The Passionnarrates the story of Henri, a young French soldier, his admiration for Napoleonas a leader and gives an account of his experience working for the French military.The novel is historical in thesense that it takes places in a certain period of time, the nineteenth century,and explores the lives of people affected by the political situations of thattime period in real countries like France and Russia. It engages in thehegemonic tradition of citation to ground itself in historical legitimacy byengaging with real historical figures like Bonaparte. The novel parodiesthe phallocentric view of history, in order to point out the exclusion ofminorities and their experiences in history, and to explore these untoldstories. Winterson takes a postmodern take on this fictional account of historyby allowing fictional characters to exist side by side these real historicalfigures and engaging in trivialisation of the events around this real time inhistory. Giving a seemingly trivial account of events existing around these realfigures does not serve to illustrate what she imagined to be the nature of thelives of the people at the time to be, but allows her to explore the possible omissionsmade by existing historical accounts of the time. It also makes thereader question if this outlandishly fictional account is any different to anyother traditional historical accounts and how much of their content is narrativisedby the author.
In order to not forget anything about hisexperiences of serving in the army, Henri begins to maintain a diary. His useof this diary works to further narrativise his own perception of his present atthe time of writing and ends up redefining his past for him when he reads theseaccounts in the future. Atraditional diary account of this nature would repeat the traditionalpatriarchal historical tropes of an objective and detailed account of his life androutine as a soldier and his admiration for Napoleon’s politics. Instead heengages in philosophical digressions and reflections on his past. This alonecan be seen as a subversion from this hegemonic storytelling, as it is done throughthe eyes of characters that would, in the eyes of the hegemony, be seen as too insignificantto be able to share any valuable philosophical thought. The triviality thatWinterson chooses to include in the historical account in The Passion, such as Napoleon’spenchant for chicken, horses and short servants serves to subvert readerexpectations of a historical war account. Henri’s philosophical diatribes serveto fill in the blanks of what objective history-telling leaves out and makesthe reader question Henri’s reliability as a narrator. “The way you see it nowis no more real than how you will see it in the future” (p.
28). His friend Dominois critical of this diary, as he says “Look at you, a young man brought up by apriest and a pious mother. … What makes you think you can see anythingclearly? What gives you the right to make a notebook and shake it at me inthirty years, … and say you’ve got the truth?” (p.28). Domino’s doubts aboutHenri’s ability to record an accurate account of history, considering hissocio-economic stature, serves as a self-aware attempt by Winterson to remindthe reader both of the inconsistencies that a perceived reality of someone ofHenri’s upbringing would bring to a historical account and the lack ofhistorical texts that exist by people from similar backgrounds.
(P.29) Henri isaware that is note-taking lies more in his interest in his feelings at themoment of note taking, not the objective reality of the time. “I don’t careabout facts, Domino, I care about how I feel. How I feel will change”, exposinghis view of history to be non-chronological, subjective and reliant on hisemotional state at the time of writing. Despite occasionally providing numericalfacts in his accounts, such as “July 20, 1884. Two thousand men drowned today”(p.
20), he remains conscious of the inconsistencies throughout his writing,) ashe tells the reader he is “Trying not to make up too much” (p.103), remindingthe reader of the many factors that affect the narrative of history. Therepeated utterance of the phrase “I’m telling stories”(pp. 5,13,14,40,160), by differentcharacters reminds the reader that these accounts are a constructed reality;the factual accuracy of these stories does not need to be contested based onthem being a construction on the storyteller’s part as they remain true totheir perception of their reality. Their memory of the truth dominates theirunderstanding of their pasts, their text reliant on their personal context.
Withinthe postmodern context history becomes a kind of fiction. Henri himselffabricates the stories that he tells about his military service once he is backhome, to make the people back home “happy” (p.48), showing that historicalaccounts made with the attempt to please certain people are tainted with exaggerationsand a specific, subjective perspective about the events. Sexingthe Cherry Sexingthe Cherry, similar to ThePassion, grounds itself in a real location at a specific time period,seventeenth century England, with similar engagement with the real historicalfigures such as King Charles and King Henry. Unlike The Passion, Sexing theCherry utilizes a much more fluid temporal landscape to establish itself asa postmodern, historiographical text. In a similar vein to The Passion, the narrativisation of the history of these realhistorical figures is done through the perspective of fictional characters, thegrotesque Dog Woman and her adopted son Jordan. Unlike traditional historicalaccounts, these marginalised characters provide the readers with their ownsubjective perception rather than a citation-based factual account.
Thepolitical leanings of the Dog Woman, unlike Henri in The Passion, lie with the royals, which taints her perception ofthe events around the Civil War, which she believes to be unjustified and fuelsher hatred for the Puritans. By taking the political discourse out of the handsof the patriarchal hegemony and giving it instead to a woman, who due to herphysical stature, would have been historically ostracised by the patriarchy,Winterson expresses the viability of histories alternative to the dominantperception of these events. The Dog Woman, in her vengeance against thePuritans, unites with other ostracised women in her society, such as the sexworkers she helps escape the Puritan oppression. By considering the plight ofotherwise overlooked marginalised characters in this specific historicalcontext, Winterson further underscores the gaps patriarchal historicaldiscourse leaves in the treatment of women in oppressive regimes throughhistory and their personal experiences of the same.