The zodiac is nothing less than the organizing principle for young Leo’s own personal cosmology. He is intoxicated by its pictograms and links its mystical atmosphere to the anticipation and excitement of the fledgling twentieth century. The figures of the zodiac offer Leo an opportunity to construct his own ideas about morality and the supernatural; frankly, he doesn’t know that much about them, but the suggestive power of their individual identities—The Water-Carrier, The Lion, The Virgin, and so on—makes them the perfect material for an imaginative and sensitive young boy to construct his belief system.
The only problem is, the real world doesn’t conform as neatly to the zodiac as he would like. He, for example, feels that as a Leo—both in name and star sign—should be expressly lion-like, leading a brave life and ruling over territory with his physical dominance. On the contrary, it’s patently clear that Leo can’t dominate anyone or anything physically (which explains the reliance on magic). Marian, on the other hand, who even has the “curls and tresses” of the Virgin on his 1900 diary, fails to live up to the virginal qualities of purity and holiness that Leo expects of her. So traumatic is the sight of his Virgin figure in the act of making love—with the farmer-like Water-Carrier, Ted—that Leo never gets over it, shutting down his imaginative and emotional life from that moment on. The zodiac thus ultimately represents Leo’s attempt to understand the world as both orderly and magical, and the shattering disappointment he feels when he discovers that it is neither.
The Zodiac Quotes in The Go-Between
And the expansion and ascension, of some divine gas, which I believed to be the ruling principle of my own life, I attributed to the coming century. The year 1900 had an almost mystical appeal for me; I could hardly wait for it: “Nineeteen hundred, nineteen hundred,” I would chant to myself in rapture; and as the old century drew to its close, I began to wonder whether I should live to see its successor.
If my twelve-year-old self, of whom I had grown rather fond, thinking about him, were to reproach me: “Why have you grown up such a dull dog, when I gave you such a good start? Why have you spent your time in dusty libraries, cataloguing other people’s books instead of writing your own? What has become of the Ram, the Bull, and the Lion, the example I gave you to emulate? Where above all is the Virgin, with her shining face and long curling tresses, whom I entrusted to you”—what should I say?
I should have an answer ready. “Well, it was you who let me down, and I will tell you how. You flew too near to the sun, and you were scorched. This cindery creature is what you made me.
My spiritual transformation took place in Norwich: it was there that, like an emerging butterfly, I was first conscious of my wings. I had to wait until tea for the public acknowledgement of my apotheosis. My appearance was greeted with cries of acclaim, as if the whole party had been living for this moment. Instead of gas-jets, fountains of water seemed to spring up around me. I was made to stand on a chair and revolve like a planet, while everything of my new outfit that was visible was subjected to admiring or facetious comment.
I was in love with the heat, I felt for it what the convert feels for his new religion…And without my being aware of it, the climate of my emotions had undergone a change. I was no longer satisfied with the small change of experience which had hitherto contented me. I wanted to deal in larger sums. I wanted to enjoy continuously the afflatus of spirit that I had when I was walking to Lord Trimingham and he admitted to being a Viscount. To be in tune with all that Brandham Hall meant, I must increase my stature, I must act on a grander scale. Perhaps all these desires had been dormant in me for years, and the Zodiac had been their latest manifestation.
The messenger of the gods! I thought of that, and even when the attention of the gods had been withdrawn from me, it seemed to enhance my status. I pictured myself threading my way through the Zodiac, calling on one star after another.
My world of high intense emotions collapsing around me, released not only the mental strain but the very high physical pressure under which I had been living. My only defence was, I could not have expected it of Marian. Marian who had done so much for me, Marian who knew how a boy felt, Marian the Virgin of the Zodiac—how could she have sunk so low?
“No, you shall come,” she said, and seized my hand, and it was then we saw them, together on the ground, the Virgin and the Water-Carrier, two bodies moving like one. I think I was more mystified than horrified; it was Mrs. Maudsley’s repeated screams that frightened me, and a shadow on the wall that opened and closed like an umbrella.