“The Go-Between” is a story of memories, told by a man in his sixties, looking back on his boyhood to the particular summer of 1900 on a visit to an aristocratic family in Norfolk, where a chain of events that took place, due to his naï¿½vetï¿½, provoked the downfall of the main character, Leo Colston. His two-week stay in a grand house, among upper-class strangers scarred him, and contributed to the type of life that he has grown accustomed to ever since, that of a companionless and removed life. The prologue of “The Go-Between” serves several purposes, being an introduction to the character, his life and how he came to remember that summer in which his life was changed forever.
The prologue opens with the cultured and educated bachelor in his sixties, Leo Colston, rummaging through a box of memories he once owned, taken from the year 1900, including the diary he kept for that year. The discovery of the diary and the other miscellaneous contents of the box; rusty magnets, photo negatives, dried sea urchins, etc. awaken the events that took place of the summer of 1900 which had been concealed and forgotten deep within his mind, and the contents of the diary as what he, Leo Colston, believes encouraged him to become the lonely and detached person he is today, in 1953, when the novel is set.
With the opening line of “The past is a foreign country, they do things differently there” a theme of the past and memory is instantly aroused. Even though the theme of the past is conjured up, there is a greater sense of distance, not only in the past but the way that the character himself is distanced by the choice of grammar, “they” instead of “we” and “do” instead of “did”. The opening line suggests Leo’s past to be of a foreign nature, meaning that his memories of his past have become foreign to him due to the fact that he buried them deep within his mind in order to forget the events that occurred the year of 1900. From the initiating line of “The past is a…differently there”, the reader is immediately made aware that this is a story of the past, and suggests an alienation of events which may have occurred in the past, with which the main character, Leo Colston, has consequently attempted to block from his mind.
After rifling through the contents of the recently discovered box, the older Leo discovers the diary, which contain the events that were to change him from then onwards. At first Leo doesn’t recognise the diary, “only the diary refused to disclose its identity” p5, and he primarily believes that “it was a present someone had brought (me) from abroad” p5, again emphasising the theme of things being foreign to him because they have been mentally blocked and so when he is confronted with these things later on in life they are seemingly alien. The older Leo is stumped as to why he cannot remember the diary because he believes that he must have treasured it at the time due to its expensive appearance, and so therefore he is unwilling to open it because it questioned his memory and he “disliked having it (his memory) prompted”, p5. After some time attempting to remember what the diary held and stood for, he ventures at opening the combination lock, and as soon as he hears the click of the diary opening, it was as though the key in the lock of his memory turned, and the chain of events recorded in the diary were uncovered.
As soon as these events are recognised, the elder Leo realises that without the recorded events occurring, he would be a very different person leading a very different life, “not looking into the past but into the future…and not sitting alone”, p 6. This recognition causes the reader to conceive and comprehend the importance and the scarring effect that these events had upon the younger Leo, at the age of 12. The reader does not yet know of something that could be so powerful to change someone so much and in so many ways, but is forewarned of the importance of the events that took place that summer were to be never forgotten, etched forever in his memory, by the slow release of information of how the character comes to remember the contents of the diary.
In the act of opening the diary, he notes the signs of the Zodiac on the first page, recounting his fascination with them and their significance. Including the fact that it was also he year of 1900, the dawn of a new era, caused the young Leo to hold great expectations of the new century, hoping it to be the turning point of his otherwise hum-drum life, living with his widowed mother in a working-class lifestyle, and unfortunately the year 1900 was the pinnacle of his life, but changed it for the worse, not the better.
The rapture of and attention paid to the signs of the Zodiac is heightened to the fact that the signs provided his young and impressionable imagination symbols with which to attach to people and reflect upon them. The older Leo remembers his particular intrigue of the sign of the Virgin “the distinctly female figure in the galaxy”, p7, which would later be recognised as Marian, his envy of the ‘manly’ signs of the Archer and the Water-Carrier, and also his wanting to disassociate himself with his sign, Leo, because it was that of an animal, and therefore considered unmanly by him. Due to this dislike of being recognised as an animal, he searches for a more grown up zodiacal figure to model himself on, and is attracted to the signs of the Archer and the Water-carrier. The elderly Leo also remembers his enthusiasm of the coming about of the turn of the century, believing it to be the “dawn of a Golden Age”, p8, and a year that would change his life. To begin with, while Leo is still at boarding school, it is noticeable that his main fantasies were about being on the brink of a golden age seem to bear no relation to his real experience as a schoolboy. He is content to keep his imaginary world and his real life separate, which display to the reader that the events of the two-week stay at Brandham Hall must have scarred him to a great degree considering the lonely life Leo has grown to lead.
It is made apparent to the reader the Hartley must have chosen to set the novel in the year 1900 so to convey the idea that Leo believes himself to be living in a year which will change the rest of time, and is the beginning of the rest of his life. In the prologue it is clear that the novel will continue the theme of Leo’s youthful idealism and ultimately his disillusionment. The choice of a new century and particularly the twentieth century provides an ideal setting for Leo’s story.
The older Leo recalls a specific time when he was a schoolboy at boarding school, the diary being one of his prides and joy’s, and would flaunt it about in front of the other boys. The diary was then stolen and the use of the word “Vanquished” within it caused him to be severely bullied by two boys, Jenkins and Strode. The older Leo reflects on this and accepts his pretentious use of a word such as “vanquished” at the time of being a schoolboy and continues to recount how he got revenge, by writing three curses in the diary with his own blood. When the curses came to light and reality, he was respected, “afterwards I was quite a hero”, p12, maybe even feared by the other schoolboys as Jenkins and Strode were both critically injured when the fell from the roof of a building.
When Leo goes to look at the diary again, he sees assorted occurrences and affairs leading up to the two-week stay in Brandham Hall. After the noting of the name “Brandham Hall”, he reads through the list of guests that stayed there at the same time as him, and also the noting of the maximum temperature for each day, up until the 26th of July, the last entry in the month of July and the last entry in the diary, “I did not have to turn the pages to know that they would be blank”, p16. The emphasis on the fact that the older Leo knew that after that date he had not continued to use the diary causes the reader to realise that the two weeks in July was the time scale which within Leo became a changed person.
The accentuation of the recordings of the maximum temperature for each day of Leo’s stay at Brandham Hall in 1900 introduces the author’s use of pathetic fallacy to the reader thus enabling the author to use the weather to reflect the feelings and emotions of certain characters. By recording the temperature, “after each day I had recorded the maximum temperature” p16, it initiates to the reader that the summer of 1900 must have been an extremely hot one and so the heightened atmosphere of the heat would add to the building of ambience around specific characters.
As the older Leo opens the diary, it is noted that the stirring of the memories of that summer was like “the loosening of phlegm in an attack of bronchitis”, which were waiting in anticipation to be freed from where that had been “buried all these years”. The older Leo then goes on to explain about how what happened at Brandham Hall was to change him forever as it was the first time in his life that he felt he had been a significant figure within a certain company, and this significance had lead to disaster. This therefore conveys to the reader Leo’s fear of mattering, the saying “pride comes before a fall” comes to mind and so it appears that the older Leo has continued to hold the belief that pride is a sensation to be wary of as it can cause a greater damage. Because of the great pride Leo held as a young boy, he believes that it may have contributed to the enormous breakdown he suffered after the stay at Brandham Hall and so has chosen to blend into the background throughout his life. This is seemingly in order not to get so high on his horse so that he becomes blind to the things that are actually going on around him, suffering great consequences, as he once did as a boy.
The idea of Leo attaching symbols of the zodiac to unfamiliar people in order to characterise them and create a more friendly feeling towards them is again emphasised in the later stages of the prologue. The unknown guests also staying at Brandham Hall within the same two weeks as Leo, had, according to the younger Leo, “zodiacal properties and proportions” and were “the substance of his dreams”, p16. These descriptions furtherly stress Leo’s habit of putting people on pedestals, having a fixed image of them in his mind, which they may not actually fulfil, remaining in awe of them believing that they were above him. It is clear to the reader that Leo idealised the guests staying at Brandham Hall, relating them to the signs of the zodiac in order for them to become more familiar and to gain a further understanding of them.
The imaginary conversation that the older Leo has with his younger self follows swiftly on, and is a good example of the distinctness between the two Leo’s, what the one was like before the events that occurred at Brandham Hall and what the other has become due to the events that occurred, showing a distance between them. When Leo, as an old man, expects the younger Leo to question why his life has ended up as it has after all that he did in his first twelve years in order to have a greater life, the older Leo replies that it was the younger Leo’s fault for becoming too big-headed. Again the line of pride coming before a fall is accentuated as the older Leo explains quite simply “you flew too near to the sun and got scorched”, p 17. This being a reference to Icharus of Greek Mythology who had winged sandals, became too big headed and flew too near to the sun, melting the glue on the wings and thus falling to his death. “This cindery creature is what you made me”, p 17, acts as a justification to the younger Leo as to why the older Leo has become what he has become, believing that it was the breakdown he suffered after staying at Brandham Hall from which he never recovered. The older Leo concludes that it was his younger self’s too high expectations of the new century that added to his downfall, as they were expectations that could never be reached.
As the conversation between the two very different Leo’s continues, the older Leo argues that even though the Maudsley’s, Ted, Marian or Hugh did him wrong, he “insisted on looking at them as angels, even if they were fallen angels”, p 17. This proves that as the younger version of Leo had idealised these people, almost viewed them as icons, he could not plant any blame for what followed onto them, he couldn’t allow the perfected images he had of them in his head to be tarnished, so accepted the blame himself. Even over fifty years later, it is made apparent to the reader that it obviously still bothers Leo, showing that he hasn’t been able to fully bury the memories and cannot, even though he wants to, put it behind him. The last line of the conversation between the two contrasting Leo’s, “try now, try now, it isn’t too late” p 18, is an obvious desperate plea for closure of the subject by the older Leo in order to regain some normality to his life.
The next paragraph tells the reader of how the voice of the younger Leo had haunted Leo as an older, more mature man, and that it had only confirmed his suspicions that he could no longer bury his memories, but had to confront them head on. The next stage brings the reader back to reality, “the clock struck twelve” p 18, sets the scene again, back to where Leo had been rifling through his old belongings. The last word of the prologue, “LEO”, p18, furtherly accentuates his fascination with the zodiac as a boy and also his mild “egotism” at this age, for using his name as the code to the lock.
In conclusion to what the prologue does for a reader in preparing them for the novel, is that in the way in which it is written, including intriguing flashbacks, memories and talk of the past, the author quickly has enraptured the readers attention into finding out what could have emotionally scarred the main character Leo, so much so, that it in return ended up ruining his life.