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William Golding (1911-1993) - in full Sir Willam Gerald Golding


English novelist, who received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. The choice was unexpected, because the internationally famous novelist Graham Greene (1904-1991) was considered the strongest candidate from the English writers. In many novels Golding has revealed the dark places of human heart, when isolated individuals or small groups are pushed into extreme situations. His work is characterized by exploration of "the darkness of man's heart", deep spiritual and ethical questions.

"Twenty-five years ago I accepted the label 'pessimist' thoughtlessly without realising that it was going to be tied to my tail, as it were, in something the way that, to take an example from another art, Rachmaninoff's famous Prelude in C sharp minor was tied to him. No audience would allow him off the concert platform until he played it. Similarly critics have dug into my books until they could come up with something that looked hopeless. I can't think why. I don't feel hopeless myself." (from Nobel Lecture, 1983)

William Golding was born in the village of St. Columb Minor in Cornwall. His father, Alec, was a schoolmaster, who had radical convictions in politics and a strong faith in science. Golding's mother, Mildred, was a supporter of the British suffragate movement. Golding started writing at the age of seven, but following the wishes of his parents, he studied first natural sciences and then English at Brasenose College, Oxford. Golding's first book, a collection of poems, appeared in 1934, a year before he received his B.A. in English and a diploma in education.

From 1935 to 1939, Golding worked as a writer, actor, producer, and a settlement house worker. In 1939 he moved to Salisbury, where he began teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth's School. He married Ann Brookfield; they had two children. In his private journal Golding described how he once set two groups of boys against one another. These psychological experiments most likely inspired later his novel Lord of the Flies (1954).

During World War II, Golding served in the Royal Navy in command of a rocket ship. His active service included involvement in the sinking of the German battleship Bismarck in 1940 and participating in the Normandy invasion. Demobilised in 1945, Golding returned to writing and teaching, with a dark view of the European civilization. Recalling later his war experiences, he remarked that "man produces evil, as a bee produces honey."

In Salisbury Golding wrote four books, but did not get them published. Lord of the Flies, an allegorical story set in the near future during wartime, was turned down by twenty-one publishes until it finally accepted by Faber and Faber after substantial revisions. E.M. Forster named it Book of the Years and in the late 1950s it became a bestseller among American readers. At the time of its appearance, Golding was 44, but the success of the novel allowed him to give up teaching. In the gripping story a group of small British boys, stranded on a desert island, lapse into violence after they have lost all adult guidance. Ironically, the adult world is devastated by nuclear war. As a reply to the questions of the incluence of Joseph Conrad on his work, Golding once said: "I am pretty much tired of always being told how much I owe to Heart of Darkness. I read the book after I wrote Lord of the Flies!"

Lord of the Flies was followed by The Inheritors (1955), which overturned H.G. Wells's Outline of History (1920) and depicted the extermination of Neanderthal man by Homo Sapiens. Neanderthals are portrayed compassionate and communal, and when they meet the more sophisticated Cro-Magnons, their tribe is doomed. The Finnish professor of paleontology, Björn Kurtén has offered in his novel Dance of the Tiger (1978) the explanation, that the Neanderthals disappeared because they fell fatally in love with their black and beautiful Cro-Magnon neighbours. In The Inheritors, which Golding himself considered his finest work, there is no understanding or love between these two races. First the events are perceived from the point of view of Lok, a semi-human creature, and after his death, the new protagonist is a Cro-Magnon, Tuami.

Pincher Martin (1956) was story of a naval officer, Christopher Hadley Martin, who faces death after his ship is torpedoed. Like in Ambroce Bierce's 'Occurence at Owl Creek Bridge', the protagonist imagines his survival and struggle against the sea and cold-Christopher believes he is on a rock island in Mid-Atlantic. The rock he clings is metaphorically analogous to his diseased tooth. The Free Fall (1959) was set in contemporary society. Sammy Mountjoy, the narrator, is an artist, who looks back over his past to find the crossroads of his life, and the moment he lost his freedom.

Golding resigned in 1961 from teaching and devoted himself entirely to writing. He lived quietly in Corwall, gaining the reputation of a mildly eccentric and reclusive person. In 1965 he received the honorary designation Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and in 1988 he was knighted. Golding died in Perranarworthal on June 19, 1993. The night before his death, he made an entry in his diary and played Chopin upon the piano. His last novel, The Double Tongue, left in draft at his death, came out in 1995. Set in the ancient Greece, the story depicted the life of the last Delphic oracle, the Pythia, who witnesses the rise of the Roman power, and the decline of the Hellenistic culture.

The Spire (1964), which shared some motifs with Iris Murdoch's novel The Bell (1958), concerned the construction of a cathedral spire. Jocelin, a medieval dean, has decided to erect a 400-foot spire to the top of the catdedral before his death. But its construction causes sacrifice of others, treachery, and murder; the Dean's own faith is tested. From this novel Golding's work developed into three directions: novels dealing with contemporary society without mythical substructure, the metaphysical novels in which the theme of fall from innocence into guilt was central, and sea novels imitating an 18th-century style. Golding also used in his works ideas familiar from science fiction, such as the origin of man, nuclear holocaust, and highly advanced inventions. In the play The Brass Butterfly (1958), based on Golding's short story 'Envoy Extraordinary,' an Greek inventor Phanocles tries to get his steam engine, gun, pressure-cooker, and printing press accepted by the Roman emperor.

In 1971 Golding began to keep a record of his dreams to revitalize his creative process. Prior to the publication of Darkness Visible (1979), about saintliness and human evil, he had been silent for a long period. His later works include the historical trilogy Rites of Passage (1980), which portrayed life abroad an ancient ship of the line at the end of the Napoleonic Wars. It was awarded the Booker Prize. Other parts of the trilogy, narrated by young Edmund FitzHenry Talbot, were Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989). "The author seems intent on making the ship's voyage parallel what is supposed to be Talbot's inner voyage of self-discovery, but once the ship docks, the young man is little more than the opinionated fop he was at the novel's beginning." (Dierdre Bair, in The New York Times, April 2, 1989) The Paper Men (1984), condemned by reviewers as Golding's worst novel, was about the battle between the world-famous English novelist Wilfred Barclay and the American academic Rick L. Turner, who has decided to write Barclay's biography. "In this book, however, Barclay and Tucker are not only poorly defined as individuals, but are also wholly inadequate as symbols. They are indeed no more than paper men." (Michiko Kakutani, in The New York Times, March 26, 1984)

Golding's most widely read work, Lord of the Flies, has been translated into many languages and filmed in 1963 and 1990. It is an ironic comment on R.M. Ballantyne's Coral Island, using also the names of its characters. The story describes a group of children, who are evacuated from Britain because of a nuclear war. Their airplane crashes on an uninhabited island, and all the adults are killed. The boys create their own society, which gradually degenerates from democratic, rational, and moral community to tyrannical and cruel. "They cried for their mothers much less often than might have been expected; they were very brown, and filthily dirty." (in Lord of the Flies)

The older boys take control, a boy called Piggy, who is asthmatic and nearsighted, becomes a target of teasing and torment. Leaders emerge, two of the older boys get killed, and they begin to hunt another, just as a ship arrives. Golding's view is pessimistic: human nature is inherently corruptible and wicked. Thus the 19th century ideals of progress and education are based on false premises. Although the boys have been taught social skills, their desire to kill is unleashed when there are no strict rules of the English public-school system to control their behavior. This is the world of freedom, that is ruled by savages and the ultimate evil, the Lord of the Flies, Beelzebub, Prince of Devils, whom the boys worship in the form of a decapitated boar's head.

For further reading: William Golding: a Critical Study by I. Gregor and M. Kinkead-Weekes (1967); The Novels of William Golding by H.S. Babb (1973); W. Golding: Lord of the Flies by J. Whitley (1970); William Golding by S. Medcalf (1975); William Golding: Some Critical Considerations, ed. by J.I. Biles and R.D. Evans (1978); William Golding: A Structural Reading of His Fiction by Philip Redpath (1987); The Modern Allegories of William Goldman by L.KL. Dickson (1990); William Golding by Lawrence S. Friedman (1992); William Golding by Pralhad A. Kulkarni (1994); The Robinsonade Tradition in Robert Michael Ballantyne's the Coral Island and William Golding's the Lord of the Flies by Karin Siegl (1996); Readings on Lord of the Flies, ed. by Clarice Swisher (1997); Language and Style in the Inheritors by David L. Hoover (1998); Politics and History in William Golding: The World Turned Upside Down by Paul Crawford (2002); William Golding: The Unmoved Target by Virginia Tiger (2003); 'Adaptationist Criteria of Literary Value: Assessing Kurtén's Dance of the Tiger, Auel's The Clan of the Cave Bear, and Golding's The Inheritors', in Literary Darwinism: Evolution, Human Nature, and Literature by Joseph Carroll (2004) - See: Daniel Defoe and Robinsonade, a story of a person marooned on a desert island.

Selected works:

  • Poems, 1934
  • Lord of the Flies, 1954
    - Kärpästen herra (suom. Juhana Perkki, 1960)
    - Films: 1963, dir. Peter Brook, starring James Aubrey, Tom Chapin, Hugh Edwards, Roger Elwin, Tom Gaman; Alkitrang dugo (uncredited), 1976, prod. NV Productions (Philippines), dir. Lupita Aquino-Kashiwahara; 1990, prod. Castle Rock Entertainment, directed by Harry Hook, starring Balthazar Getty, Chris Furth, Danuel Pipoly, Badgett Dale
  • The Inheritors, 1955
    - Perilliset (suom. Eila Pennanen, 1985)
  • Pincher Martin, 1956 ( radio play in 1958)
  • Envoy Extraordinary, 1956 (in Sometime, Never: Three Tales of Imagination)
  • The Brass Butterfly: A Play in Three Acts, 1958 
  • Free Fall, 1960
    - Vapaa putoaminen (suom. Leevi Lehto, 1986)
  • Miss Pulkinhorn, 1960 (radio play)
  • The Ladder and the Tree, 1961 (The Marlborough College Press)
  • Break My Heart, 1962 (radio play)
  • The Spire, 1964
  • he Hot Gates, 1965
  • The Pyramid, 1967
    - Pyramidi (suom. Rauno Ekholm, 1987)
  • The Scorpion God, 1971
  • Darkness Visible, 1979
    - Näkyvä pimeys (suom. Kersti Juva, 1983)
  • Rites of Passage, 1980 (Booker Prize)
    - Merimatka (suom. Eila Pennanen ja Hanno Vammelvuo, 1981)
  • A Moving Target, 1982
  • The Paper Men, 1984
    - Paperimiehet (suom. Kersti Juva, 1985)
  • An Egyptian Journal, 1985
  • Close Quarters, 1987
    - Laskusilta (suom. Eila Pennanen ja Hanno Vammelvuo, 1990)
  • Fire Down Below, 1989 (republished in 1991 under the general title To the Ends of the Earth)
    - Laiva tulessa (suom. Eila Pennanen ja Hanno Vammelvuo, 1991)
    - TV mini-series 2005, prod. British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), dir. David Attwood, screenplay by Tony Basgallop, starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Brian Pettifer, Victoria Hamilton, Jamie Sives, Sam Neill, Jared Harris
  • The Double Tongue, 1995

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