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The Go-Between

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Hartley, LP. The Go-Between

A hot summer in 1900 and Leo Colston, aged 14, is invited to spend it at his friend Marcus’s house at Brandham Hall, a splendid country house replete with 14 bedrooms, servants, guests galore and for Leo the most ravishing girl, Marian. It should be a happy time and in a way it is, for everyone is excessively polite and concerned for the boy’s welfare, but sadly love enters his consciousness, a growing awareness of the mystery of adult passion, concealed and for the boy wicked and puzzling, and ultimately scarring the boy for life. The book was first published in 1953, over 50 years later than the action portrayed. This gap in time allows for a double perspective on the scene, a time of vast social change, during which country houses became historic treasures open to the paying public, servants a rarity and the world became ruled by the internal combustion engine. More important perhaps, the book is penetrated by a nostalgia for a vanished period.

The guilty passion however is seen at one remove, for Leo’s respectful love for Marian is essentially non-carnal; he is simply the messenger carrying love letters between Marian, engaged to be married to Lord Trimmingham, a disfigured veteran who befriends the boy, and Ted Burgess, a farmer, one of the servant class. (The title ‘Mercury’ is jokingly bestowed on Leo by Trimmingham.)

The characters and above all the plot of the novel are all finely drawn, the dialogue realistic and the tension almost unbearable, as the reader follows Leo becoming enmeshed in a treachery of which he is entirely innocent. The euphemism ‘Spooning’ puzzling to Leo and used by Ted to refer to the sexual act is exactly right, historically and in the context of the boy’s innocence. This is the story of love, guilt and betrayal that only adults know.

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