L.P. Hartley and 'The Go-Between'

“The past is another country: they do things differently there” – so begins the haunting novel The Go-Between by L.P. Hartley. I think this is a stunning book. It is about class, illicit love, boyhood dreams versus cruel reality, and it movingly depicts growing up and the loss of innocence.

This is a novel about a secret love affair between a man and a woman who come from very different echelons of the English class system. In the middle is a boy from yet another social class, a ‘go-between’ between upper and lower class characters in the story.

A novel about illicit love

It is the summer of 1900, a new century is beginning and young Leo Colston’s life as an adult is about to begin too. At Bradham Hall school the boy finds himself being used as a go-between, delivering messages from Marian Maudsley to a nearby farmer called Ted Burgess. As he delivers notes written by the lovers, he gradually grows more aware of what is going on and becomes troubled by conflicting loyalties. The summer gets hotter and hotter and storms begin to brew, leading to an explosive climax, a discovery of the pair making love, a suicide and a breakdown for Leo himself.

“I should not have cared to see it as an act of self-sacrifice even if it had been one; for there is nothing clever in self-sacrifice, nothing to pride oneself on.”
― L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between

Hartley was a prolific novelist, but his other books have not really lasted. The Go-Between has remained by far his most popular work, it has been filmed and put on stage, and is as relevant today as it was when first published in 1953.

Join me in an exploration of this modern classic – experience the heat of that summer of 1900, share the excitement of forbidden passion, and sympathise with a boy who is used and abused by those who should know better.

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Discuss it with me

I hope you find L.P. Hartley’s moving exploration of a young boy’s loss of innocence as engrossing as I do. Tell me your thoughts in a comment.

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Featured image credit- Jack Hollington & Jim Broadbent in The Go Between, 2015 BBC TV adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4073696/
Body image credit- L.P. Hartley, The Go-Between first edition bookcover, https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20122764
Body image credit- LP Hartley by Mark Gerson, https://www.npg.org.uk/collections/search/portrait/mw57009/LP-Hartley
Body image credit- Jack Hollington as Leo, 2015 BBC TV adaptation, https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4073696/

Comments (4)

  1. Susannah Fullerton

    You did post successfully, Deb, but I am overseas on tour and have had little time to reply. Many thanks for your comments.I agree that Hartley gets inside the mind of Leo really well, seeing everything from the point of view of a developing boy. Surely the umbrella reference is to the fact that Marian and Ted are having sex? But he has never encountered anything like that before, and equates the movement of the bodies with the up and down movement of an umbrella. It’s also interesting to think about the heat, which is always mentioned as extreme, yet for those of us who know English weather, that is a rare thing! I think part of it is Leo looking back – don’t we all tend to remember the summers of our childhood as longer and hotter than they actually were?
    I love the family dynamics in this book. It is definitely a case of the wrong people all ending up with each other. There’s so much to think about with this novel!

  2. Deb

    Hi Susannah and readers
    (i thought I’d posted already but it seems to have gone missing! – apologies if this is a repeat).
    This was a roller-coaster of a book. I spent a fair bit of it on the farenheit to celcius calculator and trying to imagine the heat of the UK summers I remember from childhood. The fun part for me in the midst of this tragic tale was the banter between Leo and Marcus, and that glimpse into the workings of the young boy mind, so influenced by his upbringing.
    There was a scene that was a fore-telling of the fate of Ted when Leo found him polishing his gun which I missed so his death perhaps didn’t shock me as much as a result, but it took me a while to accept what Leo and Mrs Maudsley had come upon. I didn’t realise the rounding off by referring to them both as zodiacal characters and still haven’t figured out what the ‘shadow of an opening and closing umbrella’ was all about. Interesting that there are parallels between this and our last read: nice guys and rather wrong, or very wrong women!

  3. Beverley Rogers

    Amazingly, I have the Go-Between with me. I’m in Bangkok and it’s great to re-read this wonderful book.
    I’ve borrowed the movie – it’s also great with Alan Bates as Ted and Julie Christie as the woman he loves (can’t remember her book title).
    Thanks you for keeping in touch…..please send your recommendations.

    • Susannah Fullerton

      It is a fabulous book and the old movie is gorgeous. Do think of trying the more recent film version too – I loved it!

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