Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

Hartley’s romance, like those by Hawthorne, has a level of moral significance. When Leo pauses at the church near Brandham Hall, having visited the Trimingham family graves, he prays for all involved in the drama enacted in 1900, including himself. In effect, he forgives their unthinking treatment of him and accepts responsibility of his unwitting betrayal of them. As Marian tells Leo at the end of The Go-Between, there is no curse except an unloving heart. The tragedy of Leo’s adult life, rectified by his acceptance of Marian’s request that he talk to her grandson, Edward, is that he did not know that the highest expression of love is self-sacrifice.

In The Go-Between, Hartley explores the spiritual emptiness of England during the first half of the twentieth century. His treatment of Leo rejects the nihilism of so much twentieth century fiction and suggests that spiritual rebirth can be found within the framework of institutional Christianity. Like his books The Hireling (1957) and Facial Justice (1960), this novel demonstrates Hartley’s repeated emphasis on the transcendent values. The motifs suggesting the Christian framework are not imposed upon Leo by the narrative; he interprets them for himself. As a result, his account of spiritual regeneration is convincing as a personal experience and persuasive as a metaphor for a process in which Hartley would like to believe.