Ambiguous Discourse: Feminist Narratology & British Women Writers

By Kathy Mezei | Go to book overview

angela carter's new eve(lyn) De / En-Gendering Narrative alison lee

In Jeanette Winterson's Written on the Body, the narrative voice is of indeterminate gender and, despite various clues, remains undecidable throughout the novel. At one point, describing lovemaking, the narrator makes an address to "you," a you who could be either the lover or the reader or maybe both, and the language of the encounter is the language of torture: "Who taught you to write in blood on my back? Who taught you to use your hands as branding irons? You have scored your name into my shoulders, referenced me with your mark" (89). It is almost impossible to read this novel without making some guesses as to whether the narrator is male or female, yet to do so is to reveal one's own assumptions about language, perception, voice, and narrative structure and whether any of them reveal maleness or femaleness. When gender is an inscription written on the body, it becomes also a form of violence, and for this reason the narrator prefers to be covert: "Written on the body is a secret code only visible in certain lights; the accumulations of a lifetime gather there. In places the palimpsest is so heavily worked that the letters feel like braille. I like to keep my body rolled up away from prying eyes. Never unfold too much, tell the whole story" (89).

Angela Carter, in The Passion of New Eve, foregrounds similar problems of gender identification, but here sex and gender are overt and yet still unstable. This novel about a man who is surgically changed into a biological woman does indeed "tell the whole story," and does so by making the violence of gender inscription on the body quite clear. Nonetheless, the reader, even with the whole story in front of her or him, is in a similarly perplexing position if she or he tries to pin down whether the narrative voice or the focalization is male or female. This is not to suggest, in either case, that the narrator is female because the narrator is indeterminate or

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