Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 1, chapter 8 – “Lake of the Coheeries”)

Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 1, chapter 8 – “Lake of the Coheeries”)

Before we get started on chapter 8, a brief word about the film adaptation, since I saw it again on cable this weekend.  I’d forgotten how much of a mess it was, even ignoring the book.  On its own terms, the movie made no sense at all.  As an adaptation of this novel…well, the less said, the better.

In the novel, we’re up to chapter 8, in which Peter meets Beverly’s family.  It begins, though, with a description of the town of Lake of the Coheeries and its environs, and the spectacular winter it’s experiencing.  We don’t get much about the town itself, or about it’s most curious characteristic, which is shares with the Bayonne Marsh – a tenuous connection with the rest of the world that makes it nearly Brigadoon-like (we’ll see that in some detail in part 2 of the book).

We follow the Penns (sans Beverly) on their journey up to their country retreat, and in a very entertaining passage, we see the telegraph correspondence between Jayga, back in Manhattan and frantic about Beverly’s affair with Peter Lake, and Isaac Penn, who’s issuing instructions to her from afar:

BEVERLY MISSING STOP.  JAYGA SAYS ELOPED WITH SEER STOP.  ADVISE STOP.

WHAT QUESTION MARK EXCLAMATION POINT HIND HER STOP.  CHECK THE ROOF STOP.  LOOK EVERYWHERE STOP.

EVERYONE LOOKING EVERYWHERE STOP.  CANNOT FIND HER STOP.  ADVISE STOP.

LOOK HARDER STOP.

This goes on for a page or two, and while that’s going on, Peter and Beverly reach an understanding.  Peter fears that things have moved too fast, but he discovers – after a long, wordless conversation in which everything imaginable is nonetheless communicated – that he’s wrong.  But he is still unsure about one thing.  Beverly wants to spend New Year’s Eve dancing at Moquin’s – a dancing hall where

all the haut monde, the beau monde and the low monde freely intermix

It’s also a home away from home for Pearly Soames, and obviously Peter is uneasy about that.  Beverly declares that Peter will be safe with her there – or anywhere.  She convinces Peter, and he decides that, even if she’s wrong, it’s worth going anyway:

What the hell, he thought.  It’s the quick turns that mean you’re alive.

That’s one of my very favorite lines from the book.

Before Moquin’s, though, there’s still Christmas to celebrate, and Peter and Beverly travel up the Hudson by boat, and then Athansor pulls their sleigh at impossible speeds the rest of the way.  When they hit the actual Lake of the Coheeries, completely frozen over as it is every winter, they pass by the rest of the Penns, who are speeding in the opposite direction on an iceboat.

Everyone heads back to the Penn country home, and Isaac Penn sits down with Peter.  There’s a bit of wordplay that puts Peter at his ease (mainly concerning the pronunciation of “claret” – this is also one of two scenes in the book that made it more or less intact into the film adaptation).  And then old Isaac lays it on the line:

“You look like a crook.  Who are you, what do you do, what is your relationship with Beverly, are you aware of her special condition, and what are your motivations, intentions and desires?  Tell the absolute truth, don’t elaborate, stop if a child or servant comes in, and be brief.”

Peter does, and his answers satisfy Isaac.  Peter admits to being tempted by the money and power of the Penns, but, ultimately, he wants only Beverly, and when she’s gone, he promises not to take a penny of Isaac’s money.  He asks for only one thing from Isaac Penn: help in finding a sick (consumptive) child that he’d seen after he met the spielers, twenty years ago on his first night in Manhattan.  That leads to a conversation about fairness, and more importantly, justice.  Isaac Penn has very strong feelings on the subject:

Justice is higher but not as easy to understand – until it presents itself in unmistakable splendor.  The design of which I speak is far above our understanding.  But we can sometimes feel its presence.

No choreographer, no architect, engineer or painter could plan more thoroughly and subtly.  Every action and every scene has its purpose.

Peter isn’t convinced, and continues to talk about the unfairness, not only of that long-ago child, but of Beverly, who will die young.  Isaac has an answer for this:

“Have you not yet realizes that Beverly has seen the golden age – not one that was, nor one that will be, but one that is here?  Though I am an old man, I have not yet seen it.  and she has.  That is what has broken my heart.”

Age, clearly, grants some measure of the vision that her fever has given Beverly, or that Pearly (and Athansor, for that matter) have been graced with.

Christ mas day comes and goes, and Peter and Beverly take the rest of the Penn children as well as some neighbor children (among them the Gamelys, a name to keep in your mind when we get to part 2 of the book)..  It’s a beautiful moment, and the way that Athansor runs as he carries their sleigh is beautiful – and awesome – as well.

Athansor, the white horse, moved in time with the diffuse static from above.  Though he had the power and joy of a fast horse heading for his stable, they could sense that the hypnotic rhythm in which he moved was that of an unimaginably long journey.  He was running in a way that they had never seen.  His strides became lighter and lighter, harder and harder, and more and more perfect.  He seemed to be readying himself to shed the world.

Keep that image in mind as the book goes on; it’s important.  We already know that Athansor – like so many of the other characters in the book – is trying to return to another, better world.  We’re seeing here that he may have begun to figure out that can actually be accomplished.

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5 Replies to “Reading in Public – “Winter’s Tale” (part 1, chapter 8 – “Lake of the Coheeries”)”

  1. Don’t get me started on film adaptations that trash the essence of a good book, although while I typed this I thought of some good ones. This was an outstanding chapter and I am locked in.

    One thing: Not that it matters but Peter Lake is at least ten years older than Beverly, no? She is about 18 and it was mentioned at some point that he’s spent two decades in NYC and was at least eight, maybe more, when he left the marsh. Assuming I haven’t misread things, was this how they were portrayed in the movie; again, not that it matters.

    1. In the movie, they’re both supposedly 21. The on-screen titles indicate that it’s 1895 when Peter is put into the little boat by his parents, and then it’s 1916 when the main action takes place. There’s no way on Earth that Colin Farrell looks 21! And Beverly states in the film that she’s 21.

      In the book, you’re exactly right. Peter is in his early-mid 30’s, and Beverly is 18.

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