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Was Lord of the Flies author a rapist?

August 17, 2009

William Golding

Sir William Golding, whose novel Lord of the Flies has been a scourge to generations of high school and college students, is exposed as a would-be rapist of a 15-year-old girl in a new biography to be published in Britain next week.

He’s also shown as a drunk who cultivated a “monstrous” personal persona even to his own wife. As a young school teacher, he intentionally fostered antagonisms among the boys in his charge so he could observe how they reacted.

Before I go on with this tawdry tale of literary mischief, let me say that Golding, who won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983, is among the most overrated authors of the 20th century. Forced to read The Lord of the Flies as a high school freshman, I could not have told you why I disliked it so much.

But when I returned to it 20 years later, I saw at once that it is the worst kind of literary claptrap, a heavy-handed bit of machinery driven by symbolism rather than character or story, its purpose not to interrogate the human condition but to hammer home a few simple-minded points about how thin the veneer of civilization, how quickly we return to savagery, blah blah.

An insult to savages everywhere, The Lord of the Flies and its message would be news only to those who have not paid attention to the course of Western civilization over, oh, the past 5,000 years. Indeed, this is one of those books beloved not by readers but by teachers, who find its symbology easier to teach than the things that really matter in good literature.

No doubt John Carey, author of William Golding: The Man Who Wrote The Lord of the Flies, would disagree. A distinguished literary critic and Emeritus Merton Professor of English at Oxford University, he is certainly no bottom feeder like Kitty Kelly or Albert Goldman. As reported in yesterday’s Sunday London Times, Carey found the rape story, and other disagreeable revelations, in an unpublished memoir and other papers left behind by Golding, who died in 1993 at age 81.

As Kathryn Hughes notes in a perceptive Guardian books blog, however, Golding was only 18 when he “attacked” the 15-year-old girl. She wonders whether what happened 80 years ago in a rural English field was at all what we would call rape today: “Could it not, instead, be better described as a botched seduction scene which took place between two teenagers living at a time when sexual knowledge was something you had to acquire unofficially, often in fear and loathing?”

Clearly Golding was deeply committed to an image of himself as a monster. As Hughes points out, he gave Carey the unpublished memoir in full knowledge its contents would come out after his death: “This raises the interesting possibility that Golding was secretly keen to be shown to posterity as a bit of an animal.” It could all be a ploy, she suggests, to enhance the authenticity of Golding’s work by showing the “savage soul” lurking “beneath he meek and mild outer facade of the Nobel laureate and Booker prize winner.”

William Golding, attempting to manipulate his readers from beyond the grave, just as he manipulates them in his novels.

And don’t we all know, at this late date, that people do not drink too much because they are monsters, as Golding apparently prefers we believe, but instead behave monstrously because they drink too much? Discuss among yourselves.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. August 17, 2009 4:01 pm

    Well, Piggy was sort of fun to dislike.

  2. rachel permalink
    August 18, 2009 12:03 pm

    I didn’t like Lord of the Flies either. And I completely agree: “Indeed, this is one of those books beloved not by readers but by teachers, who find its symbology easier to teach than the things that really matter in good literature.” That seems to be what teaching literature means in high school anyway. It’s all about the symbolism, and more often than not they tell you exactly what it is and exactly how to interpret it.

    An insult to savages everywhere, nice.

    This whole business about him being a rapist seems is almost as annoying as reading Lord of the Flies. I find it very disturbing, and not all that interesting, that he wanted everyone to view him as a monster. The dark part of his persona, and because of this controversial accusation it gets people talking about him, and as you mentioned is just another way for him to force symbolism on us from the grave! Oh what will they say in English classes now when they read Lord of the Flies and they can talk about the “savage soul” of the author?

    (ack- don’t they realize that so very overly obvious symbolism can never be good?).

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