Authors: L. P. Hartley

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English novelist and short-story writer

Author Works

Long Fiction:

Simonetta Perkins, 1925

The Shrimp and the Anemone, 1944

The Sixth Heaven, 1946

Eustace and Hilda, 1947

The Boat, 1949

My Fellow Devils, 1951

The Go-Between, 1953

A Perfect Woman, 1955

The Hireling, 1957

Facial Justice, 1960

The Brickfield, 1964

The Betrayal, 1966

Poor Clare, 1968

The Love-Adept, 1969

My Sisters’ Keeper, 1970

The Harness Room, 1971

The Collections, 1972

The Will and the Way, 1973

Short Fiction:

Night Fears, 1924

The Killing Bottle, 1932

The Traveling Grave, 1948

The White Wand, 1954

Two for the River, 1961

Mrs. Carteret Receives, 1971

The Complete Short Stories of L. P. Hartley, 1973


The Novelist’s Responsibility: Lectures and Essays, 1967


Leslie Poles Hartley is one of the most critically acclaimed English novelists of the twentieth century. He was born to Mary Elizabeth (Thompson) Hartley and H. B. Hartley, a solicitor who eventually directed the family’s brick business in addition to being a Wesleyan Methodist who passed his morality and emphasis on individual moral responsibility on to his son. Hartley was educated at Harrow School and entered Balliol College, Oxford, in 1915. He interrupted his education to serve as a second lieutenant in World War I but was discharged because of a weak heart and returned to Oxford, where he received a degree with second-class honors.{$I[AN]9810001198}{$I[A]Hartley, L. P.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Hartley, L. P.}{$I[tim]1895;Hartley, L. P.}

Soon after leaving Oxford, he published Night Fears, a book of short stories, and Simonetta Perkins, a novella. He became known primarily as a book reviewer and literary critic until 1944. In that year, The Shrimp and the Anemone was published, the first volume of the Eustace and Hilda trilogy. The second and third volumes followed in rapid succession, and the third, Eustace and Hilda, won for him the James Tait Black Memorial Prize. In the 1950’s, he published the best of his work: The Go-Between, which was awarded the W. H. Heinemann Foundation Prize and subsequently translated into a successful film; The Hireling; and Facial Justice. Although he continued to publish regularly until his death of heart failure in 1972, his later novels and short stories were not as successful, financially or critically, as his earlier work.

Facial Justice, which concerns the aftermath of a third world war, is atypical of Hartley’s fiction in its futuristic, science-fiction setting. It is vintage Hartley, however, in its focus: the plight of the character who attempts to maintain individuality in a society bent on conformity and control. Ostensibly about the future, the novel actually satirizes contemporary English life, which he implies has already become the totalitarian world usually associated with the future.

Hartley’s fiction tends to be remarkably consistent in both form and content. Like his literary predecessor Henry James, Hartley makes adept use of his “central intelligence,” those characters through whom the third-person narrative is strained and shaped. The genre is–as is the case with James and Jane Austen, another of Hartley’s literary ancestors–the novel of manners, and usually those manners are exhibited by members of the upper middle class. As a result, Hartley’s world is a small one, but it is one that contains the same violence and class conflicts of the greater world. The Go-Between, which focuses on the year 1900, depicts the worlds that Hartley characteristically describes in conflict: the Edwardian world of the past, epitomized by the Hall, and the modern world, represented by the Village.

Like James, Hartley was a psychological novelist portraying the subconscious lives of his characters; like Nathaniel Hawthorne, he was a moralistic novelist dramatizing the effect of evil on hitherto innocent characters. The Hartley protagonist must make moral decisions, must choose between God’s demands and those of an oppressive society, and unfortunately the protagonist inevitably is afflicted by a desire to please others and be accepted by them. Typically sensitive and intellectual, the protagonists suffer from real or imagined sin, often associated with sex, and isolate themselves from society.

The Boat, the most personal and reflective of Hartley’s novels, concerns the conflict an artist experiences during World War II. The choice between art and society isolates the artist, who typically wants both to secure society’s approval and to retain his individuality. The dilemma is Hartley’s own, and his fiction reflects his commitment to art and individuality. Although he never enjoyed great popular success, he was respected as a serious writer by critics, who regarded him as the literary heir of Austen, James, and Emily Brontë. Because he is part of that tradition, he has sometimes been seen as the last Edwardian, a celebrant of the past who rails at modern vulgarity and power. Certainly his views seemed increasingly out of step as the twentieth century wore on.

In his novels, Hartley was a master of delineating the neurotic personality, and his indebtedness to the literary past is clear. Although he was not a literary innovator, he did write the two somewhat experimental novels Facial Justice and The Love-Adept, the second of which uses the reflexive device of the novel within a novel. This work also embodies the critical ideas espoused in Hartley’s The Novelist’s Responsibility. These two novels are interesting but hardly equal Hartley’s best work, which remains tied to an earlier era.

BibliographyBien, Peter. L. P. Hartley. University Park: Pennsylvania University Press, 1963. The first book on Hartley’s fiction, important for its Freudian analysis of his novels; its identification of his indebtedness to Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James, and Emily Brontë; and its examination of Hartley’s literary criticism. At its best when discussing the novels about the transition from adolescence to adulthood.Bloomfield, Paul. L. P. Hartley. Rev. and enlarged ed. Harlow, England: Longman, 1970. Bloomfield, a personal friend of Hartley, focuses on character analysis and thematic concerns, providing a brief discussion of Hartley’s novels. Laudatory, perceptive, and very well written.Fane, Julian. Best Friends: Memories of Rachel and David Cecil, Cynthia Asquith, L. P. Hartley, and Some Others. London: Sinclair-Stevenson and St. George’s Press, 1990. Helps to situate Hartley’s fiction in terms of his sensibility and his time.Hall, James. The Tragic Comedians: Seven Modern British Novelists. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1963. Claims that the Hartley protagonist possesses an inadequate emotional pattern that leads inevitably to failure. This neurotic behavior is discussed in his major fiction: The Boat, Eustace and Hilda, My Fellow Devils, and The Hireling. In these novels, Hartley demonstrates that confidence is accompanied by a contradictory desire to fail.Jones, Edward T. L. P. Hartley. Boston: Twayne, 1978. An excellent analysis of Hartley’s literary work, particularly of his novels, which are conveniently grouped. Also contains a chronology, a biographical introductory chapter, a discussion of Hartley’s literary criticism, and an excellent annotated bibliography. Of special interest are Jones’s definition of the “Hartleian novel” and his discussion of Hartley’s short fiction.Mulkeen, Anne. Wild Thyme, Winter Lightning: The Symbolic Novels of L. P. Hartley. Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1974. Focuses on Hartley’s fiction until 1968, stressing the Hawthornian romance elements in his early novels. Particularly concerned with his adaptations of the romance and how his characters are at once themselves and archetypes or symbols.Webster, Harvey Curtis. After the Trauma: Representative British Novelists Since 1920. Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1970. The chapter on Hartley, entitled “Diffident Christian,” concerns his protagonists’ struggles to distinguish between God’s orders and society’s demands. Discusses Facial Justice, Eustace and Hilda, The Boat, and The Go-Between extensively, concluding that Hartley merits more attention than he has been given.Wright, Adrian. Foreign Country: The Life of L. P. Hartley. London: A. Deutsch, 1996. A good biography of Hartley for the beginning student. Includes bibliographical references and an index.
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