Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Method and Myth in L. P. Hartley's the Go-Between

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Method and Myth in L. P. Hartley's the Go-Between

Article excerpt


Critical readings of The Go-Between often relate its depiction of sexuality, class and gender to the symbolism with which the author is frequently identified. Such connections can be further illuminated by considering T.S. Eliot's notion of the "mythical method". Hartley's narrator seems to make extensive use of a personalised version of the "method" advocated by the poet. Mapping his world onto the Zodiac, Leo's use of the "mythical method" enables him - at least for a short while - to order and control his experience. Initially offering him the mastery he craves, this method eventually renders Leo more vulnerable to the dramas that unfold around him. Once the integrity of his mythic structure is threatened, Leo's own disintegration is assured. Given his absolute faith in the Zodiac, Leo comes only belatedly to recognise a different mythic parallel at work in his life. This other doubling sees Leo's fate twinned with that of Icarus. Eventually acknowledged by Leo himself, this figure demonstrates Hartley's on going concern with both method and myth and therefore suggests that his narrative - like its central protagonist, can offer the reader a critical perspective on the workings of each.

Key words: Mythical method; Mythic doubles; Icarus; Zodiac; Mercury; Mastery; Structure; Order; Hierarchy; The fall

We are all tellers of tales. We each seek to provide our scattered and often confusing experiences with a sense of coherence by arranging the episodes of our lives into stories. This is not the stuffof delusion or self-deception. We are not telling ourselves lies. Rather, through our personal myths, each of us discovers what is true and what is meaningful in life. In order to live well, with unity and purpose, we compose a heroic narrative of the self. (McAdams, 1993, p. 11)

In using the myth, in manipulating a continuous parallel between contemporaneity and antiquity, Mr. Joyce is pursuing a method which others must pursue after him. They will not be imitators, any more than the scientist who uses the discoveries of an Einstein in pursuing his own, independent further investigations. It is simply a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history. It is a method already adumbrated by Mr. Yeats, and of the need for which I believe Mr. Yeats to have been the first contemporary to be conscious. It is a method for which the horoscope is auspicious. Instead of narrative method, we may now use the mythical method. It is, I seriously believe, a step towards making the modern world possible for art. (Eliot, 1975, pp. 177-178)

As a child of the late Victorian era, Leo Colston, whose story is told in The Go-Between (1953) views the turn of the century as no less than "the dawn of a Golden Age" (Hartley, 1997, p. 8). For him, it heralds a welcome movement away from an era marred by sickness and death, which has lefthim fatherless. Leo's excitement is further intensified because the year ahead will also bring about his serendipitous coming-of-age. As he asserts: "I was between twelve and thirteen, and I wanted to think of myself as a man" (ibid.). Despite his utopian fantasies concerning the "glorious destiny of the twentieth century" (ibid., p. 9), the subsequent course of Leo's life is determined by his brief sojourn with the Maudsley family at Brandham Hall. This period, covering just nineteen days in the Summer of 1900, obliterates Leo's early passion, promise and creativity. It leads him into a solitary and regulated existence, supplanting the "rapture" (ibid., p. 7) of his anticipation with "disappointment and defeat" (ibid., p. 6).

Critics approaching L. P. Hartley's most well-known novel have been drawn by its concern with "the recovery of lost memories where those memories are not only personal (and, it turns out, deeply painful) but collective and cultural" (Brooks-Davies, 1997, p. XI). …

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