Jeanette Winterson describes her mother’s china set as “a very nasty set of sentimental tableware.” Though her mother, Mrs. Winterson, permitted few happinesses or indulgences in her household, the china set was a small joy that she allowed herself. Floral, decadent, and showy, the china was likely an anomaly in the austere Winterson household—Mrs. Winterson wanted to show “everyone else in the street that even though [she] wasn’t better off, [she] was better,” and saw displaying the china as a means to do so. Jeanette describes how Mrs. and Mr. Winterson saved their “spare pennies” in a tin in order to buy more china, and that she, too, caught “Royal Albert fever” as a child and began saving up on her own. “Happiness,” Jeanette says, “was on the other side of a glass door—” the china was as close to happiness as her mother would ever get. In a book so thematically preoccupied with the pursuit of happiness, Mrs. Winterson’s Royal Albert obsession symbolizes the basic human need for that pursuit—even in those who claim to shun or reject happiness, contentment, and indulgence. The china itself, forever “on the other side of a glass door,” serves as a symbol of the fact that happiness was always kept just out of Jeanette’s reach—and of her parents’ reach. The china was a means of intimidation and a way to perform a fantasy as much as it was an object of pleasure, and so the two things, in Jeanette’s mind, are perhaps inextricably linked.
Royal Albert China Quotes in Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?
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.