The Go-Between, published in 1953, purports to be the reminiscences of the ageing narrator, Leo Colston, who looks back to his childhood half a century earlier. In particular, he recounts an episode in the summer of 1900 when he stays at Brandham Hall in Norfolk, the home of his schoolfriend Marcus Maudsley. Leo becomes the unwitting ‘go between’ in a secret affair between Marcus’s older sister, Marian, and tenant farmer Ted Burgess. The story crackles with the sexual and social tensions of the end of the Victorian era.
The archive contains Hartley’s autograph manuscript of the novel, in nine volumes. The first volume includes the famous opening words: “The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.” However, Hartley immediately undercuts the confidence and poise of this first sentence by adding “Or do they?”. Wisely perhaps, he later decided to omit the question.
“I have sometimes been asked what gave me the idea for the Go-Between, and have always found the question difficult to answer. […]
“I think the most operative stimulus of The Go-Between was my memory of the summer of 1900. I was four and a half and it was the first time I was consciously aware of the weather – at least it was the first time the weather made a mark on my memory. From then on, for many years, I always hoped that that long succession of hot days would be repeated, but unless my memory betrays me it never was, in England at any rate, until 1959. It became for me a kind of Golden Age – almost literally, for I think of it as being the colour of gold. I didn’t want to go back to it but I wanted it to come back to me, and I still do.”
A film version of The Go-Between was released in 1971, directed by Joseph Losey and with a screenplay by Harold Pinter. Julie Christie and Alan Bates starred as Marian and Ted, while young Leo was played by Dominic Guard, and his older counterpart by Michael Redgrave. In 1999 the film was ranked number 57 in the British Film Institute’s list of top 100 British films.
The L. P. Hartley Papers include copies of Pinter’s screenplay, on-set photographs and publicity materials for the film, although copyright restrictions prevent us from showing these here.