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By L.P. Hartley
Leslie Poles Hartley was born in 1895; he studied in Oxford and was officer in France during World War 1. He was novelist, short-story writer and critic. His reputation as a writer was established with the publication of the trilogy of novels, The Shrimp and the Anemone (1944), The Sixth Heaven (1946), and Eustace and Hilda (1947). He died in 1972.
The Go-between was first published in 1953, the following year it received the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. Its film version was also very successful and won the principal award at the Festival de Cannes in 1973. This book is a fiction, it's a memory story: a man in his sixties looks back on his boyhood of the middle class boy recalling the events that took place on a summer visit to an aristocratic family in Norfolk in the 1900's. The author uses double narrative, the young Leo's actions told by the older Leo, and it shows us how it has affected his life
First, I'll expose you the main characters, their functions and relationships, then I'll give you a small summary of the story, followed by the main themes and their symbolic elements, and finally the style of the book.
Leo Colston has two different aspects, he's the narrator of the book, a man of about sixty year old, and he's a "dried up" man inside.
Leo is a young boy of the middle class. He lives alone with his mother in West Hash, a little village near Salisbury. His father was a bank gardener in Salisbury is dead, Leo thinks he was a crank, he didn't want his son to go to school but his mother always wanted him to go so as soon as he died, he went. His mother liked gossip and was very sensitive to public opinion, she needed social frame, and we can easily imagine her pleasure when her son has been invited to spend a summer to a rich friend. He has also an aunt, Charlotte, a Londoner. He and his mother were living on her money, the pension from the bank and the little; his father had been able to put by. Leo attends to the same school as upper class boys, such as Maudsley (he doesn't remember his name probably because he has never been a special friend to him but while reading the diary he remembers his name was Marcus).
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Marian Maudsley is the older sister of Marcus. She was a very beautiful woman with grey eyes and blond hair. Being a young woman of high class, she's expected by her family and society to marry Lord Trimmingham. But is having a passionate affair with a farmer Ted Burgess. They are both in love one with another and years later she still thinks that it was they "were made for each other". She knows what she had to do and eventually marries Lord Trimmingham. She stayed loyal to him all their life after Ted's death but when she married him she was pregnant.
Ted Burgess is a farmer on the Maudsley property. He's in love with Marian and wants her to escape with him. He tries to explain to Leo what there is underneath love and the meaning of words like "spooning" but then realising he can't; tells him that its his father's job. He's so desperate of having lost that he committed suicide.
Discovering an old diary, Leo, now in his sixties, is drawn back to the hot summer of 1900 and his visit to Brandham Hall. He was a young boy of 12, invited to spend the summer school brake with a more affluent friend: Marcus. He fell in love with Marcus older sister, Marian. She was having a passionate affair with Ted, a farmer, but she was engaged with Lord Trimmingham. She exploited Leo who's a messenger between Ted and herself. She took care of Leo, buying him the clothes he needed, talking to him (she was the only one except Marcus) In exchange he asked Ted to explain him physical love but Ted refused. The boy had only a shadowy notion at first about the significance of the messages but he soon realized that it was love messages. Disillusioned, he took his revenge changing one of the messages. The day of Leo's birthday, Marian is late and her mother goes to look for her: the lovers end up to be discovered. Pregnant, Marian is humiliated in front of everybody. Ted committed suicide. Leo is disappointed about life, fidelity and love. Remembering that summer, he wants to know what happened to Marian and goes back to Brandham Castle. There, he's charged of his last message: telling to Marian's grandson how beautiful and true her love with Ted was. The narrator has never married; perhaps does he still love her?
There are a lot of important themes in this book, the most evident is the discovery of sexuality and of the grown ups world of a teenage boy, the loss of his innocence. He is scarred sexually and emotionally by his summer experience. At the end of the book, he has turned into an emotionally hollow adult.
Another main theme is past and memory, L. P. Hartley begins The Go-Between: with "The past is a foreign country. They do things differently there." This book is memory like in The Glass Menagerie; it is a look through the dusty memory of a sixty years old man.
Another key theme is class distinction and its warping effects upon the life of one small boy. He's from a disadvantaged family and is invited in an aristocratic family. The father and the fiancé are aware of the girl's affair with the farmer, but do nothing about it. They are confident she will do the "right thing" in the end, and she does. "Why don't you marry Ted," the boy asks the young woman. "Because I can't," she replies. "Then why are you marrying Trimmington?" "Because I must." She understands, and she is tough enough to endure. Indeed, at the end of the film she turns up years later as an old lady very much in the image of her mother.
An extra theme is man-woman relationships and love. Marian and Ted are in love with each other and have an ardent affair together. Lord Trimmingham probably loved her too because he married her although she was pregnant and Leo felt in love with her as soon as he saw her.
The diary is a symbol of the past and of the doom that chose him that summer, it's like a pact that he signed, dreams and freshness gone for adult revelations. In the Zodiac on his diary, Leo is Mercury (virgin), messenger of the Gods, mercury also gauging the ever-rising heat of the summer, and of those passions of the adults circling around him. Being Robin Hood in his suit of green to his Fair Maid Marian, but green also meaning innocence and naivety. Misunderstandings, the hero, disfigured, his face unable to reveal what his heart feels. The poisoned plant "Atropa Belladonna" is also a symbol. "Belladonna" means "Beautiful woman" which can be interpreted as a foreshadowing, a beautiful woman will be deadly to someone. This can be understood at two levels, first Ted is physically dead then Leo as a child dies and only remains a destroyed and disillusioned boy.
Imagery is strong, and wonderfully intertwined between the lines. Hartley's skill lets us see the characters through the eyes of a boy, standing on the precipice of adulthood and yet still living within a life of childhood fantasies where his world does make sense. He does not understand the machinations of the adults around him. Passion, deception and innocence are overlaid with strong imageries. The elder Leo's adult perceptive overwhelm when you start the reading of the novel. This book is based upon flashbacks. The point of view changes between the young boy and the old man. The story takes place in the aristocratic England of the beginning of the 20th century. The children were the ones who suffered directly at the hands of class snobbism, of course, and sometimes their personalities were marked for life
This book has all the essential elements of a great novel: innocence, love, passion, deceit, lies and death. It's a nostalgic and bittersweet tragedy, a memory book. It was a simply beautiful book, I understand better why this book won the Heinemann Foundation Prize of the Royal Society of Literature. While reading I could really feel like this little boy. You can't read this book without being completely filled up with Leo's dilemma. I'm glad to have read it.