William Golding
William Golding


Early life

Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in St. Columb Minor, Cornwall, England. He showed an active interest in writing even as a child. Though his family later moved from Cornwall, he studied the Cornish language as a young man.

His father was a local school master and intellectual, who held radical convictions in politics and a strong faith in science. His mother, Mildred, was a supporter of the British Suffrage movement. The family moved to Marlborough and Golding attended Marlborough Grammar School. He later attended Oxford University as an undergraduate at Brasenose College, where he studied Natural Sciences and English Literature. His first book, a collection of poems, appeared a year before Golding received his Bachelor of Arts.


William Golding met his future wife, Anne Brookfield, in 1938. After a brief courtship, they married in 1939, the same year he began teaching English and Philosophy at Bishop Wordsworth’s school. Anne and Golding had two children; the first, David, born in 1940; and a daughter, Judith, born in 1945.

Military service

His marriage and new career were quickly interrupted by World War II. Golding joined the Royal Navy and worked in antisubmarine and antiaircraft operations. During his service he was involved in the sinking of Germany's mightiest battleship, the Bismarck. He also participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day.

At the end of the war, Golding returned to his teaching position and writing. Golding’s perspective of man’s true nature altered at this time of his life. While he was in the Royal Navy he saw the “evil” nature of not only the enemy he was fighting against, but also of his partners with whom he was fighting with. This change of view would be used to write his most famous book, Lord of the Flies.


After his return from the war, Golding began in earnest to write, but threw away his first three novels as “rubbish.” His fourth novel, Lord of the Flies, was rejected by more than twenty publishers, before becoming one of the largest selling books of the decade. By 1961, his successful books allowed Golding to leave his teaching post and spend a year as writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. He then became a full-time writer.

He was knighted in 1988.


Sir William Golding died of heart failure in his home at Perranarworthal, near Truro, Cornwall, on June 19, 1993. He was buried in Holy Trinity churchyard, Bowerchalke, Wiltshire, England. He left the draft of a novel, The Double Tongue, which was published posthumously (Faber, 1996).


Golding's often allegorical fiction makes broad use of allusions to classical literature, mythology, and Christianity symbolism. Although no distinct thread unites his novels and his technique varies, Golding deals principally with evil and emerges with what has been characterized as a kind of dark optimism. Golding's novel, Lord of the Flies (1954; films in 1963 and 1990), introduced one of the recurrent themes of his fiction—the conflict between humanity's innate barbarism and the civilizing influence of reason. The Inheritors (1955) reaches into prehistory, advancing the thesis that mankind's evolutionary ancestors, "the fire-builders," triumphed over a gentler race as much by violence and deceit as by natural superiority. In Pincher Martin (1956) Golding explores the conflict between the good and evil aspects of our nature again as that given to us at birth and what we change it into by our own will, even to the point of futilely challenging our very existence and its demise. The novel caused a great controversy in the humanistic and relativistic literary world of his time, including calls for him to rewrite the ending. Golding sought in several interviews to explain his intent and the “meaning” of the story in religious terms. This so backfired on him that he never again would explain his work, only referring the reader to what he derives from the story. In Free Fall (1959), he explores how the consequences of our actions make us who we have become, using flashbacks. The Spire (1964) is an allegory concerning the protagonist's obsessive determination to build a great cathedral spire, regardless of the consequences.

William Golding has made quite an impact on the world with his most famous work, Lord of the Flies. This novel about a group of young upper class English schoolboys deserted on an island is now required reading in most high schools in America. Based on the premise that human nature, including that of well-bred children, is inherently evil, this book delivers a frightening view of mankind. It has become a modern classic. It has challenged many people’s perspectives on human nature in a way that few other books have. It has assured Golding of his position as one of the most important writers of the post-war period.

Golding's later novels include Darkness Visible (1979), in which he explores dual possibilities of fate in our inner response to tragedies through the twin orphans after World War II, and The Paper Men (1984), about the unraveling of pretentious literary and academic figures. He also wrote a historical sea trilogy To the Ends of the Earth, which includes Rites of Passage (Booker Prize, 1981), Close Quarters (1987), and Fire Down Below (1989). These books frame a critical exposé of British class attitudes of the nineteenth century in a long sea voyage from England to Australia. It has been produced as a BBC drama series.

In 1980 he won the 'Booker Prize' for his novel Rites of Passage. He retired from teaching in 1962. After that, he lived in Wiltshire, listing his recreations as music, sailing, archaeology and classical Greek. William Golding died in 1993.