L. P. Hartley Biography


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Leslie Poles Hartley is one of the most critically acclaimed English novelists of the twentieth century. He was born to Mary Elizabeth (Thompson) Hartley and H. B. Hartley, a solicitor who eventually directed the family’s brick business in addition to being a Wesleyan Methodist who passed his morality and emphasis on individual moral responsibility on to his son. Hartley was educated at Harrow School and entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1915. He interrupted his education to serve as a second lieutenant in World War I but was discharged because of a weak heart and returned to Oxford, where he received a degree with second-class honors.

Soon after leaving Oxford, he published Night Fears, a book of short stories, and Simonetta Perkins, a novella. He became known primarily as a book reviewer and literary critic until 1944. In that year, The Shrimp and the Anemone was published, the first volume of the Eustace and Hilda trilogy. The second and third volumes followed in rapid succession, and the third, Eustace and Hilda, won for him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In the 1950’s, he published the best of his work: The Go-Between, which was awarded the W. H. Heinemann Foundation Prize and subsequently translated into a successful film; The Hireling; and Facial Justice. Although he continued to publish regularly until his death of heart failure in 1972, his later novels and short stories were not as successful, financially or critically, as his earlier work.

Facial Justice, which concerns the aftermath of a third world war, is atypical of Hartley’s fiction in its futuristic, science-fiction setting. It is vintage Hartley, however, in its focus: the plight of the character who attempts to maintain individuality in a society bent on conformity and...

(The entire section is 756 words.)


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

Born on December 30, 1895, near Whittlesea in Cambridgeshire, Leslie Poles Hartley was named for Sir Leslie Stephen, the father of Virginia Woolf and himself a noted late Victorian literary man. According to Edward T. Jones, whose book L. P. Hartley contains the most complete biographical account, Hartley’s mother, Mary Elizabeth Thompson, was the daughter of a farmer named William James Thompson of Crawford House, Crowland, Lincolnshire. His father, H. B. Hartley, was a solicitor, justice of the peace, and later director of the successful brickworks founded by the novelist’s paternal grandfather. This information figures as part of the background to Hartley’s The Brickfield and The Betrayal.

Hartley was the second of his parents’ three children; he had an older sister, Enid, and a younger, Annie Norah. None of the three ever married. Reared at Fletton Tower, near Peterborough, Hartley was educated at Harrow and Balliol College, Oxford, his stay at the latter interrupted by military service as a second lieutenant in the Norfolk Regiment during World War I. He was discharged for medical reasons and did not see action in France. In Oxford after the war, Hartley came into contact with a slightly younger generation of men, among them Anthony Powell, Graham Greene, and Evelyn Waugh. His closest literary friend at this period, however, may have been Lord David Cecil. After leaving Balliol with a second honours degree in 1921,...

(The entire section is 479 words.)