Indebted to Bloomsbury, as shown by a concern with personal conduct and a highly impressionistic style, L. P. Hartley betrays affinities with D. H. Lawrence, Aldous Huxley, and George Orwell in a more fundamental concern with larger social and moral issues. His best books argue for the existence of a spiritual dimension to life and demonstrate that recognition of its motive force, even union of oneself with its will, is a moral imperative. In this emphasis on connection, his novels recall those of E. M. Forster, but unlike his predecessor, Hartley insists that the nature of the motive force is supernatural, even traditionally Christian. In his most successful books, Hartley draws upon elements of both novel and romance, as Richard Chase defines them in The American Novel and Its Tradition (1957), and the uniqueness of the resulting hybridization precludes comparisons with the work of most of his contemporaries.
Hartley’s moral vision, revealed by the gradual integration of realism and symbolism in his novels, is the most striking characteristic of his long fiction. In a book such as The Go-Between, he shows that all people are subject to the power of love, even when they deny it, and that achievement of insight into love’s capabilities is a prerequisite of achieving moral responsibility. This pattern of growth at the center of Hartley’s novels is conventionally Christian in its outlines. The protagonist of each book, beginning with...
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