While the attention that Marian gives the young Leo begins what he calls his “spiritual transformation,” Leo’s interactions with the men in the story are equally important in his attempts to figure what coming of age might actually mean for him. His father is no longer alive, and his experiences as Brandham Hall present him with different ideals of masculinity through the rough, unrefined physicality of Ted and the restrained status and manners of Trimingham. Leo’s loyalties change throughout the text as he tries to figure out what it means to be a man. Through this process, Hartley shows what happens when these contrasting ideals come into conflict, both in the way Leo switches allegiance between different men and in his ultimate rejection, in adulthood, of “emotions” altogether. It’s also not just within Leo that these masculine ideals compete: Marian, too, struggles with a choice between Ted and Trimingham. Of course, she isn’t supposed to have a choice at all—her parents have already chosen Trimingham for her. Yet Ted’s masculinity exerts an irresistible hold on her, and she makes a decision that she wasn’t meant to.
Because his father is dead, Leo does not have any male role models in his home life. Young Leo also feels he has more in common with his mother’s temperament than his father’s. His father was quite blinkered, interested only in collecting rare books, whereas his mother likes “gossip” and “social occasions.” Like young Leo, she likes “to mix with well-dressed people on some smooth lawn.” Because Marcus falls ill with the measles, Leo has more freedom to move about in the adult world and encounter the contrasting examples of masculinity represented by Ted and Trimingham. Leo first encounters a new form of masculinity when he goes swimming with a group from Brandham Hall (he himself is not allowed to swim by orders of his mother). When the group sees the farmer Ted in the water, the farmer’s “mere physical presence” casts “a spell” on Leo. “He was,” Leo notes, “I felt, what a man ought to be, what I should like to be when I grew up.” Ted’s is a raw masculinity that contrasts with the refined mannerisms that surround Leo at Brandham Hall—and this makes him much more attractive to Marian than Lord Trimingham.
Trimingham, for his part, represents the counterpoint to Ted’s masculinity. He is a man of status and shows Leo a form of manhood based on social standing, etiquette, and “gentlemanliness.” Leo is in awe of Trimingham’s powerful title: “It didn’t matter what he looked like: he was a lord first, and a human being, with a face and limbs and body, long, long after.” Where Ted’s masculinity centers on the body, Trimingham’s is structured around social power. He has also just returned from the Boer War, but rarely talks about it—further reflecting his refined take on manhood. Importantly, it’s from him that Leo learns “nothing is ever a lady’s fault”—it is the job of the man, Trimingham says, to take responsibility.
Of course, Leo finds this idea hard to reconcile with Marian’s treatment of Trimingham and her illicit affair, contributing to the build of psychological pressure that results in Leo’s trauma. Yet after the revelation of the affair and Ted’s subsequent suicide, Trimingham appears to live by his own dictum when he marries Marian anyway and treats her and Ted’s love-child as if it were his own. The novel doesn’t make clear whether this is about saving face and preventing a scandal, however, or from a genuinely charitable compassion.
Leo, in his role as go-between, is literally caught in the middle between Ted and Trimingham: social authority versus physical power; refinement versus passion; status versus humility. Further, he is never able to work through or come to a choice about his own preferences between these attributes. Instead, his diary cuts off abruptly after the discovery of Ted and Marian’s affair and Ted’s suicide, with the suggestion that Leo’s own development similarly stopped in that moment. In fact, the suggestion is that Leo gives up on both sides of masculinity that he admired as a youth. He once again “goes between”—he neither lives with “emotions” the way that Ted did, nor attains any of the social refinement and standing that define Trimingham. Instead, in becoming a quiet book-collector, like his own father, he lives only with facts and other people’s books. Leo’s sense as an adult, though, is that this is not any sort of triumph, but rather that it is a failure, and that he is more of a “dull dog” than a man.
Masculinity Quotes in The Go-Between
I gave him the envelope which at once he tore open; and then I knew he must have killed something before I came, for, to my horror, a long smear of blood appeared on the envelope and again on the letter as he held it in his hands.
I cried out: “Oh, don’t do that!” but he did not answer me, he was so engrossed in reading.
I could not tell whether the next ball was on the wicket or not, but it was pitched much further up and suddenly I saw Ted’s face and body swinging round, and the ball, travelling towards me on a rising straight line like a cable stretched between us. Ted started to run and then stopped and stood watching me, wonder in his eyes and a wild disbelief.
“Green, green mon pauvre imbécile, bright green...et savez-vous pourquoi? Parce que vous êtes vert vous-même—you are green yourself, as the poor old English say…it is your true colour, Marian said so.” And he began to dance around me, chanting “Green, green, green.”