Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson Character Analysis

The writer and protagonist of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeanette Winterson is an author who was born in Manchester in 1959 and adopted at six months old by the Winterson family of Accrington. Winterson grew up in a strict and deeply religious household ruled by her tyrannical, mercurial adoptive mother, Mrs. Winterson, who frequently told Jeanette that “the Devil [had] led [the Wintersons] to the wrong crib” when they picked her. Winterson was emotionally and physically abused as a child—subject to beatings, to being locked out of her home, to being barred from reading any secular literature, and, after her parents discovered her lesbian relationship, to a grueling exorcism. After being expelled from her home and community following a second lesbian relationship, Winterson lived in her Mini Cooper, worked odd jobs, and attended a junior college. She was eventually admitted to Oxford, and, shortly after graduating, published her first book—the highly successful and deeply autobiographical novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit. Winterson says that Oranges was an alternate version of the true story of her life—it was a version she could “survive.” In Why Be Happy, Winterson seeks to find happiness and remedy her difficulty giving and accepting love, which leads her to try to come to terms with her childhood trauma and to seek out her birth mother. Jeanette is a born writer, an avid reader, and a stubborn child who grows into a frank, brash, and observant adult; she is self-aware of her flaws and deficiencies, and writes with a humorous but literary eye and ear about all the details of her life—the good, the bad, and the ugly.

Jeanette Winterson Quotes in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

The Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? quotes below are all either spoken by Jeanette Winterson or refer to Jeanette Winterson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
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). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Grove Press edition of Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? published in 2012.
Chapter 1 Quotes

When my mother was angry with me, which was often, she said, “The Devil led us to the wrong crib.”

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 1
Explanation and Analysis:
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Adopted children are self-invented because we have to be; there is an absence, a void, a question mark at the very beginning of our lives. A crucial part of our story is gone, and violently, like a bomb in the womb. The feeling that something is missing never, ever leaves you—and it can’t and it shouldn’t, because something is missing.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 5
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Chapter 2 Quotes

I liked best the stories about buried treasure and lost children and locked-up processes. That the treasure is found, the children returned and the princess freed, seemed hopeful to me. And the Bible told me that even if nobody loved me on earth, there was God in heaven who loved me like I was the only one who had ever mattered. I believed that. It helped me.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 22
Explanation and Analysis:
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We were matched in our lost and losing. I had lost the warm safe place, however chaotic, of the first person I loved. I had lost my name and my identity. Adopted children are dislodged. My mother felt that the whole of life was a grand dislodgement. We both wanted to go Home.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 23
Explanation and Analysis:
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Pursuing happiness, and I did, and still do, is not at all the same as being happy—which I think is fleeting, dependent on circumstances, and a bit bovine. The pursuit of happiness is more elusive; it is life-long, and it is not goal-centered. The pursuit isn’t all or nothing—it’s all AND nothing. Like all Quest Stories.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 24
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Chapter 3 Quotes

A working-class tradition is an oral tradition… For the people I knew, books were few and stories were everywhere, and how you tell ‘em was everything.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 30
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 4 Quotes

Think about, say, Jack and the Beanstalk… [the beanstalk,] the bridge between two worlds is unpredictable and very surprising. And later, when the giant tries to climb after Jack, the beanstalk has to be chopped down pronto. This suggests to me that the pursuit of happiness, which we may as well call life, is full of surprising temporary elements—we get somewhere we couldn’t go otherwise and we profit from the trip, but we can’t stay there, it isn’t our world, and we shouldn’t let that world come crashing down into the one we can inhabit. The beanstalk has to be hopped down. But the large-scale riches from the “other world” can be brought into ours, just as Jack makes off with the singing harp and the golden hen.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 35-36
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Chapter 5 Quotes

I’ve spent a lot of time understanding my own violence, which is not of the pussycat kind. There are people who could never commit murder. I am not one of those people. It is better to know it. Better to know who you are, and what lies in you, what you could do, might do, under extreme provocation.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 46
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Chapter 6 Quotes

The tent was like the war had been for all the people of my parents’ age. Not real life, but a time where ordinary rules didn’t apply. You could forget the bills and the bother. You had a common purpose.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 71
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When love is unreliable and you are a child, you assume that it is the nature of love—its quality—to be unreliable. Children do not find fault with their parents until later. In the beginning the love you get is the love that sets.

Page Number: 76
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Chapter 7 Quotes

I don’t know why [Mrs. Winterson] hated Accrington as much as she did but she did, and yet she didn’t leave. When I left it was though I had relieved her and betrayed her all at once. She longed for me to be free and did everything she could to make sure it never happened.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:
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I think Mrs. Winterson was afraid of happiness. Jesus was supposed to make you happy but he didn’t, and if you were waiting for the Apocalypse that never came, you were bound to feel disappointed. She thought that happy meant bad/wrong/sinful. Or plain stupid. Unhappy seemed to have virtue attached to it.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Related Symbols: Royal Albert China
Page Number: Book Page 96
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 8 Quotes

We were not allowed books but we lived in a world of print. Mrs. Winterson wrote out exhortations and stuck them all over the house Under my coat peg a sign said THINK OF GOD NOT THE DOG. Over the gas oven, on a loaf wrapper, it said MAN SHALL NOT LIVE BY BREAD ALONE. Those who sat down [on the toilet] read HE SHALL MELT THY BOWELS LIKE WAX. When I went to school my mother put quotes from the Scriptures in my hockey boots. Cheery or depressing, it was all reading and reading was what I wanted to do. Fed words and shot with them, words became clues. Piece by piece I knew they would lead me somewhere else.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 101
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Were we endlessly ransacking the house, the two of us, looking for evidence of each other? I think we were—she, because I was fatally unknown to her, and she was afraid of me. Me, because I had no idea what was missing but felt the missing-ness of the missing. We circled each other, wary, abandoned, full of longing. We came close but not close enough and then we pushed each other away forever.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 103
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 9 Quotes

I began to realize that I had company. Writers are often exiles, outsiders, runaways and castaways. These writers were my friends. Every book was a message in a bottle. Open it.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 116
Explanation and Analysis:
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What would it have meant to be happy? What would it have meant if things had been bright, clear, good between us? It was never a question of biology or nature and nurture. I know now that we heal up through being loved, and through loving others. We don’t heal by forming a secret society of one—by obsessing about the only other “one” we might admit, and being doomed to disappointment. It was a compulsive doctrine, and I carried it forward in my own life for a long time. It is of course the basis of romantic love—you + me against the world. A world where there are only two of us. A world that doesn’t really exist, except that we are in it. And one of us will always fail the other.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 119-120
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 11 Quotes

The past is so hard to shift. It comes with us like a chaperone, standing between us and the newness of the present—the new chance. I was wondering if the past could be redeemed—could be reconciled.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 145
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Intermission Quotes

Creative work bridges time because the energy of art is not time-bound. If it were we should have no interest in the art of the past, except as history or documentary. But our interest in art is our interest in ourselves both now and always.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 153
Explanation and Analysis:
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Chapter 12 Quotes

Mother is our first love affair. And if we hate her, we take that rage with us into other lovers. And if we lose her, where do we find her again?

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker), Mrs. Constance Winterson
Page Number: 160
Explanation and Analysis:
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I understood something. I understood twice born was not just about being alive, but about choosing life. Choosing to be alive and consciously committing to life, in all its exuberant chaos—and pain.

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 168-169
Explanation and Analysis:
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A few months later [the creature and I] were having our afternoon walk when I said something about how nobody had cuddled us when we were little. I said “us,” not “you.” She held my hand. She had never done that before; mainly she walked behind shooting her sentences. We both sat down and cried. I said: “We will learn how to love.”

Related Characters: Jeanette Winterson (speaker)
Page Number: 177
Explanation and Analysis:
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Jeanette Winterson Character Timeline in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

The timeline below shows where the character Jeanette Winterson appears in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: The Wrong Crib
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Jeanette Winterson describes her adoptive mother, Mrs. Winterson, as a “flamboyant depressive.” She says that Mrs.... (full context)
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Jeanette does not know why her mother could not have children. Jeanette believes she was adopted... (full context)
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Jeanette describes the plot of her first novel, Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit, which was... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls the “furious” letter her mother sent her upon the publication of Oranges in which... (full context)
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Jeanette states that “adopted children are self-invented because we have to be,” and her whole life... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls the friends she made in school, and the cruel ways she severed those friendships.... (full context)
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Jeanette continues to meditate on truth as she remembers the phone call with Mrs. Winterson. Her... (full context)
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Though God, for many, is forgiveness, Jeanette writes that the God of her mother’s house was the Old Testament God, and “there... (full context)
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When Jeanette was naughty as a child, her mother told her the story of the Devil and... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls a memory in which she is gardening with her grandfather. She wears a cowboy... (full context)
Chapter 2: My Advice to Anybody Is: Get Born
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Jeanette Winterson recounts the history and geography of the place of her birth—Manchester, England, which is... (full context)
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Jeanette argues that “where you are born stamps who you are.” Her birth mother was a... (full context)
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Jeanette describes the route between Manchester, where she was born, and the town of Accrington, where... (full context)
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Jeanette was born in August of 1959 and adopted on the 21st of January, 1960. Jeanette... (full context)
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Jeanette’s adoptive parents, the Wintersons, had purchased their home in 1947. Before they found religion, they... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that she screamed nonstop until she was two years old. As child psychology “hadn’t... (full context)
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...use it as a bunker when the end of the world arrived. Mrs. Winterson told Jeanette that an angel would come to collect them, and Jeanette realized that her mother’s mind... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that she was “excited” about the Apocalypse as a child, but “secretly hoped” that... (full context)
Chapter 3: In The Beginning Was The Word
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Mrs. Winterson, Jeanette writes, was “in charge of language.” Mr. Winterson was nearly illiterate, having left school at... (full context)
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Jeanette describes the role of the Bible—specifically the 1611 version—in the lives of working-class families. The... (full context)
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“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... (full context)
Chapter 4: The Trouble With A Book…
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There were only six books in the Winterson home, Jeanette writes. Mrs. Winterson said that “’The trouble with a book is that you never know... (full context)
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Despite her strict no-books rule, Mrs. Winterson herself read murder mysteries voraciously, and sent Jeanette to the Accrington Public Library to collect and return books for her. Eventually, on one... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls being sixteen and about to be “throw[n] out of the house forever”—Mrs. Winterson has... (full context)
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Also during this time period, Jeanette was working at the Accrington market on Saturdays, and putting the money she earned there... (full context)
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The book-burning incident also forced Jeanette to confront that anything physical could be taken from her—only the things inside of her... (full context)
Chapter 5: At Home
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Jeanette describes her childhood home on Water Street in Accrington. It was a narrow house with... (full context)
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...they used to store the coal needed to heat their house—was “not a good place.” Jeanette was often locked down there as a punishment—sometimes, she says, “a whole day went by... (full context)
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Jeanette describes the north of England—historically largely working-class—as a “routinely brutal world” in which physical abuse... (full context)
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Some time after Mrs. Winterson died (which occurred when Jeanette was an adult), Mr. Winterson married his second wife, Lillian. A few years after the... (full context)
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Jeanette took Mr. Winterson out on a drive, and when she asked him about the fight,... (full context)
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Jeanette takes Lillian shopping for more crockery. Lillian disparages Mrs. Winterson’s old china, and berates her... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that her mother “married down,” and as a result wanted to find a way... (full context)
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Jeanette describes her home life as “a bit odd.” She did not go to school until... (full context)
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Jeanette did eventually start school a year late, though her mother believed schools were a “Breeding... (full context)
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When Jeanette switched to a school farther from home, she did not come home for lunch—instead she... (full context)
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In the Winterson house, a coal fire provided heat, and Jeanette was in charge of getting it started up in the mornings. Mrs. Winterson would stay... (full context)
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Jeanette reflects upon the fact that her home “did not represent order and did not stand... (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson, Jeanette says, lived in the same home from 1947 until she died in the year 1990.... (full context)
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Jeanette feels that the house of her childhood is “held in time or outside of time,”... (full context)
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When she left home at the age of sixteen, Jeanette writes, she bought herself a rug, and the rug became a staple of wherever she... (full context)
Chapter 6: Church
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Jeanette Winterson describes the Elim Pentecostal Church in Accrington—a place which was “the center of [her]... (full context)
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Jeanette describes Mrs. Winterson’s belief that bodily resurrection was “unscientific,” despite the fact that she believed... (full context)
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Jeanette returns to describing the baptismal ritual, in which the candidate was covered in a white... (full context)
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...collective prayer. Mrs. Winterson, however, always prayed alone—and standing up rather than on her knees. Jeanette remembers church, during her childhood, as “a place of mutual help and imaginative possibility,” and... (full context)
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The church held events every single night, and Jeanette attended them all except for Thursday night meetings, which were for men. In the summertime,... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that there were many contradictions in the church’s role—there was camaraderie and “simple happiness,”... (full context)
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...is what a child should expect from a parent, it rarely works out that way,” Jeanette writes. Unable to relax at home or to make friends at school, and with her... (full context)
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One day, after a prayer meeting at church, an older girl named Helen kisses Jeanette. Jeanette describes it as her “first moment of recognition and desire.” She fell in love... (full context)
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The “air raid” happened on a Sunday morning at church—when Jeanette walked in, the entire congregation was looking at her, and soon the pastor’s speech turned... (full context)
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That night, Jeanette goes to Helen’s house. Helen tells Jeanette that she confessed everything, and when Jeanette asks... (full context)
Chapter 7: Accrington
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Jeanette describes the history and geography of her hometown, Accrington. Once, the land, as described in... (full context)
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When Jeanette and Mrs. Winterson would walk through town, Mrs. Winterson would point out the vice and... (full context)
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Jeanette found small refuges in the town library and in the second-hand rummage shop “somewhere under... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls the nervous “egg custard mornings” during which Mrs. Winterson would make a custard and... (full context)
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There was a sweet shop in town run by two women who Jeanette now realizes were more than likely lovers. Jeanette was eventually forbidden from visiting the shop—the... (full context)
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Jeanette would also visit liquor stores on her mother’s behalf, to purchase cigarettes. Jeanette would return... (full context)
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...not act as if the world was a “Vale of Tears.” Mrs. Winterson would attend Jeanette’s school concerts at this time of year. One year, when a friend of Jeanette’s pointed... (full context)
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Jeanette describes a day, years later, when she was returning to Accrington after her first term... (full context)
Chapter 8: The Apocalypse
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Mrs. Winterson did not often welcome guests to her home, Jeanette writes—“part of the problem was that we had no bathroom and she was ashamed of... (full context)
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...them of eternal damnation.” On the rare occasion that Mrs. Winterson did occasionally invite visitors, Jeanette hid upstairs with a book. Jeanette recalls that her mother did read to her when... (full context)
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Once Jeanette did find a hidden book: a 1950s sex manual entitled How to Please Your Husband.... (full context)
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Jeanette entered a technical college to prepare for her A levels, or college entrance exams, and... (full context)
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Jeanette’s family always went on an annual holiday trip to the seaside, but the year of... (full context)
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Jeanette went to her friend Janey’s house, and told Janey and her family what had happened—Janey’s... (full context)
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That night, Janey and Jeanette slept together in the camper van, and confessed their love for one another. Janey told... (full context)
Chapter 9: English Literature A-Z
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At the time she is kicked out of the house, Jeanette is steadily working her way through the English Literature in Prose A-Z section of the... (full context)
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Jeanette feels she has been “tricked or trapped” into leaving home by the “dark narrative” of... (full context)
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After days of sleeping in shelters and in public, Jeanette decides to live in her Mini Cooper. The car has been given to her by... (full context)
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Jeanette is on the letter “N” in her journey through literature, and is reading Nabokov’s Lolita.... (full context)
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After school Jeanette goes to the Accrington library, where she is helping the librarian to re-shelve some books.... (full context)
Chapter 10: This Is The Road
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Jeanette decides to apply for an English degree at Oxford University “because it [is] the most... (full context)
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Jeanette obtains an interview at Oxford, and travels there on a bus. She feels that she... (full context)
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A year later, as Jeanette drives out of Accrington toward Oxford, she comes across Mr. Winterson in the street. She... (full context)
Chapter 11: Art and Lies
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At Oxford, Jeanette realizes that there is rampant inequality in her college, and that the women in her... (full context)
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As Jeanette reads more and more widely, she begins to feel more connected to other lives across... (full context)
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Jeanette writes to Mrs. Winterson to ask if she can come home for the holidays and... (full context)
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Jeanette arrives home with her platonic friend Vicky Licorish—Vicky is black, and Jeanette has “warned” Mrs.... (full context)
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...then experiences a drastic change in mood, and becomes antagonistic toward the girls. Vicky and Jeanette are working as volunteers at a local mental hospital while they are in town, and... (full context)
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When Jeanette walks in on her mother making egg custard in the kitchen and muttering darkly to... (full context)
Intermission
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In her own work, Jeanette writes, she has “pushed against the weight of clock time, calendar time, [and] linear unravelings.”... (full context)
Chapter 12: The Night Sea Voyage
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...a game in which “the rug [was] a sea and the drawer was a ship,” Jeanette climbed into a drawer and found a birth certificate bearing the names of her parents.... (full context)
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In 2007, Jeanette has done nothing to discover her past except to “repaint” it and write over it.... (full context)
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Jeanette writes that soon after she finds the ruined birth certificates, she begins to go mad.... (full context)
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After a while, Jeanette is able to write, and publishes a children’s story which is turned into a picture... (full context)
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Jeanette decides to commit suicide, and writes notes to her friends. She decides to gas herself... (full context)
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Lying on the ground after her failed attempt on her own life, Jeanette hears a voice: “Ye must be born again,” it says. Recognizing the quotation as a... (full context)
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By March, Jeanette has begun to recover, and contemplates the suppression of feelings that occurs every day for... (full context)
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Jeanette begins to talk to the “creature” inside of herself, though it is strange, difficult, and,... (full context)
Chapter 13: This Appointment Takes Place In The Past
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Jeanette begins to look into her adoption records, but feels rattled by the process. She endures... (full context)
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Also at Jeanette’s side is Ruth Rendell, a longtime friend. Jeanette refers to her as the “Good Mother.”... (full context)
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Next, Jeanette must meet with a social worker at the Home Office. She and Susie meet with... (full context)
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On the train home, Jeanette is shell-shocked and stunned, and turns to a remembered Thomas Hardy poem in order to... (full context)
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Ria helps Jeanette to put forward another request for information in to the court that might hold Jeanette’s... (full context)
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Ria, Jeanette, and Susie continue to struggle against the courts, who demand that Jeanette follow strict and... (full context)
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...is allowed to tell the two of them, and meet up again in forty-five minutes. Jeanette and Susie head to a café that used to be the Palatine—Mrs. Winterson’s favorite. Jeanette... (full context)
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Susie and Jeanette meet with the court manager once again. He is able to tell Jeanette her birth... (full context)
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After hitting more and more dead ends, Jeanette takes her search into her own hands via the internet, and wonders what made her... (full context)
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On a trip to New York City, Susie tells Jeanette that Jeanette doesn’t know “how to be loved.” Jeanette admits that she does not trust... (full context)
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Jeanette meets with Ria in Liverpool. Ria divulges details about her birth father, and also reveals... (full context)
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One of Jeanette’s friends, attempting to help her by combing through ancestry websites, eventually is able to contact... (full context)
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A letter arrives several days later with a baby photo of Jeanette enclosed. The letter explains that Ann was sixteen when she got pregnant, looked after Jeanette... (full context)
Chapter 14: Strange Meeting
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Jeanette discusses Mrs. Winterson with her friend Beeban Kidron, who directed the TV adaptation of Oranges.... (full context)
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Ruth Rendell calls Jeanette, and tells her to “go [meet Ann] and get it over with.” Jeanette, who trusts... (full context)
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On the way to Ann’s, Jeanette speaks to Susie on the phone. She is nervous as she travels through the outskirts... (full context)
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Ann knows about Jeanette’s life already, she says.  Jeanette sent Ann a DVD copy of Oranges, the story of... (full context)
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Ann is “straightforward and kind,” and this baffles Jeanette, who believes “a female parent is meant to be labyrinth-like and vengeful.” When Jeanette reveals... (full context)
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Ann asks Jeanette if Mrs. Winterson had been a “latent lesbian,” and Jeanette nearly chokes on her tea.... (full context)
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After five hours, Jeanette decides to go. Though her new family has proven easy to talk to, she is... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Wound
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Jeanette writes that Ann “had to sever some part of herself to let [Jeanette] go.” Jeanette... (full context)
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Jeanette feels she has “worked from the wound” all her life, and now, with Ann in... (full context)
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Jeanette wonders what was the truth of the afternoon that the strange woman came to the... (full context)
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Ann tells Jeanette that she ordered Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit from the library, and proudly told... (full context)
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“Happy endings,” Jeanette writes, “are only a pause.” She reflects on the three types of “big endings: Revenge,... (full context)
Coda
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Jeanette writes that when she began writing Why Be Happy, she had “no idea how it... (full context)
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Jeanette still doesn’t know how she feels about having found Ann. She says that “the TV-style... (full context)
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Jeanette describes having met Ann for a second time in Manchester, one-on-one. At their lunch, Ann... (full context)
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Jeanette believes that Ann would like her to “let [Ann] be [her] mother,” but Jeanette does... (full context)
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Jeanette struggles with the fact that Ann is her mother, but “also someone [she doesn’t] know... (full context)
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Ann comes to London, a move that Jeanette describes as a “mistake.” The two fight, and lament the lack of love in both... (full context)