A baby girl is abandoned, banished from London to the storm-ravaged American city of New Bohemia. Her father has been driven mad by jealousy, her mother to exile by grief.
The Hogarth Shakespeare series launched in October 2015 with The Gap of Time – Jeanette Winterson’s reinvention of The Winter’s Tale. The story of a king whose jealousy results in the banishment of his baby daughter and the death of his beautiful wife. His daughter is found and brought up by a shepherd on the Bohemian coast.
Winterson’s cover version opens in an American city called New Bohemia. Here we see recently bereaved Shep, find a baby in a BabyHatch and take her home.
Baby hatches have been around since medieval times. A safe space usually outside homes for foundlings or orphanages, where new mothers could leave their unwanted baby rather than commit infanticide. Winterson, both abandoned and adopted, felt a particular resonance with this story.
The narrative moves to London, a city reeling after the 2008 financial crisis where we find out how the abandoned baby ended up in a BabyHatch. We meet The Winter’s Tale characters transformed. Leo (Leontes) is no longer King of Sicilia but an ex banker with a hedge fund, a helicopter, and a personality that verges on the sociopathic, while his wife MiMi (Hermione) is a famous French folk singer complete with wikipedia entry. As in the original, the dramatic events accelerate when Leo blows a gasket over unfounded suspicions that his wife has been sleeping with his best friend, Xen (Polixenes) who is a US-based writer of computer games.
This Winter’s Tale vibrates with echoes of Shakespeare’s original and tells a story of hearts broken and hearts healed, a story of revenge and forgiveness, a story that shows that whatever is lost shall be found.
Whitbread Award-winner Jeanette Winterson said of The Winter’s Tale:
All of us have talismanic texts that we have carried around and that carry us around. I have worked with The Winter’s Tale in many disguises for many years. This is a brilliant opportunity to work with it in its own right. And I love cover-versions.
The novel is composed according to the play’s acts, including two “Intervals”, in which the narrator invites us to step out of the story and consider its themes in relation to ourselves. Towards the end of this “cover version”, Winterson tells us that the play has been a “private text” for her for more than 30 years:
By that I mean part of the written wor(l)d I can’t live without; without, not in the sense of lack, but in the old sense of living outside of something. It’s a play about a foundling. And I am.
A story about a foundling, an orphan, a stolen child, an abandoned child. But ultimately, it is a story about forgiveness and the power of love.
The Gap of Time is published by Vintage Books.