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.