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Path Created with Sketch. Samuel French The Go-Between.
Jump to Section: Current Section Overview. Cast Size Cast Size 8m, 3f. Additional Info Leo Colston - a man haunted by the events of his past - vividly recalls his unwitting role acting as a go-between for the beautiful upper-class Marian and the tenant-farmer Ted.
The Go-Between – New York Review Books
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The Go-Between Summary
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Now Playing. Community Experiences. He picks each thing up in turn. He opens it: the combination lock, which he knows without knowing, is set to the letters of his own name. His own long-gone story breaks open on him all over again. Leo is 12 years old and visiting his upper-class schoolfriend Marcus's family seat, Brandham Hall in Norfolk, in the summer of He is wearing his too-hot Norfolk jacket which makes him a sort of clothing joke , having come away unprepared for heat, in fact confident there wouldn't be any such thing, since he considers himself something of a magician; in the novel's prologue he relates how a curse he wrote in blood in his diary last term has caused two bullies to concuss themselves by falling off the school roof.
He has ordered up a cool summer in the same way. But the summer is hotter than is imaginable.
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Walls, trees, the very ground one trod on, instead of being cool were warm to the touch: and the sense of touch is the most transfiguring of all the senses. In the heat the senses, the mind, the heart, the body, all told a different tale. One felt another person, one was another person.
He also happens to be a lesser person at Brandham Hall, a mere mortal among its rich gods and goddesses. Marcus's older sister, Marian, is Leo's first encounter with beauty — as if he has met not a person but a concept.
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She is positioned to marry the local Viscount Winlove, Hugh Trimingham, back from the Boer war with half his face scarred so badly that he looks like the god Janus, Leo thinks; one side an end and the other a beginning. Trimingham goes about his business wounded and elegant at once, with a great deal more knowledge of what's happening than he lets on. What's happening is this: the facts of life are about to be taught to Leo, a boy so naive that at first it's comic, then it hurts the heart.
As the mercury rises, Leo becomes a kind of Mercury himself, a deliverer of messages between Marian and her lower-class lover, the tenant farmer and local "ladykiller", Ted Burgess, who promises to teach Leo what's what when it comes to "spooning". Much of the novel's humour lies in Leo's sweet literalness, and in the interlocked layers of knowing and unknowing viewed by Colston 50 years on, then by us, far off in our so-knowing future.
His prepubescent blankness, when it comes to what "spooning" might be, makes for both funniness and discomfort.
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Do lady killers really kill ladies? Meanwhile, he can't say the name Hugh without it sounding, to Marian, like the word "who" or the word "you" — this in a book very much about identity, about who we are in the personal, the social, the historical and the natural senses. Leo is a boy who loves words, was bullied in the first place for using the long word vanquished in his diary for a football match victory; when his curses, astonishingly, seem to have taken effect he ponders what the action of putting words on paper might mean.
As much as it is a revelation of the childishness of social hierarchy, of human delusions of power, and of the tragedy inevitable where war or history and innocence meet, Hartley's novel is a fine disquisition on appearance versus naked truth. A beautifully poised bathing scene "the word denoted an intenser experience than it does now" highlights the apartness of men and women and the frissons of the body.
Leo observes the beautiful cornfield-coloured body of Ted Burgess for the first time; it "spoke to me of something I did not know. The more clothes Ted had on, "the less he looked himself".
This is a novel of memorably dressed-up theatrical set-pieces: a cricket match that is a little class-war in itself; a concert at which the tension between tenants and landlords, village and Hall, is overshone by a moment that's half real innocence, half hopeless sentimentality; a fierce earthy battle between Leo and a Freudianly insidious Atropa Belladonna deadly nightshade. The novel signals itself and its seeming concerns almost too clearly — the beautiful doomed farmer cleaning his gun so assiduously.
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In fact its self-conscious narrative quality, at a glance, can seem a little crude, like a too-obvious jigsaw. But to think this is — yes — naive: The Go-Between is a work winged at the heel and rises above its earthy self in a voice that's expansive. It is a masterpiece of double-speak and secrecy, somehow both ambiguous and direct.
It works a magic on obviousness, so that it becomes a novel about British embarrassment and embarrassing Britishness.