Golding, William (Vol. 2)
Golding, William 1911–
A British novelist, often of cosmic proportions, Golding is best known for Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors, and The Spire. See also William Golding Criticism (Volume 1), and Volumes 3, 8, 10, 17, 27.
It hardly seems an accident that Golding began his career as a poet; his first published work was a volume of verse. His novels all develop what for want of a better description we may call the structure of fantasy. They are suspended with considerable uncertainty in space and time; they are all in one way or another parables or fables; and they have become progressively internal and lyrical. Golding's prose is strenuous, compact, angular, extremely oblique and elliptical….
[Golding's novels] are rigorously organized and heavily controlled: they vex the reader with little that is gratuitous. Whatever freedom or spontaneity may be discovered in them resembles the freedom we find in a dramatic poem—it is the result of a deftly executed conception, refers dialectically to that conception, and if it is successful ultimately subserves and enriches it. In Golding's novels there is scarcely a local touch or detail of prose which does not perform humble service toward this proud and absolute end. When Coleridge objected to Wordsworth's "matter-of-factness" and "accidentality" as contravening the essence of poetry, he implied that these were the qualities of a writer of prose, a biographer or novelist. Golding's novels escape these strictures: so that makes him more of a poet than Wordsworth, though less of a novelist….
Golding is perhaps the first English novelist to use with entire naturalness the findings and doctrines of modern anthropology and psychoanalysis; they have been thoroughly assimilated to his vision of experience. They function, however, in poetic terms and not as ideas….
Lord of the Flies is Golding's most "novelistic" work of fiction. It is also the only recent novel of imaginative originality that I am aware of which implies that society, insane and self-destroying as it undeniably is, is necessary. Despite its striking freshness and seriousness, however, Golding's notion of society, in this novel and in his others, is rudimentary, restricted, and strangely abstract. In Golding's novels society as we know it is largely an idea, a confused memory recollected in the midst of catastrophe; while the pre-social and the post-social have become the paramount actualities.
Steven Marcus, "The Novel Again," in Partisan Review (copyright © 1962 by Partisan Review, Inc.), Spring, 1962.
Each of [Golding's] first three [novels] demonstrates the use of unusual and striking literary devices. Each is governed by a massive metaphorical structure—a man clinging for survival to a rock in the Atlantic Ocean or an excursion into the mind of man's evolutional antecedent—designed to assert something permanent and significant about human nature. The metaphors are intensive, far-reaching; they permeate all the details and events of the novels. Yet at the end of each novel the metaphors, unique and striking as they are, turn into "gimmicks," into clever tricks that shift the focus or the emphasis of the novel as a whole. And, in each instance, the "gimmick" seems to work against the novel, to contradict or to limit the range of reference and meaning that Golding has already established metaphorically. The turn from metaphor to "gimmick" (and "gimmick" is the word that Golding himself has applied to his own endings) raises questions concerning the unity and, perhaps more important, the meaning of the novels….
In each novel the final "gimmick" provides a twist that, in one way or another, palliates the force and the unity of the original metaphor. In each instance Golding seems to be backing down from the implications of the metaphor itself, never really contradicting the metaphor, but adding a twist that makes the metaphor less sure, less permanently applicable. The metaphors are steered away from what would seem to be their...
(The entire section is 4,366 words.)