The Passion

October 3, 1996

Henri had a passion for Napoleon and Napoleon had a passion for chicken. From Boulogne to Moscow Henri butchered for his Emperor and never killed a single man.

Meanwhile, in Venice, the city of chance and disguises, Villanelle was born with the webbed feet of her boatman father – but in the casinos she gambled her heart and lost.

As the soldier-chef’s love for Napoleon turns to hate he finds the Venetian beauty, and together they flee to the canals of darkness.


‘It’s a fantasy, a vivid dream… inventive and brilliant’ Guardian

‘As moving and funny as it is skilful, and reflects the author’s formidable appetite for life’ Sunday Times

‘Its concentrated, beautifully detailed prose recalls the diction of fairy tales; its plot incorporates their magic, their shrewd wit and brutality…a deeply imagined and beautiful book, often arrestingly so’ New York Times

‘Winterson is a master of her material, a writer in whom great talent deeply abides’ Vanity Fair

Why did you set the book in the Napoleonic Wars?

All of my work, including Oranges, manipulates history. The past is not sacred. The past is not static. There are a few facts we can rely on – dates, places, people, but the rest is interpretation and imagination. I like that freedom. I liked the idea of setting an intensely personal story against a brutal impersonal background. Anyway, Napoleon has always fascinated me, probably because he was short. The real answer to why is not a fact it’s a fiction. It wasn’t an objective choice, it was a hunch. I hadn’t been to Venice when I wrote about it – which is perfect because Venice doesn’t really exist.

Some people think this is your best book – what do you think?

I think read them all…

I’m telling you stories. Trust me.

  • Publication: October 3, 1996
  • Publisher: Vintage