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William Golding

William Golding

The winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in literature, Golding is among the most popular and influential British authors to have emerged after World War II.

Golding's reputation rests primarily upon his acclaimed first novel Lord of the Flies (1954), which he described as "an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature." A moral allegory as well as an adventure tale in the tradition of Daniel Defoe's Robinson Crusoe (1719), R. M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island (1857), and Richard Hughes's A High Wind in Jamaica (1929), Lord of the Flies focuses upon a group of British schoolboys marooned on a tropical island. After having organized themselves upon democratic principles, their society degenerates into primeval barbarism. While often the subject of diverse psychological, sociological, and religious interpretations, Lord of the Flies is consistently regarded as an incisive and disturbing portrayal of the fragility of civilization.

Golding was born in St. Columb Minor in Cornwall, England. He enrolled in Brasenose College, Oxford, in 1930, initially intending to obtain a degree in the sciences. After several years of study, however, he decided to devote himself to the study of English literature. He published a volume of poetry, Poems, in 1934 to scant critical notice; he himself later repudiated the work. Receiving a degree in English in 1935, he worked in various theaters in London, and in 1939 he moved to Salisbury, where he was employed as a schoolteacher. He served five years in the Royal Navy during World War II, an experience that likely helped shape his interest in the theme of barbarism and evil within humanity. Following the war Golding continued to teach and to write fiction. In 1954, his first novel, Lord of the Flies, was published to much critical acclaim in England. He continued to write novels, as well as essays, lectures, and novellas, throughout the next three decades. Most of these works, however, were overshadowed by the popular and critical success of Lord of the Flies.

Golding's Lord of the Flies presents a central theme of his oeuvre: the conflict between the forces of light and dark within the human soul. Although the novel did not gain popularity in the United States until several years after its original publication, it has now become a modern classic, studied in most high schools and colleges. Set sometime in the near future, Lord of the Flies is about a group of schoolboys abandoned on a desert island during a global war. They attempt to establish a government among themselves, but without the restraints of civilization they quickly revert to savagery. Similar in background and characters to Ballantyne's The Coral Island, Lord of the Flies totally reverses Ballantyne's concept of the purity and innocence of youth and humanity's ability to remain civilized under the worst conditions.

While none of Golding's subsequent works achieved the critical success of Lord of the Flies, he continued to produce novels that elicit widespread critical interpretation. Within the thematic context of exploring the depths of human depravity, the settings of Golding's works range from the prehistoric age, as in The Inheritors, (1955), to the Middle Ages, as in The Spire (1964), to contemporary English society. This wide variety of settings, tones, and structures presents dilemmas to critics attempting to categorize them. Nevertheless, certain stylistic devices are characteristic of his work. One of these, the use of a sudden shift of perspective, has been so dramatically employed by Golding that it both enchants and infuriates critics and readers alike. For example, Pincher Martin (1956) is the story of Christopher Martin, a naval officer who is stranded on a rock in the middle of the ocean after his ship has been torpedoed. The entire book relates Martin's struggles to remain alive against all odds. The reader learns in the last few pages that Martin's death occurred on the second page—a fact that transforms the novel from a struggle for earthly survival into a struggle for eternal salvation.

Golding's novels are often termed fables or myths. They are laden with symbols (usually of a spiritual or religious nature) so imbued with meaning that they can be interpreted on many different levels. The Spire, for example, is perhaps his most polished allegorical novel, equating the erecting of a cathedral spire with the protagonist's conflict between his religious faith and the temptations to which he is exposed. Darkness Visible (1979) continues to illuminate the universal confrontation of Good and Evil; Golding was awarded the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for this novel in 1980. Throughout the 1980s Golding's novels, essays, and the travel journal An Egyptian Journal (1985) have received general praise from commentators. Lord of the Flies, however, remains central to Golding's popularity and his international reputation as a major contemporary author.

Further Reading

Allen, Walter, The Modern Novel, Dutton, 1964.

Anderson, David, The Tragic Past, John Knox Press, 1969.

Authors and Artists for Young Adults, Volume 5, Gale, 1991.

Axthelm, Peter M., The Modern Confessional Novel, Yale University Press, 1967.

Babb, Howard S., The Novels of William Golding, Ohio State University Press, 1970.

Baker, James R., William Golding: A Critical Study, St. Martin's, 1965.

Biles, Jack I., Talk: Conversations with William Golding, Harcourt, 1971. □

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Golding, William

William Golding

Born: September 19, 1911
Saint Columb, Cornwall, England
Died: June 19, 1993
Perranarworthal, Cornwall, England

English author

The winner of the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature, William Golding is among the most popular and influential British authors to have emerged in the second half of the twentieth century. Golding's reputation rests primarily upon his first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), which is consistently regarded as an effective and disturbing portrayal of the fragility of civilization.

Childhood and college years

Golding was born in Saint Columb Minor in Cornwall, England, in 1911. His father, Alex, was a schoolmaster, while his mother, Mildred, was active in the Women's Suffrage Movement (the movement for women's right to vote). As a boy, his favorite authors included H. G. Wells (18661946), Jules Verne (18281905), and Edgar Rice Burroughs (18751950). Since the age of seven, Golding had been writing stories, and at the age of twelve he attempted to write a novel.

Golding remained an enthusiastic writer and, upon entering Brasenose College of Oxford University, abandoned his plans to study science, preferring to read English literature. At twenty-two, a year before taking his degree in English, Golding saw his first literary work publisheda poetry collection simply titled Poems.

After graduating from Oxford in 1935, Golding continued the family tradition by becoming a schoolmaster in Salisbury, Wiltshire. His teaching career was interrupted in 1940, however, with the outbreak of World War II (193945). Lieutenant Golding served five years in the British Royal Navy and saw active duty in the North Atlantic, commanding a rocket launching craft.

Lord of the Flies

Golding had enhanced his knowledge of Greek history and mythology by reading while at sea, and when he returned to his post at Bishop Wordsworth's School in 1945, he began furthering his writing career. He wrote three novels, all of which went unpublished. But his frustration would not last long, when, in 1954, Golding created The Lord of the Flies. The novel was rejected by twenty-one publishers before Faber & Faber accepted the forty-three-year-old schoolmaster's book.

Initially, the tale of a group of schoolboys stranded on an island during their escape from war received mixed reviews and sold only modestly in its hardcover edition. But when the paperback edition was published in 1959, thus making the book more accessible to students, the novel began to sell briskly. Teachers, aware of the student interest and impressed by the strong theme and symbolism of the work, began assigning Lord of the Flies to their literature classes. As the novel's reputation grew, critics reacted by drawing scholarly reviews out of what was previously dismissed as just another adventure story.

The author's extremely productive outputfive novels in ten yearsand the high quality of his work established him as one of the late twentieth-century's most distinguished writers. This view of Golding was cemented in 1965, when the author was named a Commander of the British Empire.

Later works

After the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding enjoyed success with other novels, including Pincher Martin (1957), Free Fall (1959), and The Pyramid (1967). The author's creative output then dropped drastically. He produced no novels and only a handful of novellas (short novels), short stories, and other occasional pieces.

In 1979 Golding returned with the publi cation of Darkness Visible which received mixed reviews. The author faced his harshest criticism to date with the publication of his 1984 novel The Paper Men, a drama about an aging, suc cessful novelist's conflicts with his pushy, over-bearing biographer. Departing briefly from fic tion, Golding wrote a book containing essays, reviews, and lectures. A Moving Target appeared in 1982, one year prior to the author's receipt of the Nobel Prize in Literature.

William Golding died in England in 1993. A year after his death, The Double Tongue was released, published from a manu script Golding completed before he died.

For More Information

Carey, John, ed. William Golding: The Man and His Books; a Tribute on His 75th Birthday. New York: Farrar, Straus, Giroux, 1987.

Friedman, Lawrence S. William Golding. New York: Continuum, 1993.

Gindin, James. William Golding. New York: St. Martin's Press, 1988.

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Golding, William

William Golding (Sir William Gerald Golding), 1911–93, English novelist, grad. Oxford (B.A. 1934). Praised for his highly imaginative and original writings, Golding was basically concerned with the realm of ideas, the eternal nature of humanity, and the immaterial, spiritual aspects of the world. In the work that brought him literary fame, the allegorical and, especially with adolescents, extremely popular Lord of the Flies (1954, film 1963), he described the nightmarish adventures of a group of English schoolboys stranded on a deserted island and traced their degeneration from a state of innocence to blood lust and savagery. His later works include The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1956), Free Fall (1959), The Spire (1964), The Pyramid (1967), The Scorpion God (1971), Darkness Visible (1979), and a maritime trilogy: Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989). Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983 and was knighted in 1988.

See J. I. Biles, Talk: Conversations with William Golding (1970); biography by J. Carey (2010); studies by H. S. Babb (1970), V. Tiger (1974), J. I. Biles and R. O. Evans, ed. (1978), A. Johnston (1980), J. Briggs. ed. (1985), N. Page, ed. (1985), P. Redpath (1986), B. F. Dick (rev. ed. 1987), J. R. Baker, ed. (1988), S. J. Boyd (1988), J. Cary (1989), K. McCarron (1994 and 1995), H. Bloom, ed. (1996, repr. 2010), A. Hollinger (2000), I. Gregor and M. Kinkead-Weekes (rev. ed. 2002), and Y. Sugimura (2008).

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Golding, Sir William Gerald

Golding, Sir William Gerald (1911–93) English novelist. He achieved fame with his allegorical debut novel, Lord of the Flies (1954). Other novels include The Spire (1964) and the trilogy The Ends of the Earth (1991), which incorporates the Booker Prize-winning Rites of Passage (1980). He received the 1983 Nobel Prize in literature.

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