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With his examinations of humanity's baser nature, novelist William Golding was regarded as one of the greatest authors of the 20th century. Following studies at Oxford's Brasenose College and years of harrowing duty during World War II, Golding published his first novel, Lord of the Flies in 1954. A dark allegory of mankind's propensity for evil, it established him as a literary icon and became required reading in classrooms around the world. He later imagined a pivotal moment in human evolution with the novel The Inheritors in 1955 and plumbed the deepest recesses of a man's psyche in the 1956 survival tale Pincher Martin. With his list of works and reputation growing, Golding reached an even wider audience via director Peter Brook's acclaimed feature adaptation of "Lord of the Flies" (1963). After a pair of novels in the mid-'60s, Golding experienced a period of writer's block for much of the next decade, until he returned with the James Tait Black Memorial Prize-winning Darkness Visible (1979). Reinvigorated, Golding soon followed with Rites of Passage, which earned him the 1980 Nobel Prize for Literature and began his epic To the Ends of the Earth trilogy. A decade later, his most famous work, "Lord of the Flies" (1990) was filmed once again, while the ambitious miniseries "To the Ends of the Earth" (PBS, 2005) proved an admirable adaptation of his epic trilogy. A generation later, Golding's dark fables of human frailty still held the power to provoke and entertain.
William Gerald Golding was born on Sept. 19, 1911 in the seaside village of Newquay, Cornwall, England to parents Mildred and Alec Golding. Raised in a household of forward thinkers, Golding's mother was a vocal supporter of women's suffrage and his socialist father a steadfast believer in scientific rationalism. In his youth, Golding was educated at Marlborough Grammar School, where his father taught science and later became senior master. Although he had begun to write poetry and fiction as early as age 12, Golding initially followed in his father's footsteps, studying Natural Sciences when he first entered Oxford University's Brasenose College in 1930. Two years later, however, his love of story won out, prompting Golding to change his major to English Literature, and earned his degree in 1934. At the urging of a friend, Golding published his first book of poetry, simply titled Poems, in the fall of 1935 and began teaching at the Michael Hall School in South London. Two years later, Golding returned to Oxford to study for his Diploma in Education and worked periodically with a small theater company as an actor and writer for the next two years.
The year 1928 began with Golding teaching at Bishop Wordsworth's School, Salisbury, and by the summer, he had passed his exams at Oxford and gone on to accept a teaching post at Maidstone Grammar School. There he met Ann Brookfield, an analytical chemist, who he married in 1939, shortly after Britain officially entered the Second World War. In the spring of 1940, Golding returned to Bishop Wordsworth's in a new teaching position and relocated to a cottage in the nearby village of Bowerchalke, where he and Ann welcomed a son, David, in September of that year. With the war growing ever nearer his doorstep in December of 1940, Golding - recently married and a new father - joined the Royal Navy. His years of wartime service were eventful, to say the least, and his experiences during this period would irrevocably shape his perception of the world. Initial duties found Golding serving onboard the cruiser HMS Galatea and taking part in the hunt for the legendary German battleship the Bismarck in the North Atlantic. After spending a year at various posts back in England, Golding requested to be returned to the sea, where he later helped transport U.S. manufactured minesweepers back across the Atlantic. Following a period of specialized training, Golding commanded landing crafts during the D-Day landings in 1944 and again at the invasion of the Belgian island of Walcheren during the final phase of the brutal Battle of the Scheldt in the Netherlands.
In the summer of 1945, Golding's second child, Diana, was born and by the fall of that year he was officially discharged from the Navy. Soon thereafter he returned to Bishop Wordsworth's to resume his teaching duties and later relocated his small family to a home in Salisbury. Following several years of focusing primarily on his teaching duties, Golding began to write his first novel in 1952, tentatively titled Strangers from Within. Inspired by an incident he had witnessed during one of his earlier tours of duty as an instructor, it was the tale of a group of English schoolboys stranded on an idyllic deserted island. Lacking any adult supervision, the established rules of societal behavior soon break down and the children quickly fall into a savage, animalistic game of survival and subjugation. After his manuscript was rejected nearly two dozen times by various publishing houses, the novel was finally accepted by Faber and Faber and published as Lord of the Flies in 1954. An allegory for mankind's propensity for evil, the book sold only moderately well - in the United States it had gone out of print by 1955 - until word of mouth in the U.K. and critical praise led to a best-selling 1959 paperback edition. Within a few short years, Lord of the Flies would become a mainstay on college campuses worldwide and required reading at many U.S. high schools.
In the meantime, Golding had been hard at work on his second novel, The Inheritors. Released in 1955 and later regarded by the author as his personal favorite, the novel was a keenly imagined chronicle of one of Earth's last Neanderthal tribes and the more evolved Homo sapiens who supplant them by means both innocent and malevolent. Golding followed quickly with 1956's survivalist tale Pincher Martin, in which the eponymous naval officer suddenly finds himself alone and stranded on a desolate islet in the North Atlantic. Golding returned to his days in the theater with the original play "The Brass Butterfly." Based on the earlier short story "Envoy Extraordinary," it starred revered British actor Alistair Sim and opened in Oxford before enjoying a month-long run in London. With his fourth novel, Free Fall (1959), Golding inhabited the confused mind of a prisoner of war, a successful but unhappy painter who, while detained in a pitch black storage room, contemplates the twists of fate that cost him his freedom. Soon after the book's release, Golding and his wife traveled to the U.S. and in 1961 he resigned from Bishop Wordsworth's in order to devout his energies to writing fulltime as a writer-in-residence at Virginia's Hollins College.
Golding's fame reached new heights when director Peter Brook adapted "Lord of the Flies" (1963) into a feature film. Photographed in stark black and white and comprised by a cast of unknown youngsters, the film met with nearly universal praise, further cementing the author's growing reputation. However, after delivering the novels The Spire (1964) and The Pyramid (1967) as well as the novella The Scorpion God (1971), Golding entered a prolonged period of writer's block. Throughout much of the following decade, he kept a journal of his experiences and attempts to write during this frustrating time. In 1979, Golding returned with the novel Darkness Visible, a pair of complex tales focusing on a disfigured boy whose innate goodness raises him above his horrific childhood and a beautiful girl whose inner decay leads to madness. A tour de force from a writer not heard from in nearly a decade, the novel won Golding the James Tait Black Memorial Prize for literature. The following year he released Rites of Passage (1980), a novel that would later evolve into the first part of the To the Ends of the Earth trilogy. The journal of a 19th century English aristocrat on a sea journey to Australia, it concerned itself with such familiar Golding themes as class division and man's reversion to his baser instincts when faced with prolonged isolation. Rites of Passage was awarded the Man Booker Prize that year, an honor exceeded only by Golding's being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1983. An idiosyncratic tale of a curmudgeonly writer and the antagonistic relationship with his obsessed, would-be biographer, Golding's The Paper Men was published in 1984. The writer then returned to his To the Ends of the Earth trilogy with 1987's Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below in 1989, further documenting the protagonist's increasingly perilous journey to Australia.
Yet another honor was bestowed upon Golding by his country when he was made a Knight Bachelor by Queen Elizabeth II in 1988. Sir Golding's seminal novel was adapted for the screen once again as "Lord of the Flies" (1990). Filmed in sumptuous color and taking more liberties with the original text that its 1963 predecessor had, the film starred newcomer Balthazar Getty as the well-intentioned leader Ralph. And while it performed reasonably well in theaters, the majority of critics felt Golding's grim fable had been needlessly updated, losing much of its impact in the process. After having a malignant melanoma removed near the end of 1992, Golding began work on a new novel in January of the following year. Six months later, the 81-year-old author died of heart failure on June 19, 1993 at his home, the 19th century mansion Tullimaar House, in Perranarworthal, Cornwall. Golding's final novel The Double Tongue was published posthumously in the summer of 1995, six months after the passing of his wife of 54 years, Ann Golding. A decade later, his seafaring trilogy was adapted as the three-part miniseries "To the Ends of the Earth" (PBS, 2005), starring British actor Benedict Cumberbatch as the seafaring aristocrat, Edmund Talbot.By Bryce P. Coleman
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