Leo Colston is Hartley’s most fully rendered protagonist. He is also the only one to tell his story in the first person. Presenting his story from the dual perspectives of 1900 and 1952, the elder Leo comments reflectively on the experiences narrated directly by his thirteen-year-old self. In Leo’s character, Hartley treats the problem of moral responsibility, the central concern of his fiction. He also deals with the topic of the past’s effect on the present. When Leo was thirteen in 1900, his ignorance of the facts of life, not merely those about human sexuality, made him unfit for moral insight. The elder Leo’s Proustian effort to recapture past time enables him to perceive moral significance. In token of his capacity to judge and to act, Leo is able to visualize the facade of Brandham Hall for the first time in more than fifty years.
He is also able to see that Marian, Ted, and Lord Trimingham were neither demigods nor callous manipulators of his childhood self. He recognizes that all three were genuinely fond of the boy he once was. They did not seek to hurt him. Leo faces the fact that he conspired in his own deception, by viewing events through the romantic screen of a personal allegory. Hartley’s treatment of these characters stresses both the subjectivity of young Leo and the potential in the three adults for the heroic attributes he assigns them. The tragedy of the love triangle derives from the fact that they fail to rise to the roles...
(The entire section is 486 words.)