Born in Cornwall, England, in 1911, William Gerald Golding grew up to become one of the most celebrated British authors of the twentieth century. Best known for his classic novel Lord of the Flies, Golding earned a Booker Prize, a knighthood, and the 1983 Nobel Prize in Literature for his work. Written primarily in the devastating aftermath of World War II, Golding’s literary contributions are notable and unflinching examinations of mankind’s eternal struggle between order and chaos, civilization and barbarism, and good and evil.
William Golding’s father was a science professor at Marlborough Grammar School, while his mother was a participant in the women’s suffrage movement. Brought up by educated parents, Golding spent part of his childhood being educated in his father’s own school. Even at a young age, Golding was interested in writing; he first attempted to write a novel at the age of twelve. Though his parents hoped that he would one day become a scientist, Golding studied science for only two years at Oxford University before switching over to English literature. Golding’s first work, a book of poetry titled Poems, was published shortly before his graduation from Oxford. After graduating in 1935, Golding spent a few years acting and directing for various theater companies. He then took a post teaching English and philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Wiltshire. Golding’s years spent teaching young British schoolboys helped inspire his famous novel Lord of the Flies. In 1939, Golding married a chemist named Anne Brookfield, with whom he would go on to have two children. Despite his passion for teaching, Golding joined the Royal Navy shortly after the beginning of World War II.
While in the Royal Navy, Golding was involved in several battles, including the chase and sinking of the German battleship Bismarck. He was also commander of a landing ship during the invasion of Normandy Beach on D-Day. Golding’s time in the war undoubtedly affected his writing by exposing him to man’s inherent capacity for evil and barbarism, a recurrent theme in his work. Golding once remarked on his experiences in World War II: “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.” His tenure in the navy also fostered his lifelong passion for the sea, which likely helped to inspire his award-winning sea trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth. When the war ended in 1945, Golding left the navy and returned to teaching.
In 1954, Golding published his first novel, Lord of the Flies. Though it was initially rejected by over twenty publishers (including Faber & Faber), a new editor at Faber & Faber thought the book showed promise and pushed it through to publication. While his passion for literature quickly eclipsed his academic interest in science, Golding’s science background can be seen in many of his works, including Lord of the Flies. Through the novel, Golding attempts to discern man’s true nature by conducting an experiment: what will happen if a group of proper British schoolboys is removed from society and left unsupervised on an island? In many ways, this novel was Golding’s response to the optimism and colonialism of R. M. Ballantyne’s The Coral Island. Though both books follow a similar premise, Golding deliberately challenges the morality of The Coral Island by depicting a group of boys who, rather than triumphing over evil, find that evil lurks within themselves. With its heavy symbolism and unapologetic exploration of the inherent evils of mankind, Lord of the Flies soon became a classroom staple and, today, is regularly studied in schools and universities across the globe. By 1962, Golding had written three more books, and his literary successes enabled him to resign from teaching to write full time.
Over the next few decades, Golding wrote several acclaimed novels, including the Booker Prize–winning Rites of Passage. Lord...
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