William Golding began writing Lord of the Flies in 1951, while he was a teacher at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury. After the manuscript had been rejected by a number of leading publishing houses, Golding finally sent the tatty typescript to Faber & Faber, together with an accompanying letter. It had already been rejected by the firm’s reader when it was spotted by a new and aspiring editor, one Charles Monteith, who was allowed by the firm to take it on, provided significant cuts were made. These were made by Golding, after extensive correspondence with Monteith. Given a new title, Lord of the Flies, it became one of the most iconic novels of the 20th century.
A fascinating new Literary Pursuits programme was aired on BBC Radio 3 this week, exploring the story behind the publication of Lord of the Flies. We have assembled a few pieces from the Faber archive and the William Golding Estate to illustrate this programme, which you can catch up on here.
Letters exchanged between Golding and Faber & Faber
William Golding to Faber & Faber, 14 September 1953
William Golding’s original submission letter for Lord of the Flies, then named Strangers From Within. It was annotated by the Faber Reader at the time: ‘Time: the Future. Absurd & uninteresting fantasy about the explosion of an atom bomb on the colonies. A group of children who land in jungle country near New Guinea. Rubbish & dull. Pointless. Reject.’
Charles Monteith to William Golding, 30 December 1953
Monteith’s letter to Golding at the end of 1953 contains his thoughts on the characterisation of Simon.
William Golding to Charles Monteith, 10 January 1954
In response to the last letter, Golding sends through the final text and confirms he has incorporated all of Monteith’s edits: ‘I’ve lost any kind of objectivity I ever had over this novel and can hardly bear to look at it.’
Charles Monteith to William Golding, 25 February 1954
Monteith’s letter to Golding suggesting various edits to the text, including the new title suggestion of Lord of the Flies, which was already part of an important episode in the story.
Alternative titles for Lord of the Flies, 19 February 1954
Lord of the Flies comes to the big screen
William Golding and Peter Brook, director of the film Lord of the Flies, Cannes Film Festival, 1963
Lord of the Flies was first made into a film in 1963, written and directed by Peter Brook, and produced by Lewis M. Allen.
Photo Credit: Tom Hollyman
Golding’s lifelong relationship with Lord of the Flies
Golding continued to reflect on the publication of Lord of the Flies twenty years on from its release, seen here in the following extracts taken from his journal:
Wednesday 22 December 1971
A dream in which I turn up an old letter from Charles Monteith. In it he says that
‘despondently’ none of the alterations I have made to the typescript of Lord of the
Flies leads him to believe I shall ever make anything of it.
Thursday 6 June 1974
Twenty years after writing Lord Of The Flies, I now see that Ralph who weeps for the end of
innocence, the darkness of man’s heart, was weeping for an age that is passing. Seen from the
other side, the heart of man is not dark, but flamelit and terrible. Perhaps then Jack and his
hunters had the heart of the matter after all.
All journal extracts Copyright © William Golding Limited. All rights reserved.
If you would like to read more on this subject, please see Faber & Faber: The Untold Story by Toby Faber and William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies by John Carey.