L. P. Hartley Analysis

Other literary forms

(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

L. P. Hartley published, in addition to eighteen novels, six collections of short stories: Night Fears (1924), The Killing Bottle (1932), The Traveling Grave (1948), The White Wand (1954), Two for the River (1961), and Mrs. Carteret Receives (1971). Reprinted in The Complete Short Stories of L. P. Hartley (1973), with the exception of ten apprentice pieces from Night Fears, the stories reveal Hartley’s reliance on the gothic mode. At their least effective, they are workmanlike tales utilizing conventional supernatural machinery. At their best, however, they exhibit a spare symbolic technique used to explore individual human personalities and to analyze the nature of moral evil. The best of Hartley’s ghost and horror stories include “A Visitor from Down Under,” “Feet Foremost,” and “W. S.,” the last dealing with an author murdered by a character of his own creation. “Up the Garden Path,” “The Pampas Clump,” and “The Pylon” reveal a more realistic interest in human psychology, and they deal more directly with the theme central to Hartley’s major fiction: the acquisition, on the part of an innocent, even morally naïve,protagonist, of an awareness of the existence of evil.

A frequent lecturer, and a reviewer for such periodicals as The Observer, Saturday Review, and Time and Tide from the early 1920’s to the middle 1940’s, Hartley published a volume of essays titled The Novelist’s Responsibility: Lectures and Essays (1967), in which he deplored the twentieth century devaluation of a sense of individual moral responsibility. These essays explain Hartley’s fictional preoccupation with identity, moral values, and spiritual insight. His choice of subjects, particularly the works of Jane Austen, Emily Brontë, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Henry James, suggests the origins of the realistic-symbolic technique he employs in both his short stories and his novels.


(Survey of Novels and Novellas)

While L. P. Hartley’s novels from Simonetta Perkins to Facial Justice were published in the United States, they did not enjoy the popularity there that they earned in England. The Go-Between, for example, continued to be in print in England since its publication in 1953, and the Eustace and Hilda trilogy—comprising The Shrimp and the Anemone, The Sixth Heaven, and Eustace and Hilda—was given a radio dramatization by the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). In the course of a literary career of roughly fifty years, Hartley came to be a noted public figure, and his work received favorable attention from Lord David Cecil, Walter Allen, and John Atkins. Only in the United States, however, did his novels receive detailed critical attention. The three full-length studies of his fiction—Peter Bien’s L. P. Hartley (1963), Anne Mulkeen’s Wild Thyme, Winter Lightning: The Symbolic Novels of L. P. Hartley (1974), and Edward T. Jones’s L. P. Hartley (1978)—are all American, as are the notable treatments of Hartley’s work by James Hall and Harvey Curtis Webster.


(Great Authors of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Bien, Peter. L. P. Hartley. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1963. The first book on Hartley’s fiction, important for its Freudian analysis of his novels; its identification of his indebtedness to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and Emily Brontë; and its examination of Hartley’s literary criticism. At its best when discussing the novels about the transition from adolescence to adulthood.

Bloomfield, Paul. L. P. Hartley. Rev. and enlarged ed. Harlow, England: Longman, 1970. Bloomfield, a personal friend of Hartley, focuses on character analysis and thematic concerns, providing a brief discussion of Hartley’s novels. Laudatory, perceptive, and very well written.

Fane, Julian. Best Friends: Memories of Rachel and David Cecil, Cynthia Asquith, L. P. Hartley, and Some Others. London: Sinclair-Stevenson and St. George’s Press, 1990. Helps to situate Hartley’s fiction in terms of his sensibility and his time.

Hall, James. The Tragic Comedians: Seven Modern British Novelists. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963. Claims that the Hartley protagonist possesses an inadequate emotional pattern that leads inevitably to failure. This neurotic behavior is discussed in his major fiction: The Boat, Eustace and Hilda, My Fellow Devils, and The...

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