The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
That afternoon, Mrs. Maudsley is unsure what the group should do because of the ominous weather. Marian takes Leo outside under the pretense of looking at the weather, but to his surprise hands him another letter.
Hartley employs the pathetic fallacy to indicate a change in mood: the weather reflects the action of the story. Marian continues to be duplicitous in order to continue her secret communications.
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Marian playfights with Leo, telling him to take the letter and making him laugh. The noise brings Mrs. Maudsley outside to ask what the two of them are fighting about. Leo drops the letter, which Marian quickly says is the reason they were messing around. She says it is addressed to Nannie Robson, her grandmother, and announces that Marian will visit that afternoon; she says that she had asked Leo to take it.
Marian has to come up with a lie quickly, hoping that the mention of her grandmother will convince Mrs. Maudsley and make Marian seem like a caring, family-orientated woman. Mrs. Maudsley’s sudden appearance outside implies that she is still suspicious of Marian.
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Mrs. Maudsley tells Marian not to worry about informing Nannie Robson, and insists on taking Leo for a walk around the gardens. He asks if Marcus can come too, which she refuses. As they walk, Mrs. Maudsley talks to Leo about flowers; Leo volunteers his knowledge of the deadly nightshade, instantly feeling that he shouldn’t have.
Mrs. Maudsley now suspects Leo of being involved in whatever Marian is hiding. He’s trying to act innocent and make conversation, but lets slip about the deadly nightshade. This symbolizes the imminent discovery of the secret and the unleashing of great power—powers of life and death.
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They stop by a magnolia with a pink blush, which Mrs. Maudsley says reminds her of Marian. She asks if Marian often sends him on errands to Nannie Robson, and says she feels bad that she stopped him just now. Leo lies and says he’s been there once or twice. She says that perhaps he would like to go now: “You know the way, of course?” Leo says that he can ask, which makes Mrs. Maudsley suspicious—Leo has just said that he’s been there before.
The pink magnolia symbolizes youthful innocence, which seems an incongruous symbol for Marian given what the reader knows of her. Leo’s lying abilities are not as refined as Marian’s, and he accidentally makes it clear that he’s never been to Nannie Robson’s, contrary to what Marian says. This increases Mrs. Maudsley’s suspicion, making it obvious to her that there is a deception to be uncovered.
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Mrs. Maudsley suggests that she can have one of the gardeners take the note. The nearest gardener comes over and agrees to take the note. Leo panics and pretends to have lost it. She tells the gardener to go to Nannie Robson regardless and tell her to expect Marian in the afternoon.
Leo knows that the note will be a message for Ted, and that if Mrs. Maudsley reads it all will be discovered. He also knows that the affair’s discovery will have grave consequences, and tries to cover up for Marian. Mrs. Maudsley cleverly manipulates the situation by getting the gardener to go to Nannie Robson and ask her to expect Marian.
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Mrs. Maudsley instructs Leo to take his hands out of his pockets. She warns him that she could make him turn his pockets out if she wanted. She asks Leo who he has taken notes to before, if it’s not Nannie Robson. Leo cannot answer and runs up to his room as the thunder and rain strike up.
Mrs. Maudsley’s sharp intelligence is too much for Leo. She tells him off, restoring the adult-child relationship and making Leo feel small. The rain starts, indicating a literal release of pressure to go with the imminent climax.
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Later on, everyone assembles at the tea-table except for Marian and Mrs. Maudsley. Leo’s birthday cake is on the table. Mrs. Maudsley comes in and informs Leo that he will be moving back into Marcus’s room, as there are more guests who’ve come for the ball.
Perhaps Mrs. Maudsley is already looking for Marian, which would explain her absence. Leo’s independence is taken from him as easily as it was granted, showing that he has no real power over his situation at Brandham Hall.
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Mrs. Maudsley has put twelve candles on the cake and kept one aside so that it’s not an unlucky thirteen. Leo can blow the thirteenth out when Marian arrives, she says, which should be around six o’clock. Leo notices that Mrs. Maudsley’s hands are shaking.
Though Mrs. Maudsley keeps the thirteenth candle aside, the portent is still present—it’s Leo’s thirteenth birthday no matter what candles are on his cake. Mrs. Maudsley is clearly in a tense and nervous state, implying that she knows catastrophe is approaching.
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As it’s raining outside, Mr. Maudsley orders a carriage to Nannie Robson’s to pick up Marian. Leo blows out the twelve candles, and the guests pull crackers, producing a “terrific salvo” and “thunder.” Just then, a butler enters the room to inform Mrs. Maudsley that the carriage has returned empty from Nannie Robson’s—Marian hasn’t been there all day. The guests wonder where she could be.
Marian’s deception is dangerously close to becoming public. The sound of the crackers suggests the explosiveness of what’s to come. What should be a happy occasion is extremely tense, caught up in the pressure of the unresolved question of Marian’s whereabouts.
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Mr. Maudsley says they will just have to wait for Marian to arrive, but Mrs. Maudsley says that she is going to look for her. She accuses Leo of knowing where she is and grabs him to go with her. As they exit the room, Mr. Maudsley calls after Mrs. Maudsley.
Mrs. Maudsley cannot take any more of Marian’s behavior. The incident with the dropped letter has confirmed for her that Leo has information about Marian’s whereabouts, which is why she grabs and takes him with her. Mr. Maudsley’s shout at the end implies that he is completely oblivious to the situation, but is aware of his wife’s nervous state and would prefer to keep decorum (and prevent embarrassment).
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Leo and Mrs. Maudsley pass through the hall, where Leo catches a glimpse of the green bicycle. It reminds him of a little “mountain sheep with curly horns, its head lowered in apology or defence.” They run through the rain, Leo hardly able to keep up with Mrs. Maudsley.
As he is led to the story’s tragic conclusion by the hand of an adult, Leo’s sight of the green bicycle reminds him that he is not the bold, confident young man he felt himself to be—he’s still a young, inexperienced boy.
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Leo realizes that Mrs. Maudsley is taking them to the outhouse with the deadly nightshade and desperately tries to get her to go another way, but she persists. Suddenly they come across Marian and Ted making love: “together on the ground, the Virgin and the Water-Carrier, two bodies like one.” Mrs. Maudsley screams repeatedly as the lovers’ shadow opens and close on the wall “like an umbrella.”
It was Leo who accidentally let slip Marian and Ted’s probable whereabouts, making him responsible for their discovery and increasing the psychological burden on him. That the lovers are discovered in the abandoned outhouse confirms that their affair takes place outside of the confines of normal society—and the presence of the nightshade symbolizes the deadly power of such an affair. Marian and Ted are as one, but can only be so as “shadows”; they are not allowed to be together in the full light of day. Mrs. Maudsley’s screams show how traumatic the discovery is to her, and Leo’s comparison of the shadow to an umbrella illustrates how mysterious, disconcerting, and surreal the entire situation is to him.
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Here, the main narrative ends abruptly—old Leo says that he remembers little more about Brandham Hall, but that somehow he had learned that Ted Burgess went home and shot himself.
Such is the deep trauma of this discovery that Leo short circuits and is psychologically removed from the situation (and his responsibility). The abruptness of the text here reflects the suddenness of the psychological rupture. Ted clearly knows this is the end of his relationship with Marian and, as Trimingham owns the land that he works on, the end of his livelihood too. Seeing no way out, he fires one last shot from his gun.
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