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Authors: L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between

BOOK: The Go-Between
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  The Go-Between

  L.P. Hartley






  L. P. HARTLEY (1895-1972), the son of the director
of a brick-works, attended Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford,
before setting out on a career as a literary critic and writer of
short stories. In 1944 he published his first novel,
The Shrimp
and the Anemone
, the opening volume of the trilogy
and Hilda
(also published by New York Review Books). In the
spring of 1952, Hartley began
The Go-Between
, a novel
strongly rooted in his childhood. By October he had already
completed the first draft, and the finished product was published
in early 1953.
The Go-Between
became an immediate critical
and popular success and has long been considered Hartley’s finest
book. His many other novels include
Facial Justice
The Hireling
, and
The Love-Adept

  COLM TÔIBIN’s novels include
The Story of the
The Blackwater Lightship
, which was
shortlisted for the Booker Prize in 1999. He is the editor of
The Penguin Book of Irish Fiction
and lives in Dublin.








  Introduction by





New York



  This is a New York Review Book

  Published by The New York Review of Books

  1755 Broadway, New York, NY 10019


  Copyright © 1953 by L. P. Hartley Author’s
introduction © 1963 by L. P. Hartley Introduction copyright © 2002
by Colm Tôibin. All rights reserved.


  Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication

  Hartley, L.P. (Leslie Poles], 1895-1972.

  The go-between / L. P. Hartley ; introduction by
Colm Toibtn. p. cm.

  ISBN 0-940322-99-4 (pbk. : alk. paper]

  1. Autobiographical memory—Fiction. 2. Social
classes—Fiction. 3. Country homes—Fiction. 4. Teenage boys—Fiction.
5. England— Fiction. I. Title.


  823’.912—dc21 2001006491


  ISBN 0-940322-99-4


  Book design by Lizzie Scott

  Printed in the United States of America on acid-free



  March 2002








  L. P. HARTLEY put everything he knew, and everything
he was, into
The Go-Between
, which he published in 1953
when he was fifty-eight. He managed to dramatize his own watchful
and uneasy presence in the world, his abiding concern with class
and caste, and his very personal mixture of alarm and fascination
at the body and the body’s sexual needs and urges. It allowed him
to evoke a past, a time half a century earlier, a golden age, as he
saw it, of Victorian morals and manners, an age of innocence in the
short time before its shattering. In
The Go-Between
found the perfect way of making sense of his own complex
relationship to class and sexuality and memory, but the novel’s
intensity also suggests that, working in a time when he alone
seemed to possess rigid feelings about these matters, he was
writing to save his life.

  Leslie Poles Hartley was born in 1895 at a period
when his father, who was a solicitor, was beginning to make his
fortune from the brick industry. His parents were Methodists and
Liberals, believing in self-improvement and good health and hard
work. Hartley’s early years coincided with his family’s move from
the middle classes to the new rich, a move best symbolized by their
purchase in 1900 of a miniature castle, Fletton, on the outskirts
of Peterborough, in Cambridgeshire, a building that was to haunt
and repel him for all of his life. In a letter to Lord David Cecil
in 1971, a year before his death, he wrote: “Fletton, for some
reason, is inimical to me. Whether my father was more severe than
other Victorian parents I don’t know—he certainly didn’t mean to
be—but I always felt at Fletton that I had done something wrong—
especially in the North wing.”

  At his public school, Harrow, Hartley was the only
boy from a family with Liberal political sympathies in his house,
and his background in Wesleyan Methodism would have made his
origins very clear to both his teachers and fellow students. Thus
in his early teens he was handed a great gift for a novelist,
something that may have made him personally unhappy but that
allowed him to study the world as an outsider with a need to watch
and learn and never feel comfortable. Hartley did not, however,
enjoy his outsider status. By 1911 he was going for confirmation
classes, and he subsequently became a member of the established
church, the religion of his fellow Harrovians, the Church of
England. All his life he felt this need to join the tribe, the
upper class in England, with its extraordinary rules and
snobberies. He put so much energy into moving himself, his whole
being, from one class to another that it seemed to leave him
exhausted. Thus when the English class system came under attack in
the years after the First World War, Hartley was left defenseless.
He never ceased to long for a Platonic England that he was sure had
existed in his childhood and early youth, and his novels and
stories play out the drama between his own uncertain status and his
love and longing for a time of certainty, a world waiting to be
broken, uncertainty made flesh.

  Although he began to publish stories in his late
twenties, he was mainly known as a book reviewer until the
publication of his first novel,
The Shrimp and the
, in 1944, when he was almost fifty. He wrote for
The Nation, Saturday Review, The Weekend Review, The
, and many other periodicals, and ]. B. Priestley
described him as “the best reviewer of fiction in the country.”
Hartley often read as many as five novels a week and reckoned that
in all he must have read well over six thousand books.

  Over these years he made two great discoveries. He
found that he loved the company of louche aristocrats and made
friends with many of them. And he discovered Venice, where he spent
a great deal of time between 1922 and the beginning of the Second
World War. He owned a gondola and employed a gondolier; he enjoyed,
as much as any outsider could, Venetian society.
, his first substantial piece of fiction, published in
1925, deals with a young American woman who, having turned down
offers of marriage, arrives in Venice with her sickly mother.
(Hartley’s own mother was a great hypochondriac.) She develops an
enormous interest in a handsome gondolier called Emilio and tries
to engage him for her sole use. Fellow Americans tell her that when
the gondoliers have “relations” with certain tourists, “you may be
sure they don’t do it for nothing.” Nonetheless, she decides to
have relations with Emilio, and as she moves in this direction,
courtesy of the gondola, one of Hartley’s central preoccupations
comes to be dramatized. His heroine’s fascination with the
possibilities of sex is mixed with fear, her longing darkened by a
loathing for the very idea of coupling, a loathing that is all the
more disabling for its being irrational and total. As she
approaches the possibility of romantic fulfillment, “A wall of
darkness, thought-proof and rigid like a fire-curtain, rattled down
upon her consciousness. She was cut off from herself; a kind of
fizzing, a ghastly mental effervescence, started in her head. “

  Hartley’s early heroine has other echoes of the boy
Leo in
The Go-Between
. She stands alone, quite unlike
those around her, self-conscious and watchful, a subject of
mockery. Hartley himself had reason to be acutely aware of his own
effect on those around him. When Virginia Woolf was at Garsington,
the home of Lady Ottoline Morrell, in the summer of 1923 in the
company of Lord David Cecil, Puffin Asquith, and Eddy
Sackville-West, she noted in her diary the presence of “a dull fat
man called Hartley.” Thirty years later, the writer and publisher
John Calmann watched him sitting “like a delightful old pussy
listening and purring contentedly. A pleasant man but so obsequious
that I could not believe he really wrote [
].” Sacheverell Sitwell’s wife simply called him
“Bore Hartley.” He was not, it seems, the most exciting or
comfortable companion. In photographs, he appears uneasy and

  Nonetheless, he was a great host and weekend
visitor, and his work suffered as he traveled and socialized.
Hartley did not know how to shut himself away, and he managed to
see ia great deal of people whom he did not much like or who did
not much like him. In one year he entertained forty-eight groups of
houseguests. His homosexuality was known to most of those close to
him, but he did not have a lover or companion. His mother, who
lived until 1948, longed for his company and never ceased to want
him to return to live in the family home. As time went by, Hartley
drank more and began to dislike the filthy modern tide. He deplored
jazz and motorcycles and swans (which impeded his boating
activities) and the working class. He fought a great deal with his
servants (and indeed with his publishers) and wrote many stories
about relationships between masters and servants.


  Leo, the narrator of
The Go-Between
arrives at Brandham Hall in the hot summer of 1900 to stay with his
school friend Marcus. A cautious boy being brought up frugally by
his widowed mother, he enters the brave new world of the English
aristocracy as Marian, the daughter of the big house, is having a
love affair with Ted Burgess, a farmer at the other end of the
class system. Leo, the outsider, becomes the bearer of messages
between the two lovers.

The Go-Between
has obvious autobiographical
origins. In August 1909, for example, Hartley, who was staying with
his school friend Moxey at Bradenham Hall in Norfolk, wrote to his
mother, “I sleep with Moxey... and also with a dog, which at first
reposed on the bed... On Saturday we had a ball, very grand indeed,
at least, not very. We always have late dinner here. There is going
to be a cricket-match today, the Hall against the village. I am
going to score.” A year later, he wrote to his mother from
Hastings, where he was visiting a Mrs. Wallis, who wanted him to
stay an extra day “as she wants me to go to a party... You know I
am not very fond of parties and I do want to come home on Tuesday.
However, they have asked me to write to you and ask if you would
mind my staying. I am enjoying myself here but I am sure we should
both prefer me to be at home. Of course if you think it would be
better for me to stay, write to me and say so; it is only for a
day. But still, I do want to be at home again.” It is also clear
from letters that the young Hartley, like Leo in
, was not a good swimmer, though he was, like Leo, a
good singer. Also, Hartley had worked as an army postman in the
Great War and knew the thrill of delivering sought-after

  A novel is a thousand details, and any novelist will
raid the past for moments that have resonance or ring true or may
be useful, or simply come to mind easily and quickly. In his book
The Novelist’s Responsibility
(1967), Hartley mused on the
relationship between fiction and autobiography. He wrote that the
novelist’s world “must, in some degree, be an extension of his own
life; its fundamental problems must be his problems, its
preoccupations his preoccupations—or something allied to them.” He
also warned that while it is “unsafe to assume that a novelist’s
work is autobiographical in any direct sense,” it is nonetheless
“plausible to assume that his work is a transcription, an anagram
of his own experience, reflecting its shape and tone and

  His experience when he began
The Go-Between
in Venice in May 1952 was that of a man who remained uncomfortable
in his chosen milieu, who had learned a set of rules to help him
belong. Nothing was taken for granted. He had studiously avoided
intimacy. Thus he would have no difficulty describing a
middle-class boy’s visit to a grand house, a boy with a brittle
consciousness who was wearing unsuitable clothes, open to ridicule,
watching everything so he could learn and not be laughed at, a boy
who would be mortally wounded by a display of intimacy. Hartley was
ready to explore what he described in
The Novelist’s
as “this idea or situation” that goes on in a
writer “like a kind of murmur; it is what their thoughts turn to
when they are by themselves.”

BOOK: The Go-Between
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