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"The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." How does the contextual setting make the outcome of the novel (The Go-Between - L P Hartley) more tragic to a modern reader?"

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" "The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there." How does the contextual setting make the outcome of the novel more tragic to a modern reader?" Settings create shortcuts - a novel or a film set, for example, in Paris in 1944 comes with expectations that enrich the writing and give it instant depth. Similarly, L.P. Hartley's The Go-Between, being set in both in 1900 and 1952, immediately alerts its readers to the significance of those years. The main part of the novel paints a detailed picture of rural England at the beginning of the twentieth century, when Hartley himself was only five years old. It is, however, viewed in retrospect from 1952. The choice of a new century and particularly the twentieth century provides an ideal setting for Leo's story of youthful idealism and ultimately his disillusionment. The tragedy of the novel arises more acutely because of the modern readers' knowledge of the epoch it refers to. While the new century was dawning, all was not as tranquil and promising as it seemed to young Leo. The Boer War was in progress and had left its brutal mark on Lord Trimingham's face. His face, compared to Janus', reminds us of the evils which had occurred already before the start of the century. Janus, the god of thresholds stands as a warning of the wars to come. The Boer war is in the background of the story throughout, even in the images used in everyday situations: "...Trying to sneak past in dead ground!" ...read more.


It is because of his imaginative life and his respect for the zodiac and the hierarchy, that he is so vulnerable to the shock that befalls him when he is suddenly forced to see what 'spooning' really is, thus resulting in the tragedy viewed by the readers. Such an experience, in such an intense emotional context, can be traumatic, in the sense of leaving a permanent emotional and mental wound. Anyone of Leo's age is vulnerable in this way. Leo himself has expected so much of life, with a mystical sort of passion for rules which do not exist in life, that he is permanently disabled by an over-exposure to reality, like Icarus, as the novel suggests, the boy in the legend who flew too near to the sun and melted the wax of his wings. The loss of innocence is an important theme of the novel. For the book to work, it is necessary for Leo to be old enough for there to be signs of his stirring sexuality as well as for him to be ignorant of the actual facts. For a modern reader today, the most difficult thing to accept is the ignorance and na�vety of boy of Leo's age. In our more open society, with mass media coverage of all aspects of personal life, it is difficult to believe that the possibility of a physical relationship between a beautiful twenty-two year old girl and an attractive young man should not have occurred to the boy. ...read more.


Had it been set even fifty years later, the novel might have had a completely different outcome for all its characters. The rise of trade unions and equal rights for women changed the relationship between social classes and between sexes. Marian could have been married to Ted and their grandson would not have felt ashamed of his background. Leo might have not had such a deep shock after discovering what 'spooning' really was as he would have had some knowledge of the matter though his upbringing. On the whole the world was a different place for older Leo compared to the young boy after experiencing two world wars. Just as the potential glory of a new century has been spoiled buy the hate and death which warfare entails, so too has the glory of life at Brandham Hall been blighted. Leo becomes dehumanised by his experience at Brandham hall just as the warfare of the twentieth century dehumanised many people. His traumatised state could be equated with the shell shock suffered by many survivors of the First World War. Interesting parallels that are drawn between the larger national events of the early twentieth century and the story that takes place at Brandham Hall emphasise the fact that Hartley's choice of the year 1900 as the setting for his novel seems very appropriate. The modern readers find the novel all the more tragic for the knowledge that they have of contextual background makes the story of The Go-Between poignant. ...read more.

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