Telling Womens Lives: Subject Narrator Reader Text

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On the background of a detailed knowledge of Josipovici's work I have come to the conclusion that the story, like so many of Josipovici's texts, is an exercise in metafiction. At the end of the story, the narrator tells the child to turn the page of the picture book.

Telling Women's Lives, Subject/Narrator/Reader/Text by Judy Long | | Booktopia

That picture book's illustration had contained the picture of the room with the bed, the mirror and the bird cage, and it is from this representation that the story takes its beginning—the invention of the scenario that we have been reading about. It does not much matter what the gender of the protagonists is any longer; besides, the person in the room can now be read as a mere projection of the invented narrator figure.

The I with the child may well be female, but she may also imagine a situation in which the you is the woman and the male I is addressing her. Nevertheless, from the context there can be no doubt that both Kit and Ajax have to be male. The most important indicator for these gender attributions consists in the descriptions of the mother's clandestine assignations with Ajax in Ajax's room in the albergo: with his periscope, Kit, from the toilet of Gerry's room next door, watches his mother and Ajax having sex, and from the wording of the following passage, it is more than probable that Ajax has to be a man:.

Now as if I had shaken a kaleidoscope Ajax moved into the picture so that it became unfallen Adam and Eve, Eros and Psyche. My mother lifted her arms and her lover went into them to be entwined there. I saw the strong tensing of carved marble muscles as the knee thrust to part her thighs. Besides the almost unequivocal physical description of thighs opening to a male thrust, the heterosexual script of this passage is underlined additionally by the reference to Eros and Psyche, Adam and Eve and, elsewhere in the book to Actaeon and Diana, Adonis and Venus , and by the stereotypical soundtrack of heterosexual love "a soft fierce crying" which Gerry immediately identifies as the accompaniment of jouissance.

Although Kit's father has male and female secretaries, Ajax whose mythical ancestors are commented on early in the novel [4] therefore would most likely be male; at least that is what the text suggests. Another tell-tale passage is the following: "'How do you do. Ajax, additionally, is conceptualized by Kit as somebody to wrestle with 96 — a fact that would also tend to imply that both are men. Moreover, Ajax's definition of art as "'Pleasure comes from a release of energy, doesn't it?

Only explicit markers of femininity and none are present in the text could therefore still counteract the reader's classification of Ajax as male. The first-person narrator, who vies with Ajax for the love of his mother, and who, at the end of the novel, says that he has now become his mother's lover, 6 cannot but be male. Again, the most obvious indication of this emerges from physiological references, especially from descriptions of how Kit "comes": "My hand moved faster until in a minute I too was shuddering and jerking into sleep" 20 ; "When I came it was so hard and fierce I thought I was going to be sick but that may have been the unaccustomed scotch in my stomach" The latter passage occurs just after Kit has lain down in Ajax's bed, imaging how his mother and Ajax had earlier had sex on the same bed.

Additional indications of Kit's gender are cultural rather than physiological: Kit is able to swim very well; he climbs over walls; he constructs a periscope; he smokes in order to fool Gerry ; he has enough pocket money to pay for Gerry's room at the albergo she is led to believe that he is really bad, an addict, whereas he merely pretends to smoke in the secret of Gerry's room so he can spy on Ajax and his mother next door. Kit's sexual jealousy alone, although a possible sign of his masculinity, however, does not necessarily clinch the question of gender: a jealous girl might just as well have faked letters and driven Ajax to suicide.

It is highly unlikely that a theology student who goes out to dance clubs with his spiritual advisor should be anything but male. Likewise, at the end of the text, where the narrator's refusal to hand money over to the two robbers he has no money on him leads to his being stabbed, there is no mention of a purse, or of a sexual threat.

These are more or less the only contextual clues to the narrator's sex. Unfortunately, this explicit passage sounds suspiciously like a Biblical? Although cats are usually imaged as female, the lexeme le chat is used in this passage rather than la chatte , and no explicit markers of gender are available:. However suggestive, that clue cannot clinch the evidence either.


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The narrator has a great number of female friends—but that again does not disambiguate the situation. Indeed, the issue of homosexuality is never thematized in the novel, although the repeated references to hell might point to the narrator's guilty conscience.

Again, although physiological and cultural evidence determines one's decisions about the matter—in Sphinx there is much less to go on by way of dress or other behavioural patterns. I will argue below that the unnamed narrator is a man possibly , who has a quite "ordinary" heterosexual love relationship with the female protagonist, Louise. However, no definite proof for the narrator's masculinity can be provided, since much of the evidence in the text is open to diverse interpretation.

If one attempts to specify the narrator's gender in this manner, one is in fact reading the novel against the grain: what the novel or Winterson is trying to achieve is the description of passionate love in which the issue of gender has been completely transcended and no longer matters at all, an affair in which normatively male and female patterns of behaviour, since they have become equally acceptable for men and women, have lost their significance as a determining sign of gender identification.

The text consists of long stretches of second-person fiction in which you refers to the beloved. Only a few pages into the novel do we get a proper name for the you, Louise 20 , and then the love relationship begins to lend itself to more definite visualizations. From the initial scenario of a description of unattainable desire for Louise, the text moves to a more or less chronological report about how the narrator met Louise, how she left her husband, and all of this in the present tense of the flash-back how the husband shows up to tell the narrator that Louise has cancer and that only he a doctor will be able to cure her.

The separation from Louise is healed by the narrator's eventual recovering her, but the "happy ending" that the narrator wonders about is "where the story starts," the story of inevitable loss: "Why is the measure of love loss? Thus, the novel refers to several former love affairs of the narrator and to an almost-relationship with Gail, the owner of the bar in which the narrator takes refuge after having ceded Louise to her husband-doctor, Elgin.

As far as these former love affairs are concerned, they are deliberately, tantalizingly, disorientingly ambiguous. Three of them are with men Crazy Frank []; Carlo [43]; Bruno [52] , and both Carlo and Bruno are described as being gay.

Life's Stories

Carlo forsakes the narrator for "Robert who was taller, broader and thinner than me" ; and Bruno is described as undergoing a religious revival in which he is taken by Jesus "[o]ut of the closet and up into your heart" Both of these relationships therefore imply that the narrator is male 10 ; yet, in the relationship with Crazy Frank such easy inferences are immediately undermined by the text, since his gender identity remains ambiguous.

Although he "had the body of a bull," he wears gold hoops through his "nipples," which should have had a "deeply butch" effect Since the lexeme nipples is most commonly associated with female breasts, and since "butch" is of course the current term for a "mannish lesbian" COED , Frank's masculinity becomes questionable: is Frank a cross-dresser? On the other hand, Frank's "ambition was to find a hole [sic! A man whose chest jewellery rattled when he walked?

Only one of these relationships with Jacqueline endures for a measurable period of time. There is no doubt about the narrator's ingrained constitutional? The narrator, as we have seen, compares her? I had come to this feeling myself.


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One does after years of playing the Lothario and seeing nothing but an empty bank account and a pile of yellowing love-notes like IOUs" ; my emphasis. This is, again, offset by a reference to Alice in Wonderland— very non-definitive in the context "A curse on this game. How can you stick at a game when the rules keep changing? I shall call myself Alice and play croquet with the flamingoes" [10]. Nobody ever died of a broken heart.

Telling Women's Lives

You'll get over it. It'll be different when we're married. Think of the children. Time's a great healer. Still waiting for Mr. Miss Right? Over-all, semi-explicit markers of femininity predominate in the text, although none of them are conclusive; on the other hand, among the general very frequently "cultural" clues, masculinity wins out over femininity.

The reference frame for adultery et passim suggests the traditional script of "male falls in love with married female.

Telling Women's Lives: Subject/Narrator/Reader/Text (Feminist Crosscurrents)

Women fall for the narrator in such numbers that the world would have to be a lesbian paradise for this representation to be anywhere near realistic. Counter-argument: the narrator never expects the women to leave their husbands for him—this could indicate that the narrator is lesbian after all, but it might also simply underline the narrator's promiscuity. The homosexual element in the three love relationships with men suggests that the narrator must be male. When the narrator and Elgin start a fight over Louise, the narrator hits Elgin , and Elgin kicks the narrator in the stomach.

If the narrator was female, Elgin would hardly be likely to get into a serious fight with her. The "Lothario" 20 role and the wooing scenes with roses and champagne imply a stereotypically heterosexual relationship of a man wooing a woman. The narrator compares himself to a boyscout The narrator hits Jacqueline: "Now I'd shown myself to be a cheap thug in a scrap" Particularly with the reference to courts and to being worthy of Louise 87 , this suggests a male narrator. The narrator compares her?

The second male boyfriend is called a "butch" 93; see above. Is Louise's look of "love and possession and pride" 18; my emphasis a "male" and therefore lesbian fantasy on her part? The reference to Adam and the fig-leaf can be interpreted either way: "But you are gazing at me the way God gazed at Adam and I am embarrassed by your look of love and possession and pride.