Literary Review: Jeannette Winterson’s ‘Gap of Time’

Literary Review: Jeannette Winterson’s ‘Gap of Time’

In Jeanette Winterson’s post-modern adaption of Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale,’ Winterson explores how time, as she states at the close of her text, ‘is reversible.’ Through her text Winterson extrapolates from Shakespeare’s 1611 play that there is a shared commonality in the history of human beings, in the history of consciousness, that we all are not slaves to time but free agents of time.

For many, time is a curse. Our days our numbered. Every minute draws us closer to the drawing curtains of darkness: the post eternal life of an unknown space or cosmos. Our little text, our little lives, are numbered by chapters and will continue on for each dwindling year of our lives until we reach the finalizing phrase: ‘The End.’

Consequently we, as humans, are just like any other book or play, movie or poem that we create. We have our beginning, constructed by something or someone. We continue on. We have our loves, our failures, our successes, our relationships, then it all finishes.

We are, therefore, forms of art ourselves. This is not explicitly something Winterson touches on but one can see it intertwined within her adaption. This is particularly appropriate as in ‘A Winter’s Tale’  Hermione turns into a statue, a form of art, that comes back to life once Leontes realizes the errors of his ways. She is a trompe l’oeil. The blurring of fiction and reality becomes so hazed that, by the close of the play, we realize art and reality share no difference. Art is the product of reality as much as reality is the product of art. Although Hermione is a statue on the stage she has been imprisoned and silenced by the actions around her. What, therefore, is the difference between a marble statue and a human being who is silenced by the condemning society around her?

 If we too are created texts, art forms like Hermione on the stage. If we too are products of an creative agent and live out our lives like a form of art then we too, like Shakespeare’s play, can be re-used even after our dying days.

 This exemplifies how and why every life is precious. We may not all become the Nelson Mandela’s or Ghandi’s of this world, memorialized forever by our impact in history. We may not have a blue plaque on the front of our houses when we pass away, signalling to tourists that ‘X lived here.’

But Winterson does promise us one thing. No life is merely a useless atom passing through the Earth with no significance. In fact, our significance is so profound that we can barely recognize it in the scheme of the Earth’s existence.

Bill Bryson’s ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything,’ explores the history of, as it states in the title, ‘nearly everything.’ In his introduction he beautifully states:

 ‘Consider the fact that for 3.8 billion years, a period of time older than the Earth’s mountains and rivers and oceans, every one of your forebears on both sides has been attractive enough to find a mate, healthy enough to reproduce, and sufficiently blessed by fate and circumstances to live long enough to do so….to perpetuate the only possible sequence of hereditary combinations that could result – eventually, astoundingly, and all too briefly – in YOU.’

 To combine Bryson’s cosmological and scientific perspective of life to Winterson’s Shakespearean lens the same result is founded: that YOU are imperative to the world. The product of love, the product of a conglomeration of atoms, the product of a passing of DNA that is utterly unfathomable to you, the product of an Earth that needed you.

We are forms of art, therefore, in as far as we are vital to the continuation of the world; to the continuation of art as it is in both being a creative, miraculous formation of DNA to the product of art in the literary sense.

 You are art. You are imperative.

And that leads me on to the reason why time is not an imprisoning force. Time is the reason why, as Bryson states, that the Earth has evolved and, in 3.8 billion years created you. You are the product of time.

Yet, time needs you too. The relationship is one of equality. Without you time cannot go on creating the next ‘you’ who may read this. Without you time itself would not be an essence, for who would exist to calculate its progress, to be aware of its agency?

Winterson then takes a far more Earthly approach to time in her final lines. She states:

 ‘And time, that sets all limits, offers our one chance at freedom from limits. We were not trapped after all. Time can be redeemed. That which is lost is found…’

 This different perspective on time exemplifies, once again, our shared relationship with time. Far too often in our increasingly technological and pressurized world do we allow ‘time’ to beat us. To give up on dreams, to give up on relationships, to allow time to beat on, making ourselves slave to its inevitable continuation.

 This need not be so.

 We can, as Winterson shows, use the power of forgiveness to beat the onslaught of time. We can rectify relationships, as Leontes and Hemione do. We can reassemble our crumbling dreams to make them far grander castles than they had been before. We can take back time if we forgive ourselves for actions that time has already taken from us.

 Essentially, if we realize that time is not our captor but our friend then we can make the most of our time here on Earth. If we realize that every action we makes affects the ‘time’ of other individuals. If we realize that our time on Earth was here for a purpose, to produce other peoples time through future offspring, to give others time, you will accept that you are not just a passing, useless atom in the expanse of time.

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