An exploration of the ways in which issues of class and status are presented in Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and L. P. Hartley’s “The Go-Between”. Both Charles Dickens’ “Great Expectations” and L. P. Hartley’s “The Go-Between” discuss the class assumptions of early Victorian England; around 1807-1823 is when most of the action can be dated too in “Great Expectations” and at the start of the 20th century, the year 1900 in “The Go-Between”. Both novels portray a class structure in decline or under threat, as the rise of trade unions and rights for women were to transform the quiet hierarchy that had existed for countless generations.
In this essay I will draw out the similarities and differences in how the two authors present the issues of class and status to the reader. Hartley often seems to place great value in the tradition and history of an ancient, aristocratic, ruling class; Dickens regards beyond all else the value of hard work. Dickens argues that social status denotes nothing but money, whereas Hartley seems to glory in the upper-classes natural superiority, such as at sport and at music: none can match Marion in skill.
Hartley warns against the social mobility that makes Marion too good for Ted despite their love for each other and subverts the natural hierarchical order and security that has existed for centuries, yet Dickens denounces a society that lavishes upon the few at the exclusion of the multitude. Dickens characters suffer under or bask in justice offered by the plot, as ‘good’ characters are rewarded and ‘bad’ characters condemned. Hartley shows little similar sympathy’s as discussed below.
Dickens consciously relays no support for the idea that the upper classes are naturally morally superior; dispelling all pretentiousness to this tenuous link in the contrast between Drummle and Joe, whereas in Hartley’s “The Go-Between”, Triningham is by far and away the kindest character, whom the reader instinctively warms to, and enchants all with his natural grace and elegance, seemingly affirming the assumption of the ancient idea of the moral superiority of the wealthy, going back to the Bible story of Job in the Old Testament, where God blessed a good man with wealth.
Ironically, Triningham is already displaying the injuries already done to the aristocracy, he has been forced to rent out the home his ancestors have held for generations as he himself can no longer afford to live there; he himself has lost his wealth in his property, even though temporarily. Nevertheless, the middle classes Maudlseys do not appear to have gained by their social rise at the end.
Some critics have argued that Hartley is arguing that a socially divided society is a dangerous one; that Leo’s evaporated enthusiasm for a new century so full of unfulfilled promise is systematic of unfounded hopes of a new Golden Age if society remains segregated between the haves and have-nots. That the Boer War, which scarred the aristocratic Triningham, protracted and disastrous for Britain with a devastating display of Britain’s faltering significance and importance in world affairs, is a sign of a difficult century ahead.
Triningham, a representative of a dying aristocracy with unseen wounds that a display of natural elegance and grace can hide but not heal. In spite of this, I find myself wholly disagreeing with this view of Hartley’s novel “The Go-Between”. Hartley certainly does warn of the demise of the aristocracy, yet he does not rejoice in it. On the contrary, he mourns, grieves and laments the apparent loss of nobility throughout the work.
Triningham is by far and away the most gracious, righteous and gallant character presented, there is only sympathy in a reader for his early death. I certainly fall on the side of Hartley strongly defending the hierarchical social order, and the aristocracy’s right to lead it. Yet it is important to do discuss other possibilities. Triningham then represents the best features of the aristocracy. Unlike Marian, from the start and until the end, there was no ulterior motive to Triningham’s kindness: he was “as true as steel” even in the eyes of the unfaithful Marian.
He is patriotic to the end too and was wounded in the defence of his countries Empire. Despite all this, in the book Hartley presents Marian displaying no reverence for Ted’s feelings, instead she is cruelly unfaithful to him whilst engaged. Every other character in the book has faults of character or of action, but Triningham is beyond such. His demise might be Hartley warning the middle-classes of the dangers involved with usurping the natural order.
Even so, the story is told from Leo’s point of view, and Leo admires Triningham to such a great extent that his faults may be simply hidden from the readers view, or indeed perhaps the story is told from Leo’s point of view in order to allow Hartley to express his admiration. Even so, Leo the adolescent is also a bad judge of character and situation and so simply may be putting forward the wrong view. Be that as it may, the point still stands.