Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

Mrs. Constance Winterson Character Analysis

The primary antagonist of Why Be Happy, Mrs. Winterson is the cruel and domineering adoptive mother of Jeanette Winterson. A deeply devout Pentecostal Evangelist, Mrs. Winterson believes in depriving herself of happiness and pleasure as she waits for the apocalypse. Mrs. Winterson verbally and physically abused Jeanette, her only child, when she was young, subjecting her to an exorcism in one notable instance. As Jeanette matures into an adult, the two fall out of touch. They speak only on the phone and only sporadically—after Jeanette publishes her debut autobiographical novel, Mrs. Winterson gets in touch to relay her shame and embarrassment. Mrs. Winterson always told Jeanette that her birth mother was probably dead, and had never wanted her—she represented herself to Jeanette as the only path to salvation, all the while making life a living hell for the child she professed to have wanted so badly. The pain and trauma Mrs. Winterson inflicts upon Jeanette follows her throughout her entire life, and it is because of Mrs. Winterson’s cruelty even more than the trauma of her adoption that leaves Jeanette unable to “love well” even as an adult. Mrs. Winterson, like the religion she so devoutly followed, was full of contradictions—she believed in austerity and deprivation, but allowed herself small indulgences; she often disappeared for the night, or for days at a time, and Jeanette speculates that she was off at the movies, which were forbidden; she was ashamed of being a “nobody” but longed to disappear into the afterlife where she felt she belonged. Mrs. Winterson represents themes of religion, the relationship between mothers and daughters, and the pursuit of love and happiness—as she was Jeanette’s main obstacle, for so many years, to that lifelong quest.

Mrs. Constance 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 Mrs. Constance Winterson or refer to Mrs. Constance 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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Chapter 2 Quotes

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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Chapter 6 Quotes

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
Explanation and Analysis:
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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
Explanation and Analysis:
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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

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 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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Mrs. Constance Winterson Character Timeline in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?

The timeline below shows where the character Mrs. Constance 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. Winterson was often angry with her... (full context)
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...know why her mother could not have children. Jeanette believes she was adopted just because Mrs. Winterson wanted a friend. “I was a way of saying that she was here,” Jeanette writes. (full context)
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...Jeanette recalls, “larger than life.” On the phone, Jeanette tried to explain the book to Mrs. Winterson , who complained she’d had to order the novel under a fake name in order... (full context)
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...her whole life has been the process of “setting [her] story against [her mother’s.]” As Mrs. Winterson continued on the phone to question her about the “truth” of the book, Jeanette considered—and... (full context)
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Jeanette continues to meditate on truth as she remembers the phone call with Mrs. Winterson. Her mother “objected to what [Jeanette] had put in” the book, but Jeanette feels that... (full context)
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...for the Apocalypse—her mother saw her life as a “Vale of Tears, a pre-death experience.” Mrs. Winterson prayed for death “every day,” which Jeanette comically proclaims was “hard on [her] and [her]... (full context)
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...there had been a little boy in the crib next to Jeanette when Mr. and Mrs. Winterson had adopted her, and his name had been Paul. Paul was the paragon of goodness... (full context)
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...comes up to the garden gate. Jeanette’s grandfather tells her to go inside and find Mrs. Winterson. Mrs. Winterson and the woman argue terribly at the front door, and Jeanette senses that... (full context)
Chapter 2: My Advice to Anybody Is: Get Born
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...1959 and adopted on the 21st of January, 1960. Jeanette does not know—and “never will”—whether Mrs. Winterson was unable to have children or just unwilling to “put herself through the necessaries.” (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson , on the other hand, did not love life. She saw the only escape from... (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... (full context)
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...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. (full context)
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...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... (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 what’s in it... (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... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls being sixteen and about to be “throw[n] out of the house forever”— Mrs. Winterson has found out that Jeanette is a lesbian. Jeanette recalls a trip to the library... (full context)
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...there towards buying her own books and hiding them away beneath her bed. One night, Mrs. Winterson came into her room and saw a corner of a paperback—it was D.H. Lawrence. Believing... (full context)
Chapter 5: At Home
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Some time after Mrs. Winterson died (which occurred when Jeanette was an adult), Mr. Winterson married his second wife, Lillian.... (full context)
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...his difficulty recovering from the violence of the war, he worries aloud to Jeanette that Mrs. Winterson will not forgive him for remarrying—he confesses that he is “frightened,” and Jeanette thinks he... (full context)
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Jeanette takes Lillian shopping for more crockery. Lillian disparages Mrs. Winterson’s old china, and berates her for having abused both Jeanette and Mr. Winterson. (full context)
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...five years old—her grandmother, her mother’s mother, was dying, and the Wintersons were living with Mrs. Winterson’s parents. Jeanette adored her grandmother, and was the one who found her when she died.... (full context)
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...and often spent her time doodling “picture of Hell which [she] took home for [ Mrs. Winterson ] to admire.” Jeanette left the school after burning down the play kitchen, and her... (full context)
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...provided heat, and Jeanette was in charge of getting it started up in the mornings. Mrs. Winterson would stay up all night, and sleep during the days. Jeanette describes her mother as... (full context)
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...a home with anyone else. She has a terrible need for “distance and privacy” because Mrs. Winterson “never respected” her privacy while she lived at home. She never had a key to... (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson , Jeanette says, lived in the same home from 1947 until she died in the... (full context)
Chapter 6: Church
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Jeanette describes Mrs. Winterson’s belief that bodily resurrection was “unscientific,” despite the fact that she believed fully in the... (full context)
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...laundry out to dry—were seen as signs, and bad omens were remedied with collective prayer. Mrs. Winterson , however, always prayed alone—and standing up rather than on her knees. Jeanette remembers church,... (full context)
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...by bike, while her mother rode a coach “so that she could smoke.” One day, Mrs. Winterson brought a Methodist convert called Auntie Nellie to the revival—Auntie Nellie lived in a tenement,... (full context)
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...with visions of the apocalypse, Jeanette felt unsure of her mother’s love, and never asked Mrs. Winterson whether or not she loved her. Jeanette writes that Mrs. Winterson loved her “on those... (full context)
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...spent the night at Jeanette’s. After the girls had fallen asleep together in Jeanette’s bed, Mrs. Winterson came into the room with a flashlight—“it was a signal,” Jeanette writes, of “the end... (full context)
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...to kiss her, she bit his tongue, blacked out, and woke up in her room. Mrs. Winterson brought Jeanette food, told her that her birth mother “was going with men at sixteen…... (full context)
Chapter 7: Accrington
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When Jeanette and Mrs. Winterson would walk through town, Mrs. Winterson would point out the vice and sin all around... (full context)
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Jeanette recalls the nervous “egg custard mornings” during which Mrs. Winterson would make a custard and then disappear. Jeanette would have to let herself into the... (full context)
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...likely lovers. Jeanette was eventually forbidden from visiting the shop—the owners “dealt in unnatural passions,” Mrs. Winterson said, a statement that made the young Jeanette wonder whether the two women put chemicals... (full context)
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The few things Mrs. Winterson actually seemed to love were the Gospel Tent, Royal Albert China, and Christmas. Christmas was... (full context)
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...Bleak Midwinter” on an electronic organ. She recalls looking through the window and thinking that Mrs. Winterson was both her mother and not her mother, before ringing the bell to be let... (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... (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson did like to answer the door when Mormons came to call, in order to wave... (full context)
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...because her mother was fearful of and disgusted by sex. After Jeannette’s relationship with Helen, Mrs. Winterson waited and watched anxiously for Jeanette to take another lover, and “inevitably,” Jeanette writes, “she... (full context)
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...entered a technical college to prepare for her A levels, or college entrance exams, and Mrs. Winterson insisted she could only go if she worked nights in order to bring in some... (full context)
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...her parents to the bus station, and then asked for the key to the house— Mrs. Winterson told her she could not have it, and instructed her to go stay with the... (full context)
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...a while, the front door opened, and two Dobermans entered the kitchen barking, followed by Mrs. Winterson’s brother—Uncle Alec. Mrs. Winterson had paid a neighbor to telephone her at the seaside if... (full context)
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...to the seaside town where the Wintersons were vacationing so that Jeanette could ask why Mrs. Winterson locked her out. Mrs. Winterson replied that Jeanette was no longer her daughter. Jeanette and... (full context)
Chapter 9: English Literature A-Z
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...been “tricked or trapped” into leaving home by the “dark narrative” of her life with Mrs. Winterson. She wonders what it would have meant to be happy with her mother—what life could... (full context)
Chapter 11: Art and Lies
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...other lives across time, and her isolation lessens. She also begins to think about visiting Mrs. Winterson , and wonders whether she herself can make peace with their shared past in order... (full context)
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Jeanette writes to Mrs. Winterson to ask if she can come home for the holidays and bring a friend. Mrs.... (full context)
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Jeanette arrives home with her platonic friend Vicky Licorish—Vicky is black, and Jeanette has “warned” Mrs. Winterson of this. Mrs. Winterson has asked her missionary friends who are “veterans of Africa” what... (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson makes a plethora of pineapple-themed meals for the girls’ first couple days in town—but eventually... (full context)
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Mrs. Winterson refuses to talk to the girls for nearly a week, but as Christmas approaches, Mrs.... (full context)
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...time to leave and return to Oxford. The next morning, Jeanette announces their departure to Mrs. Winterson , who replies with the words “You do it on purpose.” Jeanette tells her mother... (full context)
Chapter 13: This Appointment Takes Place In The Past
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...forty-five minutes. Jeanette and Susie head to a café that used to be the Palatine— Mrs. Winterson’s favorite. Jeanette has not been here since Mr. Winterson’s funeral some years ago. Jeanette interrupts... (full context)
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...but not her mother’s actual birth date. Her birth mother was seventeen—the same age that Mrs. Winterson had always told her. As the two women drive back to Manchester, Jeanette wonders if... (full context)
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...birth. Ria reveals that the Wintersons had planned to adopt a baby boy named Paul— Mrs. Winterson had already purchased baby boys’ clothes, and Jeanette, for the first few months of her... (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. Beeban wonders what... (full context)
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...assures her that she didn’t want to at all. Jeanette, however, does not blame Ann— Mrs. Winterson gave Jeanette a “dark gift but not a useless one.” (full context)
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...a lesbian, both Ann and Gary are accepting. Jeanette flashes back to a memory of Mrs. Winterson , in which Jeanette tries to tell her that she is in love—she is already... (full context)
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Ann asks Jeanette if Mrs. Winterson had been a “latent lesbian,” and Jeanette nearly chokes on her tea. Ann herself has... (full context)
Chapter 15: The Wound
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...with Ann in her life, Jeanette recognizes that Ann too is and has been wounded. Mrs. Winterson , too, Jeanette writes, was “gloriously wounded. Suffering was the meaning of her life.” (full context)
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...the library, and proudly told the librarian that Jeanette Winterson was her daughter. Jeanette remembers Mrs. Winterson telling her that she had had to order the book under a false name.  (full context)
Coda
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...means she has an “instant family.” Jeanette is “warm but wary,” while Ann blames herself—and Mrs. Winterson —for Jeanette’s terrible upbringing. Jeanette actually believes herself “lucky,” and is grateful for her life,... (full context)