In this novel, I feel that one of the major themes is the loss of innocence and Leo is the character to whom the loss and betrayal of innocence, especially childhood innocence is referred to. I feel that “innocence” should be defines as the state of being sinless or unacquainted with evil and “betrayal” as the act of breeching trust and disclosing information to seduce. This I feel is Marian’s main objective in the novel and to someone extent she succeeds.
The novel is set as a first person narrative which means that Leo’s thoughts and feelings are the main contribution to the novel. I feel that the Prologue and Epilogue at the beginning and end of the main story are very important in setting the novel and helping me (the reader) in understanding where Leo’s memories and thoughts come from. Also the reader of the novel finds themselves reading references to Leo’s letters and diary which also help the reader relive the events and happenings of that summer at Brandham Hall. I, myself, as the reader, also see that Hartley has incorporated comments by the 1952 Leo in the main 1900 narrative. Also, the narration particularly serves Hartley’s interest in the child’s imagination, making me (the reader) live in the child’s mind for the most part, and revealing to us both the child’s vision of the world and his imaginative life.
The main character in the novel, Leo Colston, is a 12/13 year old boy who has many insecurities. He is also a very sensitive and introverted character- he is “like (his) mother, sometimes up and sometimes down”. Leo’s sensitivity is extensive and widespread, for example, he feels for Lord Trimingham and attempts to lessen the setback when Marian is unkind to him. Also, he is distressed to see Ted Burgess agonising in relation to his affections for Marian when he calls upon him for the last time. Leo’s incomprehension is also a characteristic trait of the child’s mind, and this therefore contributes to the characterisation. In Chapter 20, page 207, Leo offers a suggestion: “I didn’t know what to make of this, was she saying she was sorry, as Ted had”, and then has to resort to guessing, but from a retrospective view of the episode: “Afterwards I guessed why she said Ted was silly…But it didn’t occur to me then, and I said, with unconscious cruelty” (Chapter 20, page 211). I feel that this part of the character that is Leo Colston is made good to a certain extent by the remarks and justifications of the narrator, but which constitutes a means of indirect characterisation. Throughout the Go- Between, it often happens that Leo narrates facts without understanding their real significance, particularly the undertones in a conversation. Another part of Leo’s character is seen, when he is upset. This occurs when he learns that the messages he has been transporting are love letters, and he is desolated at the thought that Marian has not lived up to his idyllic version of her. On the other hand, he identifies the power of the desirability between Marian and Ted, and persists to love her, pouring out his soul for her in song when she accompanies him on the piano at the concert. Leo also finds himself intensely enthused when he finds Marian weeping over her hopeless love for Ted, even after he has become certain that she cannot be dependable. In spite of this, it is Leo’s very sensitivity that incites the brutal climax to the novel.
The greater part of this novel is set in 1900 (around the time in which the Boer War was being fought), with the framework of the Prologue and the Epilogue set in 1952. For the purposes of this novel the date had to be 1900. In his Brandham Hall there is no telephone, and people have to converse by letter- which explains for the way in which Ted and Marian implicate Leo in their love affair, as a message. Hartley has taken enormous care over detail in The Go- Between. He has many allusions to which modern trials and tribulations are always precise. The year 1900 was one of the hottest summers on documentation and historical record which also combines to the “hot” sexual friction at the beginning of the novel. This also show that he has thought about the schedule and sexual nature of the novel and related them together without many people noticing and to me, this points towards the correct formulation to create a timeless novel.
The Go- Between shows a young boy thrown from the uncomplicated world of school- boys into an adult world of refined relationships and undercurrents of passion and evil, of which he increasingly becomes aware. Hartley makes Leo a boy who attains his thirteenth birthday in the course of his stay with the Maudsley’s at Brandham Hall and this is a vital element within the context of the novel. He is just entering puberty, yet still has within himself much of the young child. Early on in the novel, I found out that Leo cannot identify himself with the lion. This lion being his birth sign, “because of late I has lost the faculty which, like other children, I had once revelled in, of pretending that I was an animal…! was between twelve and thirteen, and I wanted to think of myself as a man” (Prologue, pg 10). However, when he arrives at Brandham Hall he has previously been told by Marcus that Marian is exceptionally attractive before he is able to appreciate this for himself. Increasingly, Leo’s feelings for Marian, I feel, become clear to the reader and, to some degree, to Leo himself. In Chapter 21 (pg 240-1), Leo’s destruction of the ambiguous belladonna or nightshade plant- which comes to symbolise both the ambiguous Marian and the hazy mystery of sex in its splendour and deadliness- epitomises the complete experience which he undergoes at Brandham Hall: hiss innocence, his unknowing but spellbound involvement in sexual intrigue, his terror and the unimagined destruction it wreaks, the living death and burial he brings upon himself. Leo decides not to tell Mrs Maudsley about the presence of the poisonous plant in the outhouse since he could not bear the idea of its “lusty limbs withering on a rubbish heap or crackling in a fire: all that beauty being destroyed” (pg 38). Another point I would like to make is that Hartley expresses the capacity of the natural to cross over into the social and vice- versa in the deadly nightshade. The nightshade is bursting with vegetable life, but is also given strong human female attributions which excite and disturb Leo. The language used here connects the plant with Marian and with Leo’s unconscious desire to possess her. However, I feel that this can be interpreted differently by anyone who reads the novel.
The three way relationship between Leo, Marian and Ted that is present throughout the novel is symbolic and linked to Leo’s childhood innocence in many different ways. Leo is symbolically connected with Ted in many ways: in particular when he defeats him by catching him in the cricket match; and when he outdoes him at the concert. Leo is very aware of the fact that eh has overcome Ted on both occasions, but he does not realise that he is indirectly to be the cause of Ted’s death. Hartley takes care to discuss “the natural” in the course of the novel. At the end of chapter nine Leo discovers from Marian’s unsealed note that she and Ted are indulging in the stupid adult practice of “spooning”, and in Chapter ten opens, “Not Adam and Eve after eating the apple could have been more upset than I was.” What follows is a chapter which explores our “natural” state as fallen beings subject to animal instincts, and it is appropriately set in Ted’s farmyard. Leo’s preliminary disgust at his discovery is gradually modified. As he continues his walk to the farm he begins to feel some compassion for Marian: “Whether I realised the helplessness of Nature to contend with Nature I don’t know; but my heart…softened. However, perhaps the most apparent symbol used in association with Leo is his green suit. As soon as he puts it on it gives him the freedom to become a different person: he recognises that it releases the “real” Leo. Although he is deeply offended by Marcus’ disclosure that Marian chose the suit because green is the suitable colour for him- signifying that he is inexperienced and naive – he recognises that the green suit frees his imagination to go roving as Robin Hood in the green wood with his Maid Marian. There is the shocking irony in the fact that it is Marian’s behaviour that is to disfigure life for Leo for over fifty years, triggering him to put on one side of the world and take up the study of facts.
When Leo first witnesses Ted at the river in Chapter 4 he flees “almost in fear before that powerful body, which spoke to me of something I did not know” (pg 56), and examining Ted’s limbs he asks himself, “What can they do…to be conscious of themselves?” (pg 57). On the visits to Ted’s farm Leo’s sexual innocence is evident, in spite of the fact that Ted calls him a big boy for his age, and he pleads with Ted to tell him the facts about “spooning”. He is fobbed off until the occasion of his last visit to Ted when he goes to say good- bye to him (Chapter 19). Then Ted says he will keep his word, and tell him; but Leo loftily declines (pg 216). Ted demonstrates anxiety in case people tell Leo the facts of life in the wrong way, and in retrospect his words contain a terrible irony. Leo’s sexual innocence is confused when he sees Marian and Ted- two
of the people who mean most to him- in a gross clinch on the floor of the outhouse. These two have taken away his innocence in other ways, by making him, as the transporter of their form of communication, part of an intrigue against the Maudsley’s and Lord Trimingham. Now Leo is sexually initiated in a way that is to blight him forever. In this one episode Hartley combines sexual initiation with a loss of innocence. The fact that Leo has been sent to Brandham in such an innocent state is an implicit condemnation of both his schooling and his rearing. There is much irony underlying the magnetism Marian brings upon Leo: throughout the novel he is portrayed as an innocent, yet it is through Marian that he is sexually initiated, in a way that causes him to steer clear of experience in these matters. The novel uses narrative devices which I feel, often gives a taste of irony when it is only a question of linguistic unawareness: therefore when Leo wonders what is meant to be a Shylock, or supposes that “to be in the family way” is “to get in somebody’s way”. However Leo’s lack of understanding or misunderstanding is often of importance in the development of the plot: for example, the fact that he associates the phrase “lady killer” with his idea of Ted constituting a danger for Lord Trimingham, or the fact that he interprets the overheard sentence “they say he’s got a woman up this way” as referring to the daily woman, are influential in his understanding of the circumstances and his consequent behaviour.
In an Epilogue the reader sees the concluding comprehension of, perhaps a slight lifting of the blight, brought about by the reading of the diary. In between, there is the summer itself: mainly the love between Marian Maudsley, of Brandham Hall in Norfolk, and Ted Burgess, the occupant of the nearby “Black Farm”. As the reader, I see this story through the eyes of the too- innocent, young Leo Colston as seen now through the eyes of his resentful existing identity. In fact, the book is the expansion of a quarrel in the Prologue (pgs 20- 21) between the 12 year old Leo and the 65 year old Leo over subject matter of the diary, the meaning of that summer and love affair, the significance of love and life in general. Looking through the two pairs of eyes (actually the same pair just fifty years apart) so contrasting in their perspective, still so similar in the radicalism and romanticism at the origin of their judgements, we are able to se sinners and sinned- against with much more sympathy and understanding than either; able, too, to understand more of the human mixture that has gone into the making of “this hideous century we live in” (pg. 279). The aging, dried up, lonely Leo struggles to bring himself to life again with “a last flicker of the instinct for self- preservation” by reading his diary, “facing… the scene, the people, and the experience” (pg. 21) which had crushed him. At the end, after reading and thinking it through, after seeing Marian again, after seeing and hearing the after math of the tragedy, suddenly he sees spring into view “the south- west prospect of the Hall, long hidden from my memory (pg. 281). It is a symbol of the attaining of a true vision which has all along been lacking. At last I can see the thing whole; the house of which he could previously remember only “the hinder parts… higgledy-piggledy and rambling…not well light ed” (pg.33); the love- affair which had seemed so evil and damaging, but had also, predictably, something in it of the good and beautiful; his own romanticism and sightlessness and that of his century , living on traditions of beauty and self-discipline and forgetting to acknowledge the passion and violence and evil in human nature ; love itself the central secret- not limited to sexual passion (though including it) but reaching out with compassion to embrace all one’s fellow sinners and sufferers in the human tragicomedy.
The Go- Between is notable for the variety of language it contains. Hartley’s vocabulary is that of a well- schooled associate of the middle class, and even when proceedings take a aggressive turn his method of describing them does not require him to stoop to brutal language. The tone is calm and controlled even when the events concerned are passionate and overriding. I would expect the language of the elderly Leo to be restrained, but it is interesting to see the various types of language linked with his younger self. Early in the novel I learnt that he wants the entries in his diary to “reach a high standard of literary attainment”, and it is his pretentious use of the word “vanquished” that leads to the “spell” that seems to cause the downfall of his enemies, Jenkins and Strode. When Leo arrives at Brandham Hall, he is given example of other types of language he has at his demand. Leo finds that he is able to communicate with adults such as Lord Trimingham and Ted, but his childish lack of understanding is regularly referred to in the novel. This further shows and develops the concept of Leo’s childhood innocence throughout the novel.
In conclusion, I feel that Leo’s loss of innocence destroyed his life for the next fifty years. He blames himself for the betrayal of everyone at Brandham Hal and fails to see that the adults back at the Hall had exploited him. However, the visit to Marian in the Epilogue helps to redeem Leo and therefore he realises that he has a stronger grasp of reality than Marian, who has deceived herself for years, yet he is moved by her insistence that “there’s no spell or curse except an unloving heart”, even though he claims to be a “foreigner in the world of the emotions”. The Go-Between is a book and an experience which can immeasurably increase one’s penetration into, one’s love for and acceptance of life, one’s “tolerance for ambiguity” in people and events- that primary attribute, according to some social scientists of true maturity. Leo seems just possible on the verge of attaining some such maturity, at sixty- five, as I close the book, and Hartley’s art is such that the reader can understand the preciousness and rarity of the achievement, even at such an age. Finally, having seen and examined all the evidence that the novel has to show, I believe in and accept the title statement- “The betrayal of childhood innocence” is true and is one of the main features throughout the novel- The Go- Between.
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