Mrs. Winterson, Jeanette writes, was “in charge of language.” Mr. Winterson was nearly illiterate, having left school at twelve to work at the Liverpool docks, and all Mrs. Winterson read was the Bible. “She read [it] as though it had just been written,” and from this quality of her mother’s Jeanette understood “that the power of a text is not time-bound.”
Jeanette’s love of words began with her mother’s influence and with the Bible. There was a strong relationship between storytelling and control in Jeanette’s youth—a relationship that she sought to complicate and challenge as she grew older.
Jeanette describes the role of the Bible—specifically the 1611 version—in the lives of working-class families. The elevated language was the language of Shakespeare, and in the nighttime classes for working-class men at the Mechanics’ Institute and other such places the men—often poorly educated—read Shakespeare with ease. When the elevated language of the Bible was “stripped out,” Jeanette says, “uneducated men and women had no more easy everyday connection to four hundred years of the English language.” Even Mrs. Winterson, Jeanette recalls, quoted John Donne and Shakespeare from memory with ease.
Jeanette once again wants for her readers to understand the larger cultural atmosphere in which her hometown and her religious community was situated. The heightened language of the most widely-used version of the Bible at that time allowed her parents and their contemporaries to feel connected to the English language, a connection that was “stripped” away as the Bible was adapted. It didn’t need to be changed to be more widely readable in the first place, is Jeanette’s main point—though uneducated, the working-class members of her community were able to understand more “complex” texts through the lens of their version of the Bible.
“A working-class tradition is an oral one, not a bookish one,” Jeanette writes. She recalls that while she was growing up, “books were few [but] stories were everywhere.” Mrs. Winterson loved stories, and told tales of her past, expressed dreams of her future (after the Apocalypse, of course) and miracle stories—stories, for instance, about “an extra pound [appearing] in your purse when you needed it most.”
Jeanette’s life was saturated with storytelling not just in the form of her mother’s obsession with the Bible, but in the form of her community’s commitment to and love of storytelling more broadly. Stories were what connected, reassured, and bonded the community of Accrington.