Date of Award


Degree Type

UG Dissertation (Restricted)



First Advisor

Prof. ASKER David Barry Desmond


This is a study of the notion of transgression (specifically in a sexual context) as observed in one important contemporary British writer of fiction who was widely considered a transgressive novelist in the 1980s, Jeanette Winterson. The objective of this study is to explore the nature and motives of "transgression" as a literary trope in two key fictions, as well as to explore why explicit delineation of sex or violence is not - contrary to popular misconception -- an essential or necessary ingredient in "transgressive" literary writing.

In this project I will test the hypothesis that transgressive writers are typically stigmatized owing to their deliberate assault of communal ideologies rather than the creation of sexually risqué plots. To do this I analyze two important novels of Jeanette Winterson's which though they contain no overt description of sexuality still retain key features of transgression. This paper will examine how social boundaries can be crossed or even dissolved without the involvement of sexually explicit elements even if homosexuality is a clear background element providing a strong part of Winterson's motivation. It will synchronously demonstrate how Winterson's utilization of homophobic plots (promulgated by the Church), androgynous characterization and logical paradox in the narrative combine to attack ruthlessly the standard of 'norrnalness' and 'naturalness' set by patriarchal and sexually-hegemonic societies, which "continue to foster social conditions in which disempowered groups are prevented from achieving full social, political, and cultural citizenship" (Rubinson, 2005:1) by the prejudices of sexual fundamentalism and religious domination. As summarized by Helena Grice and Tim Woods in "I'm telling you stories": Jeanette Winterson and the Politics of Reading (1998), Winterson's novels are especially designed to subvert or dissolve structures of transgression - "of the limits separating self from other, man from woman, human from animal, organic from inorganic objects, and towards constant metamorphosis, with its stress upon instability of natural forms, expressive of its rejection of the notion of the self as a coherent, indivisible and continuous whole, a basic tenet of realist fiction". (p. 6)

This paper starts with an introduction which provides a brief biography of Jeanette Winterson, a concise and broad brush-stroke history of the representation of transgressive sex in a few examples of English fiction and the meaning of 'transgressive fiction'. Then, in the body of the study, a thorough investigation of transgression in two key books will be presented. Major themes of the novels, plot and characterization will be carefully examined. Ending with a detailed conclusion, our minor premise that transgression is not inevitably correlated with sexual explicitness is positively affirmed.

Recommended Citation

Cheng, O. Y. F. (2010). Discrimination and elimination: Transgression in Jeanette Winterson's novels (UG dissertation, Lingnan University, Hong Kong). Retrieved from