The Go-Between Summary

Summary (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The narrative structure of L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between develops out of the discovery by Leo Colston, the novel’s protagonist and first-person narrator, of a diary he kept while visiting his schoolmate Marcus Maudsley at Brandham Hall in 1900. The diary, come upon in 1951 or 1952 in a box of mementos preserved by his late mother, prompts Leo to recall his life at Southdown Hill School prior to his visit to the Maudsleys in July and August. The prologue to the novel details these memories; the epilogue shows Leo returning to Norfolk to fill in gaps in his memory of the nineteen days he spent at Brandham Hall and to determine the degree of his personal responsibility for the catastrophe which occurred there on his thirteenth birthday.

Leo’s diary for 1900 is the key to the action of The Go-Between. Encouraged by his use of magic to defeat the school bullies Jenkins and Strode, Leo arrives in Norfolk half convinced of his ability to bend events to his will. He also arrives with a personal cosmography, derived from the figures of the zodiac printed inside the cover of his diary, to which the adults at Brandham Hall appear to conform. Identifying Marcus Maudsley’s older sister Marian as the Virgo figure in the zodiac, Leo allegorizes the conflict between Marian’s fiance, Hugh, Viscount Trimingham, and her lover, Ted Burgess, as a struggle between Sagittarius and Aquarius.

Dubbed Mercury by the adults who use him as messenger, Leo is ambivalent about both men. Trimingham, the aristocratic but impoverished owner of Brandham Hall, is a heroic figure, scarred during military service in South Africa. Burgess, a tenant farmer on the Viscount’s estate, is the father figure...

(The entire section is 702 words.)

The Go-Between Bibliography (Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Atkins, John. Six Novelists Look at Society, 1977.

Bien, Peter. L. P. Hartley, 1963.

Bloomfield, Paul. L. P. Hartley, 1970.

Hall, James. The Tragic Comedians: Seven Modern British Novelists, 1963.

Jones, Edward T. L. P. Hartley, 1978.

Mulkeen, Anne. Wild Thyme, Winter Lightning: The Symbolic Novels of L. P. Hartley, 1974.

Webster, Harvey Curtis. After the Trauma: Representative British Novelists Since 1920, 1970.