L. P. Hartley

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L. P. Hartley

BornLeslie Poles Hartley
(1895-12-30)30 December 1895
Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire, England
Died13 December 1972(1972-12-13) (aged 76)
London, England
EducationHarrow School
Alma materBalliol College, Oxford
GenreNovel, short story
Notable worksEustace and Hilda,
The Go-Between
Notable awardsJames Tait Black Memorial Prize
Heinemann Award
Commander of the Order of the British Empire
Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature

Leslie Poles Hartley CBE (30 December 1895 – 13 December 1972) was a British novelist and short story writer. Although his first fiction was published in 1924, his career was slow to take off. His best-known novels are the Eustace and Hilda trilogy (1944–47) and The Go-Between (1953). The latter was made into a film in 1971, as was his 1957 novel The Hireling in 1973. He was known for writing about social codes, moral responsibility, and family relationships. In total, Hartley published 17 novels, six volumes of short stories, and a book on criticism.

Early life[edit]

Sir Maurice Bowra, Sylvester Govett Gates and L. P. Hartley, by Lady Ottoline Morrell

Leslie Poles Hartley was born on 30 December 1895 in Whittlesey, Cambridgeshire. He was named after Leslie Stephens, the father of writer Virginia Woolf.[1] His father Harry Bark Hartley, owned a brick field,[2] and was also a solicitor and JP.[3] His mother was Mary Elizabeth née Thompson. He had two sisters, Enid and Annie Norah. Hartley was raised in the Methodist faith. [4] While he was young, his family moved to Fletton Tower, a country estate near Peterborough. [5] Hartley began his education at home, and particularly enjoyed the work of Edgar Allan Poe. He wrote his first story, a fairy tale about a prince and dwarf, when he was 11 years old. In 1908 he attended Northdown Hill Prepatory School in Cliftonville and then briefly Clifton College. It was there he first met Clifford Kitchin.[1] In 1910, Hartley finally settled at Harrow School, where he was a Leaf Scholar and regarded highly by his peers.[6] While there, Hartley converted to Anglicanism, but was still influenced greatly by his earlier Methodist faith.[7]

In 1915, during the First World War, he went to Balliol College, Oxford, to read modern history.This was a time when most of his contemporaries were volunteering for the armed services instead of pursuing university careers.[1] In 1916, with the arrival of conscription, Hartley joined the army; and in February 1917 he was commissioned as an officer in the Norfolk Regiment,[8] however he never saw active duty because of a weak heart.[6] He returned to Oxford in 1919, with the intention of becoming a writer. While there Hartley gathered a number of literary friends, including Lord David Cecil and Aldous Huxley.[1] He left Oxford in 1921 with second class honours in modern history.[6][1]


Oxford Poetry first published Hartley's work in 1920 and 1922. During this time, he edited for Oxford Outlook, with Gerald Howard and A.B.B. Valentine. He published work by L.A.G. Strong, Edmund Blunden, John Strachey and C.M. Bowra. His own essays, short stories and reviews were also included in the pages. For this early part of his career, Hartley spent most of his time broadening his social life. He was introduced by Huxley to Lady Ottoline Morrell, who included welcomed him into her famed literary circle. He reunited with Kitchin at Oxford, who introduced him to Cynthia Asquith, who became a lifelong friend. He also met Elizabeth Bibesco whose support and status catapulted Hartley into aristocratic British circles. Although he enjoyed rapid social success, his career as a writer failed to take off, and he was unhappy. There were other literary gatherings like the Bloomsbury group, however Hartley had no interest in joining them. Later in his life he would express distaste for Virginia Woolf directly.[1]

After his years at Oxford, Hartley was a book reviewer. He wrote articles for multiple publications, such as The Spectator, Saturday Review, and The Nation and Athenaeum.[6] His favorite publication to write for was The Sketch. Hartley was praised extensively for his critical, steady, and wise reviews. However, the large number of books he had to read took away from his real desire: writing novels.[1]

In 1924, his first volume of short stories, Night Fears was published. He met Constance Huntington of G.P. Putnam who published his second novella Simonetta Perkins.[6] Though he had worked on it for two decades, Hartley did not publish his first full-length novel, The Shrimp and the Anemone, until he was 49 years old.[2]

The major influences on Hartley's work were Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and Emily Brontë. His books often explore themes of social and personal morality, particularly depicting passion as a means of disaster.[6][7] He wrote about characters on the brink of adolescence and adulthood by contrasting childhood innocence with eventual self-knowledge.[9] Hartley is usually regarded as both a realist and romantic by critics and historians. He is known for using symbolism to further develop characters and comment on the complexities of the class system.[6] Hartley is also praised for introducing fantasy, horror, and mysticism to comment on the mystery of existence.[7] In columns Hartley wrote for The Daily Telegraph, he often outlined his distaste for contemporary culture, pointing out general vulgarity and rudeness.[10] Beginning in 1952, Hartley traveled to England, Germany, Italy and Portugal to lecture about his critical ideas.[7]

In 1947 Hartley was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for his novel Eustace and Hilda, while his 1953 novel The Go-Between was joint winner of the Heinemann Award. He was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire in the 1956 New Year Honours.[11] In 1972, he was named a Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature. He was the head of the English section of P.E.N. and also was a member of the management council of the Society of Authors. In total, Hartley published 17 novels, six volumes of short stories, and a book on criticism. These were mostly done during the last half of his life.[6]

In 1971, director Joseph Losey made a film based on Hartley's novel The Go-Between. It starred Julie Christie and Alan Bates.[9] In 1995, Clive Dunn directed a documentary about Hartley titled Bare Heaven.[12]

Personal life[edit]

While attending Oxford, Hartley proposed to Joan Mews. It is not known if she accepted his proposal or not. In 1922 he suffered a nervous breakdown.[1] Soon afterwards he started spending much of his time in Venice, Italy, and he continued to do so for many years. [9]

During the later part of his life, Hartley resided in London at Rutland Gate, near the Avon River. He enjoyed swimming and rowing during his free time.[6] Hartley enjoyed a number of his contemporary authors, such as Elizabeth Bowen, Edith Wharton, and Henry Green.[7]

Hartley was known to be a hypochondriac, particularly afraid of tetanus and a painful death. Many believe this fear of sickness came from his mother, who was known to be overly concerned about his health.[1][2] Hartley was very concerned with remaining an individualist in the structures of his modern society, this led many to label him as a non-conformist. He referred to himself as a moralist.[7]

Possibly a homosexual, Hartley was not open about his sexuality until toward the end of his life.[13] Hartley regarded his 1971 novel The Harness Room as his "homosexual novel" and feared the public reaction to it.[1]

Hartley died in London on 13 December 1972 at the age of 76.[6]

List of works[2][edit]

  • Night Fears (1924), short stories
  • Simonetta Perkins (1925)
  • The Killing Bottle (1932), short stories
  • The Shrimp and the Anemone (1944), Eustace and Hilda Trilogy I
  • The West Window (1945)
  • The Sixth Heaven (1946), Eustace and Hilda Trilogy II
  • Eustace and Hilda (1947), Eustace and Hilda Trilogy III
  • The Travelling Grave and Other Stories (1948), short stories
  • The Boat (1949)
  • My Fellow Devils (1951)
  • The Go-Between (1953)
  • The White Wand and Other Stories (1954), short stories
  • A Perfect Woman (1955)
  • The Hireling (1957)
  • Facial Justice (1960)
  • Two for the River (1961), short stories
  • The Brickfield (1964)
  • The Betrayal (1966)
  • Essays by Divers Hands, Volume XXXIV (1966), editor
  • The Novelist's Responsibility (1967), essays
  • Poor Clare (1968)
  • The Collected Short Stories of L. P. Hartley (1968)
  • The Love-Adept: A Variation on a Theme (1969)
  • My Sisters' Keeper (1970)
  • Mrs. Carteret Receives (1971), short stories
  • The Harness Room (1971)
  • The Collections: A Novel (1972)
  • The Will and the Way (1973)
  • The Complete Short Stories of L. P. Hartley (1973)
  • The Collected Macabre Stories (2001)

Further reading[edit]

  • Peter Bien, L. P. Hartley (1963)
  • A. Mulkeen, Wild Thyme, Winter Lightning: The Symbolic Novels of L. P. Hartley (1974)
  • E. T. Jones, L. P. Hartley (1978)
  • J. Sullivan, Elegant Nightmares: The English Ghost Story from Le Fanu to Blackwood (1978) [Incl. critique of Hartley's ghost stories]
  • A. Wright, Foreign Country: The Life of L. P. Hartley (1996)
  • S. T. Joshi, "L.P. Hartley: The Refined Ghost" in The Evolution of the Weird Tale NY: Hippocampus Press (2004), 64–74.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Wright, Adrian (1996). Foreign Country: The Life of L. P. Hartley. London: Andre Deutsch Limited. pp. 1–268. ISBN 0233989765.
  2. ^ a b c d Bloomfield, Paul (1970). L.P. Hartley. Writers and Their Work 217. Harlow, Essex: Longman Group Ltd. pp. 5–33. ISBN 0582012161.CS1 maint: Ignored ISBN errors (link)
  3. ^ The Balliol College Register, 3rd ed., 1900–1950, ed. Sir Ivo Elliott, Oxford University Press, p. 178
  4. ^ Rubens, Robert (July 1996). "Foreign Country: The Life of L.P. Hartley". Contemporary Review. 269 (1566): 53 – via Opposing Views in Context.
  5. ^ The Balliol College Register, 3rd ed., 1900–1950, ed. Sir Ivo Elliott, Oxford University Press, pg 178
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Jones, Edward T. (1978). L.P. Hartley. G.K. Hall & Co.: Twayne Publishers. pp. 13–200. ISBN 0805767037.
  7. ^ a b c d e f Bien, Peter (1963). L.P. Hartley. University Park, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania State University Press.
  8. ^ "No. 29956". The London Gazette (Supplement). 20 February 1917. p. 1857.
  9. ^ a b c D'Aquila, Ulysses (February 1997). "Reviews: Gay men's biography". Lamda Book Report. 5 (8): 24–25 – via Student Resources in Context.
  10. ^ Davies, Laurence (Spring 1998). "Reviewed Work: Foreign Country: The Life of L. P. Hartley by Adrian Wright". Albion: A Quarterly Journal Concerned with British Studies. 30 (1): 179–180 – via JSTOR.
  11. ^ "No. 40669". The London Gazette (Supplement). 30 December 1955. p. 11.
  12. ^ "Bare Heaven (1995)". British Film Institute. British Film Institute. Retrieved 17 January 2019.
  13. ^ Robert Aldrich; Garry Wotherspoon (25 October 2005). Who's Who in Gay and Lesbian History Vol. 1: From Antiquity to the Mid-Twentieth Century. Routledge. p. 203. ISBN 978-1-134-72215-0.

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