William Golding Biography


A fast, intense writer, Golding quickly followed Lord of the Flies with The Inheritors (1955), a depiction of how the violent, deceitful Homo sapiens achieved victory over the gentler Neanderthals. Although this novel is the one readers have the most difficulty understanding, it remained Golding's favorite throughout his life.

Pincher Martin followed in 1956. Like Lord of the Flies, it concerns survival after shipwreck. Navy lieutenant Christopher Martin is thrown from his ship during combat in World War II. He finds a rock to cling to, and the rest of the story is related from this vantage point, detailing his struggle for survival and recounting the details of his life.

Golding uses the flashback technique of Pincher Martin more extensively in his next novel, Free Fall (1959). Unlike his first three novels, Free Fall is told with a first person narrator, an artist named Samuel Mountjoy. The novel takes as a model Dante's La Vita Nuova, a collection of love poems interspersed with Dante's own commentary on the poems. Golding uses the character Mountjoy to comment on the conflict between rationalism and faith.

Issues of faith are addressed in The Spire (1964) as well. A fourteenth-century Dean of Barchester Cathedral decides that God wants a 400-foot-high spire added to the top of the cathedral, although the cathedral's foundation is not sufficient to hold the weight of the spire. The novel tells the story of the human costs of the spire's construction and the lessons that the Dean learns too late.

The Pyramid (1967) provides an examination of English social class within the context of a town ironically named Stilbourne. A primary issue in this story is music, and the novel utilizes the same structure as the musical form sonata.

Golding's next publication was a collection entitled The Scorpion God: Three Short Novels (1971). Each story explores the negative repercussions of technological progress — an idea that was in sharp contrast to the technology worship of the space age. One of the novellas had been originally published in 1956; Golding then turned the story into a comedic play titled The Brass Butterfly, which was first performed in London in 1958.

Golding's next novel, Darkness Visible, appeared in 1979. It addresses the interdependence of good and evil, exemplified in the two main characters: Sophy, who plots to kidnap a child for ransom, and Matty, who gives his life to prevent it.

Golding's 1984 publication, The Paper Men, was condemned by reviewers as his worst work, partly because the novel seemed to condemn literary critics. The plot concerns an elderly novelist trying to elude a young scholar who wants to write his biography.

One of Golding's most ambitious works is The Sea Trilogy, three full-length novels that follow the emotional education and moral growth of an aristocratic young man named Edmund Talbot during an ocean voyage to Australia in 1812. Rites of Passage (1980) shows Talbot's spiritual growth, Close Quarters (1987) depicts his emotional and aesthetic development, and Fire Down Below (1989) covers his political enlightenment.

Other Work, and Honors and Awards

Golding's work is not limited to fiction: He published three collections of essays which are often comic and expand upon or illuminate his novels. The Hot Gates and Other Occasional Pieces was published in 1966; A Moving Target appeared in 1982; and An Egyptian Journal followed in 1985.

Following the publication of his best-known work, Lord of the Flies, Golding was granted membership in the Royal Society of Literature in 1955. Ten years later, he received the honorary designation Commander of the British Empire (CBE) and was knighted in 1988. His 1980 novel Rites of Passage won the Booker Prize, a prestigious British award. Golding's greatest honor was being awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature.

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