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literature

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Hartley, L. P. (1895-1972)  
 
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The title of the first novel derives from the story's opening scene: young Eustace sees a shrimp being eaten by an anemone but cannot decide whether or not to try to save it, thus depriving the anemone of food. His sister does not hesitate to do so, but her well-intentioned efforts leave both animals dying. In Hartley's fiction good outcomes do not necessarily result from noble motives; on the contrary, someone usually suffers.

In the course of the story Eustace inherits a fortune and begins to socialize with the elite. Hartley himself, from his university days on, moved in circles that included the titled as well as literary luminaries, but he always retained a sense of being an outsider because his family's money came from "trade," namely the brickworks. Such class consciousness and feelings of being different and marginal haunt many of his characters.

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Eustace is also on the margins--or possibly beyond them--where heterosexual love is concerned, ultimately declining to pursue romantic possibilities. He does, however, introduce Hilda to a dashing aviator, a man whose physicality Eustace also admires.

The subsequent love affair ends badly, plunging Hilda into a physical and emotional paralysis, from which she is only saved by her brother's self-sacrifice. In Hartley's world of fiction love always carries the potential for disaster.

So it is in Hartley's best-known novel, The Go-Between (1953). Elderly bachelor Leo Colston recalls his thirteenth summer, when he was to enjoy the special treat of a visit to the country home of a wealthy classmate. Young Leo soon becomes infatuated with his friend's beautiful older sister, who in turn is enamored of a handsome tenant farmer. The lovers arrange for Leo to carry messages between them, but he does not realize their import. When he happens upon the couple in the middle of a tryst, he is horrified and emotionally scarred for life. The farmer commits suicide, another casualty of love.

A film version of The Go-Between, directed by Joseph Losey and with a screenplay by Harold Pinter, was highly praised and won the Grand Prize at the 1971 Cannes Film Festival.

Hartley authored seventeen novels, among them My Fellow Devils (1951), which hints at a same-sex relationship between the protagonist's former fiancée and the man she eventually marries, as well as The Brickfield (1964) and its sequel, The Betrayal (1966), in which a writer seeks the affection of his younger employee. Of the latter pair of books Hartley wrote to a friend, "As for Richard's relationship with Denys, I agree that it would have been more convincing if I had made it declaredly homosexual. But reading between the lines I think one can see that it was; to have made the relationship plainer would have turned the book into a 'homosexual novel', which I didn't want to do."

Hartley did not write his "homosexual novel" until near the end of his career. He worried that the book might upset his friends or "injure my private image." He considered using a pseudonym or directing that the novel be published posthumously, as was E. M. Forster's Maurice.

The Harness Room was, however, published under Hartley's own name in 1971. In the story a colonel enlists his strapping chauffeur as a physical trainer for his teen-aged son to prepare the latter for entry into the Sandhurst military academy. The chauffeur becomes the young man's teacher not only in athletics but also in the ways of love.

Predictably, their happiness does not last. To impress the colonel and his young bride, the two men put on a boxing match. In a freak accident, the son stumbles just as his lover delivers a punch that proves fatal.

At the beginning of The Shrimp and the Anemone Hartley had put a quotation from Emily Brontë: "I've known a hundred kinds of love, / All made the loved one rue." This pessimistic sentiment is borne out across the spectrum of his writing.

Hartley enjoyed professional accolades, including the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1948 and the Heinemann Award in 1954. He was named Commander in the Order of the British Empire in 1956 and Companion of Literature by the Royal Society of Literature in 1972.

Hartley died of heart failure on December 13, 1972 in London. Lord David Cecil gave the eulogy at his memorial service.

The John Rylands University Library of Manchester houses a Hartley collection that includes manuscripts, letters, and other documents. Many of his personal papers, however, went to his younger sister Norah. When she died in 1994, all documents pertaining to the family were, in accordance with her instruction, burned.

Linda Rapp

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    Bibliography
   

Jones, Edward T. L. P. Hartley. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1978.

Wright, Adrian. Foreign Country: The Life of L. P. Hartley. London: Tauris Park Paperbacks, 2001.

 

    Citation Information
         
    Author: Rapp, Linda  
    Entry Title: Hartley, L. P.  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
 
    Publication Date: 2005  
    Date Last Updated April 5, 2005  
    Web Address www.glbtq.com/literature/hartley_lp.html  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
 
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2005, glbtq, inc.  
 

 

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