Sexing the Cherry, similarto The Passion, grounds itself in areal location at a specific time period, seventeenth century England, withsimilar engagement with real historical figures such as King Charles and KingHenry. Unlike The Passion, Sexing the Cherry utilizes a much morefluid temporal landscape to establish itself as a postmodern, historiographicaltext.
In a similar vein to The Passion, thenarrativisation of the history of these real historical figures is done throughthe perspective of fictional characters, the grotesque Dog Woman and heradopted son Jordan. Unlike traditional historical accounts, these marginalisedcharacters provide the readers with their own subjective perception rather thana citation-based factual account. The political leanings of the Dog Woman, unlikeHenri in The Passion, lie with theroyals, which taints her perception of the events around the Civil War, whichshe believes to be unjustified and fuels her hatred for the Puritans. By takingthe political discourse out of the hands of the patriarchal hegemony and givingit instead to a woman, who due to her physical stature would have beenhistorically ostracised by the patriarchy, Winterson expresses the viability ofhistories alternative to the dominant perception of these events. The DogWoman, in her vengeance against the Puritans, unites with other ostracisedwomen in her society, such as the sex workers she helps escape the Puritan oppression.By considering the plight of otherwise overlooked marginalised characters inthis specific historical context, Winterson further underscores the gaps patriarchalhistorical discourse leaves in discussing the treatment of women in oppressive regimesthrough history and their personal experiences of the same. A traditionalaccount of the English Civil War would focus on the treatment of the King, yet Sexing the Cherry chooses to meditateinstead on more abstract, and seemingly insignificant events instead. Forinstance, the Dog Woman’s son embarks on various journeys, to far-off, magical placeswith John Tradescant, juxtaposing the historically real, the fictional and thefantastical characters in an attempt to confront the hegemonic historicaltradition.
It complies with Hutcheon’s view of the paradox that lies central tohistoriographic metafiction: “both resolutely fictive and yet undeniablyhistorical”.1 Similar to Henriin The Passion, the Dog Woman isconscious of her upbringing and how it might affect her perception of history: “Asfar as I know it, and I have only a little learning, the King had been forcedto call a Parliament … against the kilted beast and their savage ways”(p.21). Her self-awareness of her limited understanding of past eventsaffecting her perception of the reality of that past reminds the reader thathistory isn’t always accurate and credible and the author of that history isconstantly influenced by their discernment of the events in question.
Her viewon the London plague is that it is a result of “God’s judgement” (p.159) on thebeheading of the King, stating divine intervention as the reason for thesuffering of the people around her. By giving incorrect historical facts, theDog Woman makes the lines between history and narrativisation indistinct. The notion of timeis closely linked to the notion of history in Sexing the Cherry. Toward the end of the novel, the story looks atthe Great Fire of London in 1666, with a similar fire being set to a Londonfactory in twentieth century London, blurring the line between past andpresent. Through this, Winterson is able to comment on the non-linearity oftime in her text and recognise that “… all journeys exist simultaneously,that to be in place is not to deny the existence of another” (p.98). Time, in afantastical and postmodern vein, is seen as a conscious construction, and thewillingness to consider the simultaneous existence of different temporalitiesshows her view that this self-aware destabilization of history can expose amethodology to deconstruct other concepts like time, which we consider to anobjective fact.
This willingness to see the multiplicity in these concepts,mirrors Hutcheon’s view of historiographic metafiction’s ability to remind itsreader that “there is no one writable ‘truth’ about history and experience,only a series of versions”.21Hutcheon, p. 1422Hutcheon, p.10