Critical Context

Perhaps Hartley’s best novel, The Go-Between was awarded the Heinemann Foundation Prize in 1953. A film version by Joseph Losey, from a script written by Harold Pinter, won the Grand Prize at the Cannes Film Festival in 1971. The novel argues for the existence of a spiritual dimension to life and for a moral imperative, in the tradition of E. M. Forster, to connect oneself with its will.

The moral, even political, conservatism of Hartley’s position, expressed most clearly in the essays collected under the title The Novelist’s Responsibility: Lectures and Essays (1967), has its most aesthetically convincing representation in The Go-Between. By placing control of the story in the hands of Leo Colston, Hartley eliminates the intrusive narrational commentary characteristic of some of his other novels. Here he manages, through a narrator-protagonist who is nearly simultaneously an adolescent boy and an elderly man, both to dramatize the conflict between good and evil, which is his recurring subject, and to set it within a convincing social context.

The nineteen days Leo spends at Brandham Hall in 1900 represent a major change in the class structure of England. Ironically, the aristocratic Viscount Trimingham, the traditional military leader, is forced to turn to the middle-class Maudsleys for the capital and the wife he needs to maintain his status, in the bargain accepting as his own son the child of a farmer.