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Extra resources for Contemporary British Fiction and the Cultural Politics of Disenfranchisement: Freedom and the City

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Resistance and Rationalisation 35 Thus, when Napoleon amasses an army at Boulogne in preparation for an invasion of Britain that turns out to be a disaster, every one of his soldiers is prepared unquestioningly to die for him; when 2000 men are drowned because the barges Napoleon has ordered to be built for the invasion prove unsuitable for crossing the Channel, ‘[n]o one said, Let’s leave him, let’s hate him’ (25), because the narrative of national greatness he propagates is so succouring for a population that wishes it (still) ruled the world.

No one knows why they are here or on what sinister vessel they arrived. They seem to die at twelve or thirteen and yet they are always replaced. I’ve watched them take a knife to each other for a filthy pile of chicken. (1987: 53) On one level, the connection with the British inner cities could not be more straightforward in this passage; after all, it is one of the few moments in the novel when the term is mobilised directly. However, it is important to note the subtler and more complex point that The Passion’s ironic textual strategies enable a parody of the process by which racist attitudes commonly articulated in relation to diverse inner urban areas had, over the course of the postwar period, become legitimated in mainstream culture.

Both film adaptations can be described today as benchmarks of macabre and melodramatic eroticism. Although the story told in Jeanette Winterson’s 1987 novel The Passion takes place during the early nineteenth century rather than the present day, it contains many of the same elements as ‘Don’t Look Now’ and The Comfort of Strangers, and reproduces quite a few of the clichés that have marked representations of the so-called city of masks over two centuries. Consequently, we might be inclined to regard it as of limited interest when placed alongside Winterson’s other, ostensibly more original works – 1985’s Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit (2009), 1989’s Sexing the Cherry (2001a) and 1993’s Written on the Body (2001c).

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