed it did, madam,' says he, all puffed up like a poison adder. 'This fruit is from the Island of Bermuda, which is closer to Paradise than you will ever be.' He lifted it up above his head, and the crowd, seeing it for the first time, roared and nudged each other and demanded to know what poor fool had been so reduced as to sell his vitality. 'It's either painted or infected,' said I, 'for there's none such a colour that I know.' Johnson shouted above the din as best he could... 'THIS IS NOT SOME UNFORTUNATE'S RAKE. IT IS THE FRUIT OF A TREE. IT IS TO BE PEELED AND EATEN.' At this there was unanimous retching. There was no good woman could put that to her mouth, and for a man it was the practice of cannibals. We had not gone to church all these years and been washed in the blood of Jesus only to eat ourselves up the way the Heathen do. I pulled on the hound-lead in order to take Jordan away, but the lead came up in my hands. I ducked down into the shuffle of bare feet and torn stockings and a gentleman's buckle here and there. He was gone. My boy was gone. I let out a great bellow such as cattle do and would have gone on bellowing till Kingdom Come had not some sinner taken my ear and turned me to look under Johnson's devilish table. I saw Jordan standing stock still. He was standing with both his arms upraised and staring at the banana above Johnson's head. I put my head next to his head and looked where he looked and I saw deep blue waters against a pale shore and trees whose branches sang with green and birds in fairground colours and an old man in a loin-cloth. This was the first time Jordan set sail. Excerpted from Sexing the Cherry by Jeanette Winterson All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.