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LP Hartley

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LP Hartley

L.P. Hartley is a respected but often-overlooked British novelist and short story writer of the twentieth century. Hartley published many novels and short stories in his lifetime. He is perhaps best known for his novels that explore childhood and growing up. These includeThe Go-Between (1953), one of Hartley's most famous works. Hartley is also known for his various gothic and supernatural short story collections.

Below is a summary of L.P. Hartley's biography, and an exploration of The Go-Between and of some of Hartley's short stories. There is also an examination of L.P. Hartley's beliefs and how these manifest in his work. You will additionally find a selection of quotes from Hartley's work.

L.P. Hartley: bio

L.P Hartley was born Leslie Poles Hartley on 30 December 1895 in Cambridgeshire. His father was a solicitor and then moved on to own a successful brickworks. The family lived a comfortable life because of this. The Hartley family moved when Hartley was young. He spent much of his youth in Peterborough.

Hartley was first educated at home but then moved into formal education, where he was quite academically successful. Hartley attended Harrow School from 1910 to 1915 and then moved to Oxford to study modern history. Hartley's education was interrupted by the First World War. He did not sign up to join the British army until conscription was introduced in 1916. Hartley had a heart complaint and, therefore, never participated in active duty. He went on to complete his degree in Modern History in 1921.

Hartley began to write fiction in the early 1920s. He had work published in Oxford Poetry and Oxford Outlook. He then began to work as a book reviewer. However, Hartley wished to be writing fiction instead. His first independently published works were short story collections. His first collection was Night Fears and Other Stories (1924). The stories contained in the collection were often dark, tragic, and psychological. His first novella, Simonetta Perkins, was published the following year in 1925. Neither of these publications were commercially successful, much to Hartley's disappointment. Hartley published another collection of short stories, The Killing Bottle, in 1932.

It was not until the 1940s that Hartley would begin to find true success in his work. He published a trilogy in this decade known as the Eustace and Hilda Trilogy. These novels gained positive critical acclaim. The trilogy consisted of The Shrimp and the Anemone (1944), The Sixth Heaven (1946), and Eustace and Hilda (1947). The novels revolve around issues of childhood and identity. Hartley also operated in many literary and intellectual circles, which had a significant influence on his work.

Hartley published one of his best-known texts, The Go-Between, in 1953. By now, Hartley was a well-known literary figure and the novel achieved great success. The Go-Between looks back at a Victorian childhood and contrasts this late Victorian era with the one the novel is being written in, the 1950s.

After the publication of The Go-Between, Hartley went on to publish prolifically. These publications included The Brickfield (1964) and My Sister's Keeper (1970). He also published further collections of short stories. Hartley was known by the reading public as a figure who investigated morality and the issues of contemporary culture. Some of Hartley's later works failed to receive the success of his earlier works and this disappointed him greatly.

Hartley spent a great deal of time in Italy, falling in love with Venice in particular. He also lived in London, frequently indulging in one of his favourite pastimes of rowing. It is thought that Hartley was a homosexual, but kept this part of his life very quiet until his later years. This was likely because of the intolerant society he lived in. Hartley included a homosexual relationship in his 1971 novel The Harness Room. He was exceptionally nervous about the public reaction to this work.

L.P Hartley died on 13 December 1972. He was 76. Hartley never married, but had a number of close friendships throughout his life.

L.P Hartley: The Go-Between (1953)

L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between centres around the character of Leo Colston, a man in his sixties, as he reminisces on his childhood at the beginning of the twentieth century. Leo discovers a childhood diary and is forced to relive memories that he has been repressing for his entire adult life.

As a young boy, Leo spent a summer in the grand estate of his wealthy childhood friend Marcus Maudsley. Leo is from a lower-class family but still manages to become accustomed to life on this upper-class estate. He is a naive and innocent young boy who even believes he has some manner of magical powers.

The Maudsley family treat Leo well and he becomes particularly close to the elder daughter, Marian. It seems he has an innocent schoolboy crush on her. Marcus falls ill and has to be quarantined. This leads to Leo spending more time with Marian. Around the same time, Leo also meets Ted Burgess, an intimidating local farmer.

Marian and Ted ask Leo to begin to ferry messages between them. Leo's innocence leads him to agree, initially believing they are discussing business of some kind. Eventually, Leo opens one of the letters. He discovers Marian and Ted have been sending each other love letters. They are clearly having an illicit affair, as social taboos regarding class keep them apart. Leo's innocence is again clear when he is unable to understand why the two cannot simply marry.

Leo begins to feel uncomfortable ferrying these messages, especially when he discovers that Marian is due to be engaged to Lord Trimingham, the wealthy landowner who owns the estate that the Maudsleys live on. Leo hopes the messages will stop when Marian and the Lord become engaged but this does not occur. Despite multiple attempts, Leo is unable to get out of being Marian and Ted's messenger.

Mrs. Maudsley, Marcus and Marian's mother, becomes suspicious of Marian's disappearances. On Leo's birthday, Mrs. Maudsley forces him to help her look for Marian. In a harrowing scene, they discover Marian and Ted having sex in an outhouse. This discovery leads Ted to commit suicide.

The narrative then returns to an adult Leo. This incident permanently traumatised him. Since then, he has renounced emotions and has lived a lonely life, devoid of intimate relationships. He returns to the estate to get closure. Leo discovers that Marcus died in the First World War. He also finds out that Lord Trimingham and Marian did marry.

Trimingham helped Marian to raise the child that she had from her relationship with Ted until Trimingham's death ten years into the marriage. Leo meets an elderly Marian and she asks him to be her messenger one last time. Her grandson believes himself tainted because of his lineage. Marian asks Leo to tell her grandson that the love she had with Ted was true and pure. Leo does so.

The Go-Between explores issues of sexuality and love between the classes. It also takes a critical eye to attitudes at the end of the Victorian era, contrasting them with mid-twentieth-century ideas.

L.P. Hartley: short stories

L.P Hartley began his career in fiction by writing short stories and continued to publish various collections throughout his life. A common theme present in many of Hartley's short stories are elements of the supernatural and psychological. Many of his earlier collections even included ghost stories. They were inspired by the Gothic genre. He was particularly inspired by Edgar Allan Poe. Hartley's short stories also often investigated the human condition and prioritised morality. He sometimes attempted to subtly inform readers of the potential evils of the twentieth-century world in his works.

Some of Hartley's short stories include:

  • 'The Killing Bottle' (1932).
  • 'Simonetta Perkins' (1925).
  • 'Two for the River' (1961).
  • 'The Price of the Absolute' (1954).

L.P. Hartley: 'Night Fears' (1924)

'Night Fears' is the title story from Hartley's first short story collection, Night Fears and Other Stories (1924). It fits into the genre of the Gothic and has clear supernatural elements.

The Gothic is a genre of English literature. It is often characterised by themes of the supernatural and by an unsettling or unnerving tone. Horror is also often seen in the gothic. The genre is named this way because many early novels of the genre were set in old Gothic mansions. Famous gothic novels include Horace Walpole's The Castle of Otranto (1764) and Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818).

'Night Fears' follows a night watchman's struggles with his anxieties and fears. He often fabricates tales of his dangerous job to impress his wife. The watchman meets a mysterious stranger while at work. This stranger manages to push the watchman to think extensively about his fears. These include his inability to sleep because of his job, the worry that his wife is unfaithful to him, and his further worry that his children no longer care for him. The watchman becomes desperate and panicked, pulling out a knife. This results in him seemingly being murdered by the mysterious stranger. The story unsettlingly ends with the stranger disappearing into the night. It is uncertain who this stranger is or if they were even real at all.

'Night Fears' deals with the themes of fear, danger, control, and perhaps the supernatural too.

L.P. Hartley: beliefs

Many of L.P. Hartley's beliefs can be ascertained through his fiction. Hartley disliked much about the direction the twentieth century had taken. Many of his fears about this can be seen in his work. For example, in The Go-Between, Leo is looking back at the past. The late Victorian period was a time in which many had great hope for the upcoming century.

These hopes were soon dashed, particularly by the two world wars. The older Leo knows all this. He does not have the idealism of his younger self. Hartley's discomfort with the negative aspects of the twentieth century is clear. He believed that society had gradually become more and more vulgar, and he deeply disliked this.

Hartley also often discussed issues of morality in his work. He believed that society had lost a sense of personal responsibility. Hartley was of the opinion that individuals should be responsible for their own morals and not rely on society to define these morals for them. Hartley also believed happiness could be achieved by doing this.

Issues of class can also be seen in L.P. Hartley's work. The Go-Between shows an affair between the upper-class Marian and the lower-class farmer Ted that ends in tragedy. The couple are unable to marry because of their vastly different classes. Marian's engagement to Lord Trimingham is considered much more appropriate.

Hartley seems to be criticising the harsh class boundaries of the late Victorian era. Despite the fact that Marian and Ted are permanently torn apart, it is emphasised at the end of the text that the love they shared was pure and beautiful. It is clear that Hartley is prioritising their love over their class differences.

Can you identify any more instances of these beliefs in Hartley's work?

L.P. Hartley: quotes

QuoteLocationExplanation
'The idea of the assembled Viscounts contained it for me, and the Maudsleys, as their viceroys, enjoyed it too, not so incontestably, but enough to separate them from other human beings. They were a race apart, super-adults, not bound by the same laws of life as little boys.'The Go-Between, Ch. 6This quote shows Leo's thoughts on the class difference between himself and the upper-class inhabitants of Brandham Hall. He sees them as totally different and separate. This is linked to the significant difference that society sees between Marian and Ted.
'“But why are you going to marry Hugh if you don’t want to?” “Because I must marry him,” [Marian] said. “You wouldn’t understand. I must. I’ve got to!” Her lips trembled and she burst into tears.'The Go-Between, Ch. 20Leo's innocence and naivety are clear here. He does not understand why Marian is forced to marry within her class and is unable to marry who she wishes.
'A change came over the night-watchman’s outlook. The feeling of hostility and unrest increased. He couldn’t deny all this. He longed to say, ‘What do you think you’re getting at?’ and rehearsed the phrase under his breath, but couldn’t get himself to utter it aloud; his visitor had created his present state of mind and was lord of it.''Night Fears'This quote shows the control the mysterious stranger has over the watchman by questioning him. The watchman wishes to stand up for himself but cannot seem to. There is a sinister tone here.
'Later in the night the stranger, without putting his hands on the pole to steady himself, turned round for the first time and regarded the body of the night-watchman...Then he climbed back and, crossing the street, entered a blind alley opposite, leaving a track of dark, irregular footprints; and since he did not return it is probable that he lived there.''Night Fears'These lines appear at the end of 'Night Fears'. Although it is not specifically described, it seems the stranger has murdered the watchman. This unsettling scene establishes 'Night Fears' as part of the gothic genre. The vague nature of who the stranger is suggests supernatural elements too.

L.P. Hartley - Key takeaways

  • L.P. Hartley was a respected but often underrated twentieth-century British novelist and short story writer.
  • The Go-Between (1953) was one of Hartley's best-known novels. It explored late Victorian childhood and class boundaries.
  • Hartley also wrote many gothic and supernatural short stories.
  • Hartley's short story 'Night Fears' (1924) is a supernatural story that centres around the murder of a night watchman by a mysterious stranger.
  • Some of L.P. Hartley's beliefs included the importance of strong morality and fears about the twentieth century's development. He also questioned strict class boundaries.

Frequently Asked Questions about LP Hartley

The Go-Between deals with issues of childhood and lost innocence. Class difference is also very important.

Hartley died on 13 December 1972.

L.P. Hartley was a twentieth-century British novelist and short story writer.

Some autobiographical studies of Hartley have suggested that The Go-Between was inspired by parts of Hartley's own life. However, it is not a straightforward true story and still contains many fictional elements.

L.P. Hartley wrote many novels and short stories. Some of his best-known novels include The Go-Between (1953) and Eustace and Hilda (1947).

Final LP Hartley Quiz

Question

When was L.P. Hartley born?

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Answer

Hartley was born on 30th December 1895.

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Can you name one of Hartley's best-known novels?

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Answer

The Go-Between.

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What issues are explored in The Go-Between?

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Answer

Sexuality, love between classes, and Victorian attitudes.

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What genre do many of Hartley's short stories fit under?

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Answer

The Gothic genre.

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Can you remember how to define the gothic genre?

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Answer

Gothic texts often have elements of the supernatural and horror. They also tend to have an unsettling or unnerving tone.

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What themes are present in 'Night Fears'?

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Answer

Danger, fear, control, and the supernatural.

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What appears to happen at the end of 'Night Fears'?

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The mysterious stranger seems to kill the watchman.

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What put a stop to much of the early twentieth century's idealism?

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Answer

The two world wars.

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What did Hartley think the twentieth century had become?

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Hartley believed the century had become too vulgar.

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What belief of Hartley's can be seen in The Go-Between?

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Hartley's questioning of the Victorian era's restrictive class boundaries can be seen.

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When was The Go-Between published?

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1953.

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What genres does The Go-Between fit under?

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Bildungsroman and romance.

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What are two key themes in The Go-Between?

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Class and loss of innocence.

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What kind of romance is The Go-Between?

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Tragic romance

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What causes the loss of innocence moment for Leo?

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When he witnesses Marian and Ted having sex and Ted's subsequent suicide.

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What colour is used to symbolise innocence in The Go-Between?

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Green.

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How does Leo first become a messenger?

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Trimingham asks Leo to tell Marian she has forgotten her prayer book in church.

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Why is Leo a good choice to act as Ted and Marian's messenger?

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Because he is too young and naive to understand the class boundaries that keep them apart.

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What is the definition of a bildungsroman?

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A bildungsroman follows a young character as they grow into maturity aided by struggles and challenges.

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Why does Marian ask an older Leo to be her messenger one last time?

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To convince her grandson that the love she shared with Ted was beautiful and not wrong.

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What genres does The Go-Between fit under?

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Bildungsroman, romance, and psychological fiction.

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What are two key themes in The Go-Between?

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Coming of age and love.

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What are two important elements of historical context to remember for The Go-Between?

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Answer

Late Victorian idealism and the marriage market in late Victorian Britain.

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What two events put an end to late Victorian idealism?

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Answer

The two world wars.

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What aids Leo in his coming of age?

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Acting as a messenger for Marian and Ted.

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Can you remember the definition of psychological fiction?

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Psychological fiction focuses on a character's interiority, thought processes, and motivations.

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In context of the marriage market, why is it preferable that Marian marries Trimingham?

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Trimingham owns Brandham Hall and by marrying him, Marian would keep it in the Maudsley family.

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What does Marian and Ted's persistence in continuing their affair show?

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It shows how deep their love is.

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What might Hartley be suggesting by emphasising how pure Marian and Ted's love was?

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He may be arguing against Victorian social norms and class boundaries in favour of real love.

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Can you remember any of the traits that could be used to describe the young Leo?

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Answer

Naive, idealistic, and childish.

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