The Go-Between

by

L. P. Hartley

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The Go-Between: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Marian takes Leo to Norwich to buy clothes, and he sees the experience as a “turning-point” that changes everything. Before the trip, he hadn’t really thought much about his appearance, and it is a somewhat disturbing revelation to him that he is “bound up” with how he looks. Marian chooses the clothes, judging what suits Leo and what doesn’t.
Marian is Leo’s ticket to social acceptance—she has the taste and refined aesthetic sense to make him look good, which he has just realized is going to be important. That Leo feels this trip is a turning point shows that he at a very delicate in his adolescence, highly impressionable, and looking for allies.
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Leo and Marian have lunch at a hotel, which is a new extravagance for Leo. One they’re finished and with the shopping done, Marian asks Leo to go and spend some time looking around the cathedral, as she has some other business to attend to. Leo greatly enjoys the cathedral; Marian’s attention to him has put him in an ecstatic mood.
The Norwich trip is almost like a date, except Leo is too young to really think of Marian romantically (and obviously her true affections are elsewhere). The cathedral lends an epic quality to Leo’s feelings, intensifying them. This is all so new to him that he is in a state of rapture, spellbound by the new sights and Marian’s attentions. Marian is deliberately vague about the “business” she has.
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Not long after, Leo meets Marian by the statue of Sir Thomas Browne, someone he’s not heard of before. He gets there early and sees Marian on the other side of the street. She seems to be saying good bye to someone, before then walking back to the coach and taking Leo home.
Leo catches a brief glimpse of Marian’s real motive for being in Norwich—the man—but he’s too wrapped up in his good feelings and sensory overload to pay it any mind.
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Leo considers the trip to Norwich his “spiritual transformation.” At mealtime back at Brandham Hall, everyone greets his new appearance with “cries of acclaim.” He is made to stand on a chair and spin round so that everyone can get a good look at his new outfit. The guests remark on the green color of his clothes and, when one likens him to Robin Hood, he is “delighted” to think of himself as that character and Marian as Maid Marian, Robin Hood’s love interest.
Suddenly Leo feels like he is at the center of the universe. His spinning is suggestive of planets, contributing to his zodiacal way of seeing the world. Leo loves the attention and the feeling of fitting in, and likes thinking of himself as Robin Hood because it suggests a mythic heroism and importance (not to mention Marian as his maid). It doesn’t cross his mind that green can also mean unripe or unready, demonstrating his youthful naiveté.
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One of the guests asks Leo if he feels different now he has new clothes. He replies, “’I feel quite another person!” Mrs. Maudsley asks him to come closer so she can admire the outfit, which she likes very much. She then asks Marian whether she saw anyone in Norwich; Marian says no, and gets Leo to confirm that they were busy shopping the entire time.
Leo is shedding his old identity and gaining a new one—or at least that’s what he thinks is happening. Mrs. Maudsley’s questioning shows that she remains suspicious of Marian’s motives for going to Norwich, and Leo’s covering up for Marian shows that he is becoming bound to her and has a willingness to protect her, even if it means lying.
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Now with clothes better suited to the weather, Leo enjoys the heat, which he feels gives everything the “sense of suspended movement.” He wants the heat to “somehow be cumulative,” to get “hotter and hotter” so he can find its “heart.”
Leo’s new identity isn’t afraid of the heat (like last summer). In fact, the heat is now a sensual fascination for him, and he wants to test its limits. There are definite sexual undertones here too.
Themes
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Leo’s clothes feel good to wear. He feels that their thinness represents his first “steps towards” his “corporeal union with the summer.” He imagines discarding them one by one, until eventually he’ll be released “into nakedness.” He’s not too sure about sex, but he knows he has “yearnings for nudist fulfillment,” for there to be nothing between “me and nature.” At the same time, he doesn’t think of these feelings as being really “capable of realization.”
Leo yearns to turn from boy to man, but he’s getting ahead of himself. His sudden interest in nudity represents his dimly felt sexual awakening—his desires are growing but he’s not really sure about what they are. This increases the appeal of the adults—they have some kind of secret knowledge that he doesn’t.
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Leo feels very grateful for the purchases made on his behalf and can’t believe he is the recipient of the Maudsleys’ “godlike” expenditure. He sees the inhabitants of Brandham Hall, especially Marian, as “resplendent beings,” and “citizens of the world who made the world their playground.” He finds them easily equal and comparable to the “august and legendary figures of the Zodiac.”
Leo’s zodiacal perspective is crystallizing as he gets to know the people at Brandham. Towering above him both physically and in terms of their perceived wisdom, they are becoming the gravitational forces in his world—and the bodies to which he is most attracted.
Themes
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On Saturday the 14th, a group from Brandham Hall decides to go swimming. Leo wants to try out his bathing-suit, but he doesn’t know how to swim. Marian says she’ll teach him, but Mrs. Maudsley won’t allow that. Leo’s mother has told her that he is prone to catching a cold, and accordingly Mrs. Maudsley insists Leo gets written permission from his mother before he does any swimming.
This scene is a reminder that Leo is still an innocent young boy. Not only can he not swim, but he’s not allowed to even try yet on orders of his mother. She sees him as fragile and vulnerable, which is not an unreasonable point of view.
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Leo and Marcus go along with the swimmers, taking their bathing suits even though neither of them can swim. Leo is disappointed by how much their suits are going to cover up their bodies. Even though Leo knows he isn’t going to swim, the fearful idea of it still gives him “a tingling on my skin and a faint loosening of my bowels.”
Leo wants to be part of the group even if he isn’t allowed to swim. In fact, it’s the nudity—the mystery of other bodies—that seems more interesting to him than actually swimming. It’s worth remembering that swimming with the opposite sex was a considerably more risqué thing to do in 1900 than it is now, or even in old Leo’s 1950s.
Themes
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The party of six, including Leo, Marcus, Marian and Denys, walk down some tree-lined paths towards the water. Marcus tells Leo that Trimingham will be arriving that evening and warns of his “dreadfully ugly” face, which sustained wounds during the Boer War. He then says that Mrs. Maudsley wants Marian to marry Trimingham, making Leo feel jealous and that he already dislikes the man. He doesn’t understand why she’d want to marry someone “horribly ugly” who is “not even a Mr.”
Leo is intimidated by Trimingham before he’s even met him—Marcus’ warnings about Trimingham’s face make him seem a threat (not to mention that he is returning from fighting in the war). This is also where the reader first learns that the Maudsleys intend for Marian to marry Trimingham. Leo’s comment about Trimingham not being a “Mr.” shows that he is not yet fully aware of who Trimingham actually is—the ninth Viscount and the landlord of the entire estate.
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The group goes over marshy terrain and water creeps over Leo’s shoes. He notices a structure of “bars and spars and uprights, like a gallows,” which he finds intimidating. Suddenly they spot the head and shoulders of a man among the rushes. The man walks up to the structure and dives into the water below. Ted's "manly" physicality is also hinted at in his actions here, while his work on near this structure resembling a gallows hints at his fate.
The structure is faintly suggestive of gallows, implying a quiet threat of death in the background. The manner of Ted’s appearance is important to the story—he is mysterious from the beginning.
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The grown-ups are shocked to see another man—seemingly a trespasser—swimming on their lands. Denys suggests that he order the man away. The girls of the group go off to change. As the others near the man, Denys realizes that it’s Ted Burgess, the tenant of one the nearby farms on the estate. Denys seems relieved not to have to make a scene and admires Ted’s swimming ability (“for a farmer”).
This shows both the entitlement of Denys and the willingness of Ted to break rules. He isn’t really supposed to swim there, but does so because he feels no one will find out. That said, Denys can’t help but admire Ted’s swimming, though must add the caveat that it’s only good “for a farmer.” Class divisions run deep.
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After Ted emerges from a dive into the water, Denys shakes his hand. Ted apologetically says he didn’t know anyone was going to be there, and that he needed to cool down after getting hot from farm work. Denys tells him not to hurry and that Trimingham will arrive that evening.
Ted shows deference to Denys, but avoids being told off for swimming. This also ties Ted together with the idea of being hot, which Leo is now interested in and carries a definite suggestion of sex.
Themes
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The other men in the group go off to change, and Marcus and Leo withdraw to the rushes to put on their bathing suits. Leo feels that being able to see others and not be seen is “tinglingly secret.” Marcus tells him there is no point in Leo putting on his bathing suit if he’s not going to swim at all.
There is a point for Leo putting his bathing suit on, despite what Marcus says. In fact, there are two: to be closer to a state of nudity, and to fit in with the group. Even if he isn’t going to swim, Leo has already learned that appearances are important. There is also a note of voyeurism here, as Leo gets excited by the idea of watching others and being unseen himself.
Themes
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Everyone emerges by the water in bathing suits, and Leo is disappointed by the way these suits seem to cover up even more of their bodies than their evening wear. Leo watches the others swim. He also observes Ted getting out of the water, “his muscles bunched.” Leo retreats “almost in fear before that powerful body,” which speaks to him of “something I did not know.”
Leo was expecting a more intimate view of people’s bodies—but bathing costumes in those days were very chaste. The one body he does catch a glimpse of is Ted’s. Ted’s physical prowess makes a strong impression on Leo, and he subconsciously associates it with sex. Ted is in good shape because he works the land, and this strongly links him to the idea of physicality. His attractive masculinity intimidates and intoxicates Leo in equal measure.
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Leo watches Ted get dressed, in awe of his bodily maturity and “those limbs which have passed beyond the need of gym and playing field, and exist for their own strength and beauty.” Throwing his clothes on with “furious energy,” Ted walks off back toward the farm. Meanwhile, the girls in the water laugh at their attempts to keep their hair dry.
Everything Ted does demonstrates not just physical strength but also grace. He isn’t simply a boorish male—he has tenderness too.  Overall, Ted seems to know how to use his body and doesn’t have an ounce of self-consciousness about it. This, of course, is the complete opposite of Leo.
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Marian gets out of the water and comes up to Leo. Her hair is coiled up like the Virgin of the Zodiac in Leo’s diary. She asks Leo whether “that man”—Ted—has gone. Leo asks if she knows Ted;, she says only that she may have met him and can’t really remember.
Marian is clearly interested in Ted, but doesn’t want to let on, and her answers are deliberately evasive. Leo’s association of Marian with the Virgin sign grows stronger as she now resembles the picture on his diary.
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The group gets changed, and Marian complains to Leo that her hair is so wet it’s going to make her dress damp. He offers her his dry bathing-suit, which she gratefully pins round her neck. She asks Leo to spread her hair out over his bathing suit so it can dry quicker, which he considers “a labour of love … the first I had ever done.” As the group walks back to the Hall, Leo feels a “tremendous sense of achievement.”
Leo is enamored with Marian and wants to make her happy. Her attentions towards him give his life a new sense of purpose. The gift of his dry bathing suit is an act of chivalry rewarded with closer physical proximity.
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