The Go-Between

The Go-Between

The inspiration for the brilliant Joseph Losey/Harold Pinter film starring Julie Christie and Alan Bates, The Go-Between is a masterpiecea richly layered, spellbinding story about past and present, naiveté and knowledge, and the mysteries of the human heart.

This volume includes, for the first time ever in North America, Hartley's own introduction to the novel.

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Probably not, but I will because it does sum up the book; "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." In the early 1950s Leo Colston looks back on the long hot summer of 1900 when he turned 13, the memory of which he has blanked out. Hartley describes life in an English preparatory school rather well and the relationship between Leo and Marcus Maudsley is believeable throughout. The tragedy is played out in the shimmering heat of the summer, set around life in the Hall, a cricket match and a general sense late Victorian/Edwardian sense of progress.

In the summer of 1900 just under 13 years old Leo Colston, imaginative and sensitive boy receives an invitation to spend part of holidays with his schoolmate Marcus Maudsley in his family country estate, impressive Brandham Hall. But you were called Mercury as well, the messenger of the gods and you believed at that and, lost in adults world and also in own half awaken sexuality, convinced of own greatness and magic abilities , elated by glorious summer, you tried to change course of events. Stranger in the world of feelings, cindery creature, disillusioned with life and dream golden age but also own role in the bygone tragedy like a guest from another world, exile from zodiacal Eden returns to the ancient past. Go, Leo and from the bottom of your dried heart, from your reluctant memory, for the sake of this memorable summer and all these bigger than life people, go and find proper words.

It has, of course, one of the most famous opening lines in literature - "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." Published in 1953, it is narrated by Leo Colston, who is sixty-odd when we first meet him, but is looking back on events in the hot summer of 1900, when he visited a school-friend, Marcus Maudsley, and his family, at Brandham Hall. Leos family life, alone with his widowed mother, is much less grand that that of Marcus, and he is impressed and eager to please. A wonderful novel and one which encapsulates so much about a certain time so well.

Hartley, in an interview, wrote:I wanted to evoke the feeling of that summer in 1900, the long stretch of fine weather, and also the confidence in life, the belief that all's well with the world, which everyone seemed to enjoy before the First World War...The Boer War was a local affair, and so I was able to set my little private tragedy against a general background of security and happiness."Ostensibly this is a story about a thirteen-year-old private-school boy, Leo, at the turn of the twentieth century spending a month in the summer at the house of a wealthier school chum, Marcus. Our boy Leo got a new set of clothes, fell helplessly in love with distant Marian, the older sister of Marcus, and had days of discovery on his own when Marcus came down sick and had to stay in bed. The gentle, teasing story of that languid summer is that moment in a life when mysteries are revealed, truths are uncovered, futures are altered, and no one is ever the same again. We hold on through the summer with stomach clenched: when the crisis comes, we are ready, but Hartley teases us on with another suspense, and then another, until we are slowly sated, satisfied, and feel older, wiser, wistful.

"It might have made a great difference if there had been." Leo Colston, a man in his sixties, returns in 1952 to the place where his life began ... all of it during a brief interlude of glorious summer days, such as England, and Master Leo, has never seen since. With the help of the intimate journal he kept during his 1900 journey to Brandham Hall in Norwich County, Leo Colston re-examines the events that had such a traumatic ('arrested development', anyone?) effect on his innocent mind. Invited down for the summer to the opulent Brandham Hall by Marcus (a friend from his public school), Leo feels both enthralled by the prospect of mingling with the rich Maudsley family and anxious about his own social status. Most of all he is attracted by the older sister of Marcus, the beautiful Miss Marian Maudsley, who herself seems to be taking an interest in the young boy. On a trip to an improvised swimming pool he meets another adult that would have a major impact on his summer days: Ted Burgess is not a member of the Brandham Hall social circle, he is just a farmer out for a quick dip in the water, yet his physical presence is arresting. Without going into one too many plot details, Leo ends up visiting Ted at his farm and becomes a bearer of secret messages between him and Miss Marian. For a moment he is on top of the world when he saves the day at the annual cricket match between the Hall and the village teams, or when he sings a Psalm at the game's afterparty accompanied on piano by Miss Marian. Master Colston begins to suspect that Ted and Marian are using him and that they care little about his own feelings, either praising or threatening him in order to get what they want from him. This cindery creature is what you made me." Again, I don't want to go into specific plot points about what went down at the end of that atypical spell of sunny days in East England, but it must have been the defining moment for the author of this book, an admirer of the old class system and a misfit among the trenches of the twentieth century. Older Leo feels betrayed by the selfishness and the brutality of the new age, a brutality he feels he is partly responsible for after poisoning the Eden he remembers Brandham Hall to have been. This dilemma between his intentions and the results of his go-between actions in the summer of 1900 will haunt Leo Colston for the rest of his life, until he is ready to revisit the place in 1952. This reader feels that the author was not satisfied with the bitterness of his own failed life, of his trampled sensibility, and he wanted another voice to give an account of that summer: Do you remember what that summer was like? I left out a long passage describing the relationship between young Leo and powerful Ted, something that has been used in some accounts to justify a homosexual interpretation. I don't see it, given the stated initial innocence of Leo and the obvious interest they both have in the beautiful Marian, but then I may have my own baggage of emotions and experience I am bringing to the lecture. I liked Ted Burgess in a reluctant, half-admiring, half-hating way.

Hartley quickly and explicitly expresses his debt to Proust and posits that an author, though wedded to the present, writes better when reflecting on the past, where impressions formed are 'most fertile for literary creation.' He tells us also that The Go-Between 'is pregnant with symbols,' naming a few, and then somewhat incongruously saying, 'But I have never deliberately introduced a symbol into any of my books.' Let me say here that I don't disbelieve him. Until then, the narrator's voice was that adolescent, seeing things with open eyes but not yet understanding. But, Proustians, the Epilogue begins with this line: When I put down my pen, I meant to put away my memories with it. Our young narrator observes: I remember how class distinctions melted away and how the butler, the footman, the coachman, the gardener, and the pantry boy seemed completely on an equality with us, and I remember having a sixth sense that enabled me to foretell, with some accuracy, how each of them would shape. The woman at the center of this story says: But they weren't our fault -- they were the fault of this hideous century we live in, which has denatured humanity and planted death and hate where love and living were.

L.P. Hartleys 'The Go-Between' takes place in the long hot Summer of 1900, and tells of how young Leo, staying with Marcus, a school friend, at the aristocratic Brandham Hall, begins to act as a messenger between Ted, the farmer, and Marian, Marcus's beautiful young sister. My sense is that 'The Go-Between' has fallen out of favour since the film, and may well be destined to languish in relative obscurity in a few decades time. There is so much to enjoy here: the glorious writing; the evocation of the seemingly perfect Summer; the realistic insights into the mind of a 13 year old boy struggling to make sense of the adult world; the boundaries of Edwardian society; the Norfolk landscape; and the dangerous, illicit love affair at the books core.

Now, Leo Colston is met with one such situation in his sixties and his source of guilt lies unopened and sealed in front of him and the memories of his repressed past slowly come to life from his teenage box of secrets. As Adam and Eve tried to cover themselves when they become aware of their nakedness after committing the forbidden act, Leo too feels the shame of the affair he is caught up in and tries to to cover her shame. Without revealing further interesting aspects of this rather-disturbing story, I am ending this gibberish of a writing here with a hope that you might like this book as much as I do.

The story is told by Leo, a middle-aged man looking back on the fateful summer of 1900, when he was twelve years old. The Maudsleys live in Brandham Hall, a grand country house in Norfolk, and the middle class Leo is totally unaccustomed to their affluent lifestyle.

  • English

  • Fiction

  • Rating: 3.96
  • Pages: 326
  • Publish Date: 2002 by New York Review of Books
  • Isbn10: 0940322994
  • Isbn13: 9780940322998