William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies, is widely acknowledged as one of the most influential writers of modern times.
Lord of the Flies, his first novel, has been read by millions, translated into more than forty-five languages, and adapted for screen and stage drama. He drew on his own experience as a teacher and his service in the Second World War, where – as he says – he saw ‘what one man could do to another’. In the novel a group of schoolboys emerge from a plane crash on an idyllic tropical island. There are no adults, and they must survive on their own. The ensuing events continue to grip new readers every day, and the story has entered popular cultures all over the world.
William Golding then wrote a series of remarkable novels on such wide-ranging subjects as the last days of the Neanderthals (The Inheritors), the life-and-death struggles of an anti-hero (Pincher Martin), and the moral cost of making a work of art (The Spire). His settings are as diverse as post-war London (Darkness Visible) and ancient Greece (The Double Tongue). In his sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth, he takes the reader on an early nineteenth-century voyage to Australia, displaying a flair for adventure and comedy, as well as offering a profound analysis of class and sexuality. Rites of Passage, the first novel of the sea trilogy, won the Booker Prize in 1980.
A committed writer all his life, William Golding wrote twelve novels, short stories, a play, two essay volumes, and a travel journal, as well as a volume of poetry published when he was still a student. At his death, he left over a million words of unpublished journals and notebooks. His at times tumultuous personal life and its relationship to his work were detailed in a biography by Oxford professor John Carey, and in a memoir by his daughter Judy, both published by Faber.
William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1983 and knighted in 1988.
Born in Newquay in 1911, William Golding lived much of his life in Wiltshire near the cathedral city of Salisbury. In 1985 he and his wife Ann, his first and most trusted reader, moved back to Cornwall. He died there at his home outside Truro in 1993.
‘[Lord of the Flies] was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands – strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat. It said to me, “This is not just entertainment; it’s life or death.” ’
‘[William Golding’s novels] with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today.’
‘The total effect [of The Inheritors] is beautiful, powerful, objective. But its real impact derives from the story’s vitality as a symbol – a visionary dream projected from a calamity which is happening at this moment, in the inner life of the reader, before and during and after his reading.’
‘[The Spire] could only have been written by a man who himself felt viscerally the dark powers of religious feeling. Like the spire itself, it is a testimony to the irresistible power of the imagination.’
‘Bluntly, we face two problems: either we blow ourselves off the face of the earth or we degrade the fertility of the earth, bit by bit, until we have ruined it.’
‘What a man does defiles him, not what is done by others.’
‘The Lord of the Flies spoke in the voice of a schoolmaster . . . “I’m warning you. I’m going to get waxy. D’you see? You’re not wanted. Understand? We are going to have fun on this island.”’
‘At last they saw the new people face to face and in sunlight. They were incomprehensibly strange.’
‘Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man . . . It is possible that today I believe something of the same again; but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another.’
Why didn’t William Golding include girls in Lord of the Flies?
Golding said that he only included boys because, as a teacher, and having been a boy himself, he understood and knew them ‘with awful precision’. He felt that girls would have been much better at building a civilisation.
How did Golding’s experiences in the Second World War influence his writing?
The Second World War profoundly influenced Golding's writing, especially in Lord of the Flies and Free Fall. He wrote that the war made him understand that ‘man produces evil as a bee produces honey.’
Which of his novels was Golding’s favourite?
Golding’s favourite among his novels was The Inheritors, published in 1955.
What are the key themes in William Golding’s novels?
Golding’s novels are all very different but each book examines the human condition, tracing the impact of class, sexuality, politics and ambition. Golding writes about civilisation, innocence, madness, religion and desire. In genre terms, the books range from the tragic to the comic, from the historical to the future.
Were any of William Golding’s novels based on real life?
There are certainly autobiographical traces in his work. His novel The Paper Men features a writer who is particularly famous for one book. The Pyramid re-imagines some of his early life. His father is the basis for a character in Free Fall.
Which writers did William Golding admire?
Golding was particularly interested in ancient Greek literature, especially Homer. He also admired Jane Austen, Iris Murdoch and the Romantic poets.