Those of us who have been struggling to endure the recent heat should turn to L.P. Hartley’s classic coming-of-age novel The Go-Between for some advice.
‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing,’ Alfred Wainwright wisely said, and L.P. Hartley’s young Leo couldn’t have agreed more. He arrives at his friend’s smart country house without summer clothes and, as the mercury soars, suffers in his Eton collar, Norfolk jacket, breeches, black stockings and boots. ‘You are looking hot,’ everyone tells him, until at last Marian — the daughter of the house — takes him shopping for a cooler suit. Leo is transformed by his new apparel: ‘From being my enemy, the summer had become my friend… I felt I had been given the freedom of the heat, and I roamed about in it as if I was exploring a new element.’ Evidently a shopping trip for cooler attire is a necessity.
Taking another leaf from Marian’s book, we should ensure that our cooler attire can be easily slipped off in the evening. While cavorting around in his new green suit, low shoes and ‘thin underclothes whose touch caressed me’, Leo slides down a straw-stack and cuts his knee. Luckily Ted Burgess, a local farmer, is there to bandage him. Might Leo take a note to Marian, Ted asks. So Leo becomes their ‘postman’. It’s not long before even a 12-year-old understands what is going on, as Leo peeks inside an envelope carelessly left unsealed and reads, ‘Darling, darling, darling, same place, same time, this evening.’ Perhaps, like Marian and Ted, we too might take advantage of the sensuality of these hot summer nights.
This particular summer fling is, however, doomed. While Marian desires Ted, her mother has her eye on an aristocratic title, and Marian is soon engaged to Viscount Trimingham. Wanting to ease Marian’s distress at the match, Leo, who fancies himself a magician, tries to break Ted’s spell over Marian by casting his own. ‘Delenda est belladonna!’ he chants, uprooting the deadly nightshade which grows in the outhouses. Perhaps the spell works, for the weather breaks the next day, Leo’s birthday. A storm rages all afternoon, and Marian’s mysterious absence at his birthday tea provokes a similarly thunderous mood in her mother. She drags Leo to the outhouses where they discover them ‘together on the ground’ casting ‘a shadow on the wall that opened and closed like an umbrella’. Needless to say, it does not end well for Marian; worse still for Ted.
The cloudless summer, the passionate affair, Leo’s innocence — all good things come to an end, says The Go-Between. In our cool clothes, and with a newfound appreciation of the sultry evenings, we had better enjoy the hot weather while it lasts.