The Go-Between

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The Go-Between
First edition
Author L. P. Hartley
Cover artist Val Biro
Country England
Language English
Publisher Hamish Hamilton
Publication date
Media type Hardcover
OCLC 33237584

The Go-Between is a novel by L. P. Hartley published in 1953. His best-known work, it has been adapted several times for stage and screen.

Plot summary[edit]

The story begins with the reminiscences of Leo Colston, an elderly man looking back on his childhood with nostalgia. Leo, in his mid-sixties, is looking through his old things. He chances upon a battered old red collar box. In it he finds a diary from 1900, the year of his thirteenth birthday. He slowly pieces together his memory as he looks through the diary.

Impressed by the astrological emblems at the front of the book, young Leo combines them in his mind with the idea that he is living at the turn of the 20th century. The importance of his boarding school's social rules is another theme. Some of the rougher boys steal his diary, reading and defacing it. The two oldest bullies, Jenkins and Strode, beat him at every opportunity. He devises some "curses" for them in the pages of the book, using occult symbols and Greek letters, and placing the book where they will find it. Subsequently both boys venture onto the roof of one of the school buildings, fall off and are severely injured. This leaves him greatly admired by the other boys, who think that he is a magician – something that he comes to half-believe himself.

The greater portion of the text concerns itself with Leo's past, particularly the summer of 1900, spent in Norfolk, England, as a guest at Brandham Hall, the luxurious country home of his schoolfriend Marcus Maudsley. Here the young Leo, on holiday from boarding school, is a poor boy among the wealthy upper class. Leo's comparatively humble background is obvious to all and he does not really fit in there; however, his hosts do their best to make him feel welcome, treating him with kindness and indulgence. When Marcus falls ill, Leo is left largely to his own devices. He becomes a secret "go-between" for Marian Maudsley, the daughter of the host family, and nearby tenant farmer Ted Burgess. At first, Leo is happy to help Marian because she is kind to him and he has a crush on her. Besides, Leo is initially ignorant of the significance or content of the messages that he is asked to carry between Ted and Marian. Leo is a well-meaning and innocent boy, so it is easy for the lovers to manipulate him.

The fact that Ted comes from a much lower social class than Marian means there can be no possible future in the relationship because of the social taboos involved. Although Marian and Ted are fully aware of this, Leo is too naïve to understand why the lovers can never marry. The situation is further complicated by the fact that Marian is about to become engaged to Hugh, Viscount Trimingham, the descendant of the area's nobility who formerly resided in Brandham Hall. Together, these factors make Marian's secret relationship with Ted highly dangerous for all parties concerned.

Later, Leo acts as an interceptor, and occasional editor, of the messages. Eventually, he begins to comprehend the sexual nature of the relationship between Marian and Ted, and feels increasingly uncomfortable about the general atmosphere of deception and risk. Leo tries to end his role as go-between, but comes under great psychological pressure and is forced to continue. Ultimately, Leo's involvement as messenger between the lovers has disastrous consequences. The trauma which results when Marian's family discover what is going on leads directly to Ted's shotgun suicide.

In the epilogue the older Leo tells the reader the consequences of this summer. The experience profoundly affects Leo, leaving him with permanent psychological scars. Forbidden to speak about the scandal, he feels he must not think of it either; and since nearly everything reminds him of it, he shuts down his emotions, leaving room only for facts. He subsequently grows up to be an emotionally detached adult who is never able to establish intimate relationships. He succeeds in repressing the memories until the diary unlocks them. Now looking back on the events through the eyes of a mature adult, he is fully aware of how the incident has left its mark on him. In a final twist to the story, 52 years later, Leo returns to Brandham. There he meets Marian's grandson and finds Marian herself living in a cottage, the place she used to tell people she was going for her clandestine meetings with Ted. Brandham Hall has been let out to a girls' school. Lord Trimingham married Marian, but died in 1910, while Marcus and his brother were killed in the First World War. In the end, an elderly Marian Maudsley persuades Leo to act once more as go-between, to assure her grandson that she really loved Burgess.


Milton Merlin wrote in the Los Angeles Times, "a superbly composed and an irresistibly haunting novel about the two worlds of boyhood, about the crossing of 'the rainbow bridge from reality to dream.' ... This novel is so admirably written that any summary of its substance does only disservice to the author's beautiful and ingenious style, his whimsy, irony and humor, and, most of all, the powerful wallop of a deceptively simple, almost gentle story of a boy lost in a strange world of emotions."[1]

"'The Go-Between' is a many-leveled affair; perhaps only the author knows how much there is in it of symbol and reference. ... This is a literary novel; i.e., it is written beautifully to say something that the author feels intensely. ... Nevertheless, Mr. Hartley is novelist enough to know that ... you must tell your story and never forget it for a moment. ... That is why Mr. Hartley is so amazingly good, and why no reader of serious fiction should miss this book."[2]

"It's a kind of 'Lady Chatterly's Lover' love story, with a Greek inevitability."[3]

"The excellence of the writing alone warrants reading of the book. But what makes the novel so engrossing is the drama and suspense of the plot."[4]

The book's opening sentence has become a much-quoted line in its own right: "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there."



In 1960, an adaptation for stage by Louise F. Tanner was produced in Morgantown, West Virginia. Mrs. Tanner travelled to the United Kingdom to consult Hartley in person about the work.[5]


Playwright Harold Pinter adapted the novel into a screenplay of a film of the same name (1971), directed by Joseph Losey; it was Pinter's third, and last fulfilled collaboration with Losey. It won the Palme d'Or at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.[6] Pinter's fourth screenplay intended to be directed by Losey was never made.

The cast includes Julie Christie as Marian Maudsley, Alan Bates as Ted Burgess, Margaret Leighton as Mrs Maudsley, Dominic Guard as the younger Leo, Michael Redgrave as the older Leo and Edward Fox as Trimingham.

Michel Legrand composed a memorable original score for the film, parts of which have been used in other works.


A television adaptation starring Jim Broadbent was broadcast on BBC One on 20 September 2015.[7]


On 8 July 2012, a radio adaptation by Frances Byrnes and directed by Matt Thompson was broadcast on BBC Radio 3. The cast included the late Richard Griffiths as Lionel Colston, Oscar Kennedy as Leo Colston, Harriet Walter as Mrs. Maudsley, Lydia Leonard as Marian Maudsley, Amanda Root as Mrs Colston (Mother), Joseph Arkley as Ted Burgess, Blake Ritson as Viscount Trimingham, Crawford Logan as Mr Maudsley and Josef Lindsay as Marcus Maudsley. The production was re-broadcast on BBC Radio 3 on 26 May 2013.


In 1991, South African composer David Earl adapted the novel as a two-act opera.[8]


In 2011, a musical-theatre adaptation of the novel was presented by the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, West Yorkshire;[9] at the Derby Live! Theatre in Derby, East Midlands; and at the Royal & Derngate in Northampton, East Midlands.[citation needed]

Adapted by David Wood[9] with music by Richard Taylor[9] and lyrics by Wood and Taylor,[9] the production was directed by Roger Haines,[9] designed by Michael Pavelka and lit by Tim Lutkin. The musical director was Jonathan Gill.[citation needed]

The musical was developed by Perfect Pitch, a UK theatre company.[citation needed]

The production was awarded Best Musical Production at the 2012 Theatre Management Association's UK Theatre Awards, held at the Guildhall in the City of London.

The same production was remounted and opened at London's Apollo Theatre on 27 May 2016, starring Michael Crawford in the central role of Leo Colston, Gemma Sutton as Marian, and Issy Van Randwick as Mrs Maudsley. Nigel Lilley replaced Jonathan Gill as musical director, with the addition of Daniel Jackson as assistant musical director. The production played its full twenty-week engagement, closing on October 15th 2016. [10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Boy's Dream World Bridged: 'The Go-Between' Deals in Strange World of Emotion" (Sep 19, 1954) Los Angeles Times
  2. ^ Joseph Henry Jackson, "Bookman's Notebook" (Aug 20, 1954) Los Angeles Times
  3. ^ "Man Reviews Past in Novel by Hartley" (July 25, 1954) Lubbock Avalanche Journal
  4. ^ Jo Fields Shallet, "New Looks at Books: The Go-Between, by L.P. Hartley" (Aug 24, 1954) Chicago Star Publications
  5. ^ "Mrs. Tanner is Speaker for Delphian Club" (Jan 14, 1960) Morgantown Post
  6. ^ Database (n.d.). "The Go-Between". Cannes Film Festival. Retrieved 1 October 2012. 
  7. ^ BBC Programmes: The Go-Between. Retrieved 16 September 2015.
  8. ^ David Earl's website
  9. ^ a b c d e Cavendish, Dominic (15 September 2011). "The Go-Between, Courtyard Theatre, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds, Review – Despite a Hackneyed Start This Version of The Go-Between at West Yorkshire Playhouse Is the Finest New Musical to Have Sprung from the Regions All Year". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 10 October 2012.
  10. ^ Porteous, Jacob. "Michael Crawford To Star In The Go-Between London Premiere At The Apollo Theatre". 

External links[edit]