Summary (Masterplots II: British and Commonwealth Fiction Series)
The hero of William Golding’s The Spire, Jocelin, is the dean of a large cathedral and designer of a monumental spire which is to be built atop his church. Set in fourteenth century England and narrated through Jocelin’s own consciousness, the novel concerns Jocelin’s attempt to construct the four-hundred-foot spire with the help of his master builder, Roger Mason — an impossible task, since the church’s foundations rest on a marsh and its pillars are made of rubble. Jocelin is convinced, however, that the building of the spire is an act of faith, a “diagram of the highest prayer of all.” He forces the raising of the spire despite the fact that this act destroys himself and the four “pillars” of the church, representing the other main characters of the novel and the most important people in Jocelin’s life. As a result of this process, Roger Mason becomes a drunkard and a suicide after having been compelled to oversee the maniacal construction of the spire; his wife, Rachel, becomes a troubled, shrewish woman consumed by the demands of her alcoholic husband. Pangall, the caretaker, dies in a riot caused by a group of dissatisfied construction workers who superstitiously make him a scapegoat for their troubles; Pangall’s wife, Goody, whom Jocelin has more or less prostituted to Mason in an attempt to keep him working on the spire, dies as she gives birth to Mason’s child. Jocelin himself, who knows full well that the construction of the spire is responsible for these broken lives but who ignores the fact, is demoted by his superior because he has neglected his congregation and bankrupted his church in order to realize his “act of faith.” Eventually, he dies from consumption, sick and deluded after going through the ordeal of willing the spire into existence.