When William Golding was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, the Nobel Foundation cited: “…his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in the world of today”. Along with writing twelve novels in his lifetime, Golding also wrote essays and reviews, several essays, some poems, plays, and a travel book about Egypt. The novel for which he is most famous is acclaimed classic Lord of the Flies, which I’ll review tomorrow. Save the date: October 1!
Born in 1911 in England, Golding was raised in a 14th-century house next door to a graveyard. He attended Marlborough Grammar School, where his father worked as a schoolteacher. His mother was an active suffragette who fought for women’s right to vote.
A frustrated child, he found an outlet in bullying his peers. According to Notable Biographies, William would later in life describe his childhood self as a brat, even going so far as to say, “I enjoyed hurting people.”
Since the age of seven, Golding had been writing stories, and at the age of twelve he attempted to write a novel. His favorite authors in his youth included H. G. Wells, Jules Verne , and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Many of his attempts at other works still exist in manuscript or typescript. The William Golding website notes that he seems to have known from childhood that he wanted to be a writer.
He enrolled at Brasenose College, Oxford to study Natural Sciences. Biography shares that Golding’s father hoped he would become a scientist, but Golding remained an enthusiastic writer, and changed his major to English Literature after two years. In 1934, he received his B.A honors in English Literature, as well as saw his first literary work published. The collection of poems was largely overlooked by critics.
Following graduation, Golding worked in settlement houses and the theater for a time. He also married Ann Brookfield who was an analytical chemist. They had two children. A year after their marriage, Golding followed in his father’s footsteps by becoming a schoolmaster. His experience teaching unruly young boys, observes Biography, would later serve as inspiration for his novel Lord of the Flies.
The outbreak of World War II interrupted Golding’s teaching career. He served five years in the British Royal Navy, during which time he fought battleships at the sinking of the Bismarck, fended off submarines and planes, and even commanded a rocket launching craft. Except for a seven-month stint in New York, where he assisted Lord Cherwell at the Naval Research Establishment, Golding spent the better part of this military years on a boat. Biography shares that this led to a lifelong romance with sailing and the sea.
Like his teaching experience, Golding’s participation in the war would prove to be fruitful material for his fiction. Biography offers this quote from Golding about his World War II experiences, “I began to see what people were capable of doing. Anyone who moved through those years without understanding that man produces evil as a bee produces honey, must have been blind or wrong in the head.”
With the end of the war, Golding resumed his teaching career. Nearly a decade later, and after twenty-one rejections, Golding also published his first and most acclaimed novel. Initially, Lord of the Flies received mixed reviews and sold only modestly in its hardcover edition. When the paperback edition was published in 1959, believes Notable Biographies, the novel began to sell briskly because of its accessibility to students. Teachers 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.
In 1963, resigned his teaching post, having decided to devote all his time to his writing career. Golding spent the rest of the years as a writer in residence at Hollins College in Virginia. The year after Golding retired from teaching, Peter Brook made a film adaptation of the critically acclaimed novel. Then again, in 1990, a new film version of the Lord of the Flies brought the book to the attention of a new generation of readers.
After the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding wrote eleven other novels. He also wrote short fiction, plays, essays, and a travel book. Golding also had some works that were unpublished. These included an account of the D-Day training whilst sailing on the south coast of London. At the age of 73, Golding was awarded the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature. In 1988 he was knighted by England’s Queen Elizabeth II. The Times included him in the list of ‘The 50 Greatest British Writers since 1945’.
Golding spent the last few years of his life quietly living with his wife at their house near Cornwall, where he continued to toil at his writing, until dying of a heart attack in 1993. A year after his death, The Double Tongue was released, published from a manuscript Golding completed before he died. At his death, Golding left behind numerous volumes of daily journals, recording his innermost thoughts and trying out all kinds of ideas.