The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

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.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

Leo Colston

Leo Colston, a bachelor librarian in his sixties and self-proclaimed “foreigner in the world of the emotions.” Colston’s discovery of the diary he kept in the summer of 1900, the year he turned thirteen, precipitates release of the repressed memories of the people and events that led to his withdrawal from emotional relationships. The young Leo, imaginative, sensitive, and eager to please, his values and vision determined by the self-centeredness of a child, visits the estate of a schoolmate. Interpreting the kindness of the young adults there as affection for him, Leo feels humiliated when he realizes that their attention to him derives from their use of him as a messenger. Leo’s complicity in the tragic result of their love affair causes him to repress the incident and his own emotions.

Marian Maudsley

Marian Maudsley, a young woman engaged to the aristocrat Hugh but in love with the farmer Ted. A spirited, attractive, and sympathetic but somewhat self-centered woman, Marian is torn between her love for Ted, who is socially beneath her, and her family’s wish that she marry Hugh, the impoverished but noble man whose family estate the wealthy Maudsleys now own. Marian responds to Leo’s discomfort by buying him a suitable set of clothes and a bicycle. Her interest is not quite unselfish, however, as she involves Leo in her affair with Ted by asking the boy to carry messages of assignations between them.

Ted Burgess

Ted Burgess, a young tenant farmer on the estate. Virile, physically attractive, and passionate, Ted would be a suitable mate for Marian, except that he has...

(The entire section is 685 words.)