Sir William Gerald Golding (19 September 1911 – 19 June 1993) was a British novelist, playwright, and poet. Best known for his novel Lord of the Flies, he won a Nobel Prize in Literature and was awarded the Booker Prize for fiction in 1980 for his novel Rites of Passage, the first book in what became his sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth.
Brasenose College, Oxford offers a non-stipendiary William Golding Fellowship in the Arts, Humanities, and Social Sciences.
William Golding was born in his grandmother’s house, 47 Mount Wise, Newquay,Cornwall. The house was known as Karenza, the Cornish language word for love, and he spent many childhood holidays there. He grew up in Marlborough, Wiltshire, where his father (Alec Golding) was a science master at Marlborough Grammar School (1905 to retirement), the school the young Golding and his elder brother Joseph attended. His mother, Mildred (Curnoe), kept house at 29, The Green, Marlborough, and was a campaigner for female suffrage. Golding’s mother, who was Cornish and whom he considered “a superstitious celt“, used to tell him old Cornish fairy tales from her own childhood. In 1930 Golding went to Brasenose College, Oxford, where he read Natural Sciences for two years before transferring to English Literature.
Golding took his B.A. degree with Second Class Honours in the summer of 1934, and later that year a book of his Poems was published by Macmillan & Co, with the help of his Oxford friend, the anthroposophist Adam Bittleston.
He was a schoolmaster teaching English & music at Maidstone Grammar School 1938 – 1940 and then teaching Philosophy and English in 1939, then just English from 1945 to 1961 at Bishop Wordsworth’s School, Salisbury, Wiltshire.
Marriage and family
Golding married Ann Brookfield (1913 – 1995), an analytical chemist,(p161) on 30 September 1939. They had two children, David (born 1940) and Judith (born July, 1945).
During World War II, Golding joined the Royal Navy in 1940. He served in a destroyer which was briefly involved in the pursuit and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. He also participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day, commanding a landing ship that fired salvoes of rockets onto the beaches, and was in action at Walcheren in which 23 out of 24 assault craft were sunk.
In 1985, Golding and his wife moved to Tullimaar House at Perranarworthal, near Truro, Cornwall. He died of heart failure eight years later on 19 June 1993. His body was buried in the parish churchyard of Bowerchalke, Wiltshire (near the Hampshire and Dorset county border).
In September 1953, after many rejections from other publishers, Golding sent a manuscript to Faber & Faber and was initially rejected by their reader. His book, however, was championed by Charles Monteith, a new editor at the firm. Monteith asked for some changes to the text and the novel was published in September 1954 as Lord of the Flies.
After moving in 1958 from Salisbury to nearby Bowerchalke, he met his fellow villager and walking companion James Lovelock. The two discussed Lovelock’s hypothesis, that the living matter of the planet Earth functions like a single organism, and Golding suggested naming this hypothesis after Gaia, the goddess of the earth in Greek mythology. His publishing success made it possible for Golding to resign his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in 1961, and he spent that academic year in the United States as writer-in-residence at Hollins College, near Roanoke, Virginia.
Golding won the James Tait Black Memorial Prize in 1979, and the Booker Prize in 1980. In 1983 he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, and was according to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography “an unexpected and even contentious choice”.
In 1988 Golding was appointed a Knight Bachelor. In September 1993, only a few months after his sudden death, the First International William Golding Conference was held in France, where Golding’s presence had been promised and was eagerly expected.
Despite his success, Golding “was abnormally thin-skinned when it came to criticism of his work. He simply could not read even the mildest reservation and on occasion left the country when his books were published.”
His first novel, Lord of the Flies (1954; film, 1963 and 1990; play, adapted by Nigel Williams, 1995), describes a group of boys stranded on a tropical island reverting to savagery. The Inheritors (1955) shows “new people” (generally identified with Homo sapiens sapiens), triumphing over a gentler race (generally identified with Neanderthals) by deceit and violence. His 1956 novel Pincher Martin records the thoughts of a drowning sailor. Free Fall (1959) explores the issue of free choice as a prisoner held in solitary confinement in a German POW camp during World War Two looks back over his life. The Spire (1964) follows the building (and near collapse) of a huge spire onto a medieval cathedral (generally assumed to be Salisbury Cathedral); the spire symbolizing both spiritual aspiration and worldly vanity.
In his 1967 novel The Pyramid three separate stories in a shared setting (a small English town in the 1920s) are linked by a narrator, and The Scorpion God (1971) consists of three novellas, the first set in a prehistoric African hunter-gatherer band (‘Clonk, Clonk’), the second in an ancient Egyptian court (‘The Scorpion God’) and the third in the court of a Roman emperor (‘Envoy Extraordinary’). The last of these reworks his 1958 play The Brass Butterfly. His later novels include Darkness Visible (1979), which is about a terrorist group, a paedophile teacher, and a mysterious angel-like figure who survives a fire in the Blitz, The Paper Men (1984) which is about the conflict between a writer and his biographer, and a sea trilogy To the Ends of the Earth, which includes the Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989), the first book of which (originally intended as a stand-alone novel) won the Booker Prize.
[tabby title=”List of Works”]
- Poems (1934)
- The Brass Butterfly (1958)
- Lord of the Flies (1954)
- The Inheritors (1955)
- Pincher Martin (1956)
- Free Fall (1959)
- The Spire (1964)
- The Pyramid (1967)
- The Scorpion God (1971)
- Darkness Visible (1979)
- The Paper Men (1984)
- To the Ends of the Earth (trilogy)
- The Double Tongue (posthumous publication 1995)
- Seahorse was written in 1948. It is a biographical account of sailing on the south coast of England whilst in training for D-Day.
- Circle Under the Sea is an adventure novel about a writer who sails to discover archaeological treasures off the coast of the Scilly Isles.
- Short Measure is a novel set in a British boarding school.