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- The Herr Doctor does not know about peoples.
- Free Fall (1959), last line
- The man who tells the tale if he has a tale worth telling will know exactly what he is about and this business of the artist as a sort of starry-eyed inspired creature, dancing along, with his feet two or three feet above the surface of the earth, not really knowing what sort of prints he's leaving behind him, is nothing like the truth.
- Interview with Frank Kermode, BBC Third Programme (28 April 1959)
- Basically I'm an optimist. Intellectually I can see man's balance is about fifty-fifty, and his chances of blowing himself up are about one to one. I can't see this any way but intellectually. I'm just emotionally unable to believe that he will do this. This means that I am by nature an optimist and by intellectual conviction a pessimist, I suppose.
- Interview with James Keating, Purdue University (7 May 1961), printed in Lord of the Flies: The Casebook Edition (1964)
- The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society back to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable. The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island. The officer, having interrupted a man-hunt, prepares to take the children off the island in a cruiser which will presently be hunting its enemy in the same implacable way. And who will rescue the adult and his cruiser?
- Responses in a publicity questionnaire on Lord of the Flies from the American publishers, as quoted in Who Rules?: Introduction to the Study of Politics (1971) by Dick W. Simpson, p. 16
- One day I was sitting one side of the fireplace, and my wife was sitting on the other, and I suddenly said to her, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys on an island, showing how they would really behave, being boys and not little saints as they usually are in children’s books.” And she said, “That’s a first-class idea! You write it!” So I went ahead and wrote it.
- I think women are foolish to pretend they are equal to men — they are far superior and always have been.
- Reason, when it is refined into logic, has something to offer but only in terms of itself and depends for its effect and use on the nature of the premise. That useful argument as to how many angels can stand on the point of a needle would turn into nothing without the concept of angels. I took a further step into my new world. I formulated what I had felt against a mass of reasonable evidence and saw that to explain the near infinite mysteries of life by scholastic Darwinism, by the doctrine of natural selection, was like looking at a sunset and saying "Someone has struck a match". As for Freud, the reductionism of his system made me remember the refrain out of Marianna in Moated Grande — "He cometh not, she said, she said I am aweary aweary, O God that I were dead!". This was my mind, not his, and I had a right to it....
We question free will, doubt it, dismiss it, experience it. We declare our own triviality on a small speck of dirt circling a small star at the rim of one countless galaxies and ignore the heroic insolence of the declaration. We have diminished the world of God and man in a universe ablaze with all the glories that contradict that diminution.
Of man and God. We have come to it, have we not? I believe in God; and you may think to yourselves — here is a man who has left a procession and gone off by himself only to end with another gasfilled image he towns round with him at the end of the rope. You would be right of course. I suffer those varying levels or intensities of belief which are, it seems, the human condition. Despite the letters I still get from people who believe me to be still alive and who are deceived by the air of confident authority that seems to stand behind that first book, Lord of the Flies, nevertheless like everyone else I have had to rely on memories of moments, bet on what once seemed a certainty but may now be an outsider, remember in faith what I cannot recreate.
- The writer probably knows what he meant when he wrote a book, but he should immediately forget what he meant when he's written it.
- As quoted in Novelists in Interview (1985) edited by John Haffenden
- I don’t like the word "allegorical", I don’t like the word "symbolic", the word I really like is "mythic" and people always think that means "full of lies" when what it really means is full of a truth that cannot be told in any other way but a story.
- Interview in regard to his work Rites of Passage, quoted in The Dreams of William Golden, BBC Arena (2012)
- It seems to me that we do live in two worlds. There is is this physical one, which is coherent, and there is a spiritual one, which to the average man, with his flashes of religious experience, if you like to call them that — that world is very often incoherent. This experience of having two worlds to live in all the time, or… not all the time, occasionally, is a vital one and is what living is like.
- As quoted in "The Dreams of William Golding", BBC Arena (2012)
Lord of the Flies (1954)
- "Aren't there any grownups at all?"
"I don't think so."
The fair boy said this solemnly; but then the delight of a realized ambition overcame him. In the middle of the scar he stood on his head and grinned at the reversed fat boy.
- Ch. 1: The Sound of the Shell
- "Aren't you going to swim?"
Piggy shook his head.
"I can't swim. I wasn't allowed. My asthma—"
"Sucks to your ass-mar!"
Piggy bore this with a kind of humble patience.
- Ch. 1: The Sound of the Shell
- "We can use this to call the others. Have a meeting. They’ll come when they hear us—"
He beamed at Ralph.
"That was what you meant, didn't you? That's why you got the conch out of the water."
Ralph pushed back his fair hair.
"How did your friend blow the conch?"
"He kind of spat," said Piggy. "My auntie wouldn't let me blow on account of my asthma. He said you blew from down here." Piggy laid a hand on his jutting abdomen. "You try, Ralph. You'll call the others."
Doubtfully, Ralph laid the small end of the shell against his mouth and blew. There came a rushing sound from its mouth but nothing more. Ralph wiped the salt water off his lips and tried again, but the shell remained silent.
"He kind of spat."
Ralph pursed his lips and squirted air into the shell, which emitted a low, farting noise. This amused both boys so much that Ralph went on squirting for some minutes, between bouts of laughter.
"He blew from down here."
Ralph grasped the idea and hit the shell with air from his diaphragm. Immediately the thing sounded. A deep, harsh note boomed under the palms, spread through the intricacies of the forest and echoed back from the pink granite of the mountain. Clouds of birds rose from the treetops, and something squealed and ran in the undergrowth.
- Ch. 1: The Sound of the Shell
- "You couldn't have a beastie, a snake-thing, on an island this size," Ralph explained kindly. "You only get them in big countries, like Africa, or India."
Murmur; and the grave nodding of heads.
"He says the beastie came in the dark."
"Then he couldn't see it!"
Laughter and cheers.
"Did you hear that? Says he saw the thing in the dark—"
"He still says he saw the beastie. It came and went away again an' came back and wanted to eat him."
"He was dreaming."
Laughing, Ralph looked for confirmation round the ring of faces. The older boys agreed; but here and there among the little ones was the doubt that required more than rational assurance.
"He must have had a nightmare. Stumbling about among all those creepers."
More grave nodding. They knew about nightmares.
"He says he saw the beastie, the snake-thing, and will it come back tonight?"
"But there isn't a beastie!"
"He says in the morning it turned into them things like ropes in the trees and hung in the branches. He says will it come back again tonight?"
"But there isn't a beastie!"
There was no laughter at all now and more grave watching. Ralph pushed both hands through his hair and looked at the little boy in mixed amusement and exasperation.
- Ch. 2: Fire on the Mountain
- Ralph waved the conch.
"Shut up! Wait! Listen!"
He went on in the silence, borne on in his triumph.
"There’s another thing. We can help them to find us. If a ship comes near the island they may not notice us. So we must make smoke on top of the mountain. We must make a fire."
"A fire! Make a fire!"
At once half the boys were on their feet. Jack clamored among them, the conch forgotten.
"Come on! Follow me!"
The space under the palm trees was full of noise and movement. Ralph was on his feet too, shouting for quiet, but no one heard him. All at once the crowd swayed toward the island and was gone— following Jack. Even the tiny children went and did their best among the leaves and broken branches. Ralph was left, holding the conch, with no one but Piggy.
- Ch. 2: Fire on the Mountain
- "How can you expect to be rescued if you don’t put first things first and act proper?"
- Ch. 3: Huts on a Beach
- The chant was audible but at that distance still wordless. Behind Jack walked the twins, carrying a great stake on their shoulders. The gutted carcass of a pig swung from the stake, swinging heavily as the twins toiled over the uneven ground. The pig's head hung down with gaping neck and seemed to search for something on the ground. At last the words of the chant floated up to them, across the bowl of blackened wood and ashes.
"Kill the pig! Cut her throat! Spill the blood!"
Yet as the words became audible, the procession reached the steepest part of the mountain, and in a minute or two the chant had died away.
- Ch. 4: Painted Faces and Long Hair
- His mind was crowded with memories; memories of the knowledge that had come to them when they closed in on the struggling pig, knowledge that they had outwitted a living thing, imposed their will upon it, taken away its life like a long satisfying drink.
- Ch. 4: Painted Faces and Long Hair.
- Jack stood up as he said this, the bloodied knife in his hand. The two boys faced each other. There was the brilliant world of hunting, tactics, fierce exhilaration, skill; and there was the world of longing and baffled common-sense.
- Ch. 4: Painted Faces and Long Hair
- "The rules!" shouted Ralph, "you're breaking the rules!"
Ralph summoned his wits.
"Because the rules are the only thing we've got!"
But Jack was shouting against him.
"Bollocks to the rules! We're strong — we hunt! If there's a beast, we'll hunt it down! We'll close in and beat and beat and beat — !"
- Ch. 5: Beast from Water
- "I'm scared of him," said Piggy, "and that's why I know him. If you're scared of someone you hate him but you can't stop thinking about him. You kid yourself he's alright really, an' then when you see him again; it's like asthma an' you can't breathe. I tell you what. He hates you too, Ralph —"
"Me? Why me?"
"I dunno. You got him over the fire; an' you're chief an' he isn't."
"But he's Jack Merridew!"
"I been in bed so much I done some thinking. I know about people. I know about me. And him. He can't hurt you: but if you're standing out of the way he'd hurt the next thing. And that's me."
"Piggy's right, Ralph. There's you and Jack. Go on being chief."
- Ch. 5: Beast from Water
- However Simon thought of the beast, there rose before his inward sight the picture of a human at once heroic and sick.
- Ch. 6: Beast from Air.
- "You want a pig," said Roger, "like in a real hunt."
"Or someone to pretend," said Jack. "You could get someone to dress up as a pig and then he could act — you know, pretend to knock me over and all that —"
"You want a real pig," said Robert, still caressing his rump, "because you've got to kill him."
"Use a littlun," said Jack, and everybody laughed.
- Ch. 7: Shadows and Tall Trees
- Jack was on top of the sow, stabbing downward with his knife. Roger found a lodgment for his point and began to push till he was leaning his whole weight. The spear moved forward inch by inch and the terrified squealing became a high-pitched scream. Then Jack found the throat and the hot blood spouted over his hands. The sow collapsed under them and they were heavy and fulfilled upon her. The butterflies still danced, preoccupied in the center of the clearing.
- Ch. 8: Gift for the Darkness
- He paused and stood up, looking at the shadows under the trees. His voice was lower when he spoke again.
"But we'll leave part of the kill for …"
He knelt down again and was busy with his knife. The boys crowded round him. He spoke over his shoulder to Roger.
"Sharpen a stick at both ends."
Presently he stood up, holding the dripping sow's head in his hands.
"Where's that stick?"
"Ram one end in the earth. Oh — it's rock. Jam it in that crack. There."
Jack held the head and jammed the soft throat down on the pointed end of the stick which pierced through into the mouth. He stood back and the head hung there, a little blood dribbling down the stick."
Instinctively the boys drew back too; and the forest was very still. They listened, and the loudest noise was the buzzing of the flies over the spilled guts."
- Ch. 8: Gift for the Darkness
- Simon's head was tilted slightly up. His eyes could not break away and the Lord of the Flies hung in space before him.
"What are you doing out here all alone? Aren't you afraid of me?"
"There isn't anyone to help you. Only me. And I'm the Beast."
Simon's mouth labored, brought forth audible words.
"Pig's head on a stick."
"Fancy thinking the Beast was something you could hunt and kill! You knew, didn't you?" said the head. For a moment or two the forest and all the other dimly appreciated places echoed with the parody of laughter. "You knew, didn't you? I'm part of you? Close, close, close! I'm the reason why it’s no go? Why things are what they are?"
- Ch. 8: Gift for the Darkness
- "Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood! Do him in!"
- Ch. 9: A View to a Death
- Ralph heard the great rock long before he saw it. He was aware of a jolt in the earth that came to him through the soles of his feet, and the breaking sound of stones at the top of the cliff. Then the monstrous red thing bounded across the neck and he flung himself flat while the tribe shrieked.
The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist. Piggy, saying nothing, with no time for even a grunt, travelled through the air sideways from the rock, turning over as he went. The rock bounded twice and was lost in the forest. Piggy fell forty feet and landed on his back across that square, red rock in the sea. His head opened and stuff came out and turned red. Piggy's arms and legs twitched a bit, like a pig's after it has been killed. Then the sea breathed again in a long, slow sigh, the water boiled white and pink over the rock; and when it went, sucking back again, the body of Piggy was gone.
This time the silence was complete. Ralph's lips formed a word but no sound came.
Suddenly Jack bounded out from the tribe and began screaming wildly.
"See? See? That's what you'll get! I meant that! There isn't a tribe for you any more! The conch is gone —"
He ran forward, stooping.
- Ch. 11: Castle Rock - The first edition used the term "painted niggers", later editions changed this to "painted savages" or "painted Indians".
- What was the sensible thing to do?
There was no Piggy to talk sense. There was no solemn assembly for debate nor dignity of the conch.
- Ch. 12: The Cry of the Hunters
- His voice rose under the black smoke before the burning wreckage of the island; and infected by that emotion, the other little boys began to shake and sob too. And in the middle of them, with filthy body, matted hair, and unwiped nose, Ralph wept for the end of innocence, the darkness of man's heart, and the fall through the air of the true, wise friend called Piggy.
- Ch. 12: The Cry of the Hunters
Pincher Martin (1956)
- I will tell you what man is. He is a freak, an ejected foetus robbed of his natural development, thrown out into the world with a naked covering of parchment, with too little room for his teeth and a soft bulging skull like a bubble. But nature stirs a pudding there...
- Sleep is when all unsorted stuff comes as from a dustbin upset in a high wind.
The Hot Gates (1965)
- The overall intention may be stated simply enough. Before the Second World War I believed in the perfectibility of social man; that a correct structure of society would produce goodwill; and that therefore you could remove all social ills by a reorganisation of society. .... but after the war I did not because I was unable to. I had discovered what one man could do to another... I must say that 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... I am thinking of the vileness beyond all words that went on, year after year, in the totalitarian states. It is bad enough to say that so many Jews were exterminated in this way and that, so many people liquidated — lovely, elegant word — but there were things done during that period from which I still have to avert my mind less I should be physically sick. They were not done by the headhunters of New Guinea or by some primitive tribe in the Amazon. They were done, skillfully, coldly, by educated men, doctors, lawyers, by men with a tradition of civilization behind them, to beings of their own kind.
My own conviction grew that what had happened was that men were putting the cart before the horse. They were looking at the system rather than the people. It seemed to me that man’s capacity for greed, his innate cruelty and selfishness, was being hidden behind a kind of pair of political pants. I believed then, that man was sick — not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into. To many of you, this will seem trite, obvious, and familiar in theological terms. Man is a fallen being. He is gripped by original sin. His nature is sinful and his state is perilous. I accept the theology and admit the triteness; but what is trite is true; and a truism can become more than a truism when it is a belief passionately held....
I can say in America what I should not like to say at home; which is that I condemn and detest my country's faults precisely because I am so proud of her many virtues. One of our faults is to believe that evil is somewhere else and inherent in another nation. My book was to say you think that now the war is over and an evil thing destroyed, you are safe because you are naturally kind and decent. But I know why the thing rose in Germany. I know it could it could happen in any country. It could happen here.
- On his motivations to write Lord of the Flies, from his essay "Fable", p. 85
Nobel prize lecture (1983)
- Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion, and the luck of writers prove to be the most powerful thing in the world. They may move men to speak to each other because some of those words somewhere express not just what the writer is thinking but what a huge segment of the world is thinking. They may allow man to speak to man, the man in the street to speak to his fellow until a ripple becomes a tide running through every nation — of commonsense, of simple healthy caution, a tide that rulers and negotiators cannot ignore so that nation does truly speak unto nation. Then there is hope that we may learn to be temperate, provident, taking no more from nature's treasury than is our due. It may be by books, stories, poetry, lectures we who have the ear of mankind can move man a little nearer the perilous safety of a warless and provident world. It cannot be done by the mechanical constructs of overt propaganda. I cannot do it myself, cannot now create stories which would help to make man aware of what he is doing; but there are others who can, many others. There always have been. We need more humanity, more care, more love. There are those who expect a political system to produce that; and others who expect the love to produce the system. My own faith is that the truth of the future lies between the two and we shall behave humanly and a bit humanely, stumbling along, haphazardly generous and gallant, foolishly and meanly wise until the rape of our planet is seen to be the preposterous folly that it is.
For we are a marvel of creation. I think in particular of one of the most extraordinary women, dead now these five hundred years, Juliana of Norwich. She was caught up in the spirit and shown a thing that might lie in the palm of her hand and in the bigness of a nut. She was told it was the world. She was told of the strange and wonderful and awful things that would happen there. At the last, a voice told her that all things should be well and all manner of things should be well and all things should be very well.
Now we, if not in the spirit, have been caught up to see our earth, our mother, Gaia Mater, set like a jewel in space. We have no excuse now for supposing her riches inexhaustible nor the area we have to live on limitless because unbounded. We are the children of that great blue white jewel. Through our mother we are part of the solar system and part through that of the whole universe. In the blazing poetry of the fact we are children of the stars.
- While it may be proper to praise the idea of a laureate the man himself may very well remember what his laurels will hide and that not only baldness. In a sentence he must remember not to take himself with unbecoming seriousness. Fortunately some spirit or other — I do not presume to put a name to it — ensured that I should remember my smallness in the scheme of things. The very day after I learned that I was the laureate for literature for 1983 I drove into a country town and parked my car where I should not. I only left the car for a few minutes but when I came back there was a ticket taped to the window. A traffic warden, a lady of a minatory aspect, stood by the car. She pointed to a notice on the wall. "Can't you read?" she said. Sheepishly I got into my car and drove very slowly round the corner. There on the pavement I saw two county policemen.
I stopped opposite them and took my parking ticket out of its plastic envelope. They crossed to me. I asked if, as I had pressing business, I could go straight to the Town Hall and pay my fine on the spot. "No, sir," said the senior policeman, "I'm afraid you can't do that." He smiled the fond smile that such policemen reserve for those people who are clearly harmless if a bit silly. He indicated a rectangle on the ticket that had the words 'name and address of sender' printed above it. "You should write your name and address in that place," he said. "You make out a cheque for ten pounds, making it payable to the Clerk to the Justices at this address written here. Then you write the same address on the outside of the envelope, stick a sixteen penny stamp in the top right hand corner of the envelope, then post it. And may we congratulate you on winning the Nobel Prize for Literature."
Quotes about Golding
- Beautifully written, tragic and provocative.
- E. M. Forster on Lord of the Flies in The Observer (1954), quoted in John Carey, William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies (2009; 2010 ed.), p. 165
- I have just had a wonderful pre-read of The Spire and it is a wonderful book. I also congratulate you. The last part – anyhow after the Visitor's part – went away from me, but even then the sense of human individuals was maintained. And all through – and this is its great (literary) merit – there is the sense of weight – stone weight. I have only once come across it before in a novel called The Nebuly Coat (author's name forgotten) but there it is only incidental – the central pillars groan to each other despairingly in the night – but in The Spire it's continuous. But how I do deplore Christianity. A Hindu or Egyptian building wouldn't have created half that trouble or been so riddled by that sense of sin.
- E. M. Forster to Golding (4 February 1964), quoted in E. M. Forster, Commonplace Book, ed. Philip Gardner (1985), p. 248
- [The Inheritors is] a prose quite astounding in its poetic clarity...the most astonishing and original tour de force I have seen since I first reviewed a novel. Mr Golding is a genius.
- I was … unprepared for what I found between the covers of Lord of the Flies: a perfect understanding of the sort of beings I and my friends were at twelve or thirteen, untouched by the usual softsoap and deodorant. Could we be good? Yes. Could we be kind? Yes again. Could we, at the turn of a moment, become little monsters? Indeed we could. And did. At least twice a day and far more frequently on summer vacations, when we were often left to our own devices.
Golding harnessed his unsentimental view of boyhood to a story of adventure and swiftly mounting suspense. To the twelve-year-old boy I was, the idea of roaming an uninhabited tropical island without parental supervision at first seemed liberating, almost heavenly. By the time the boy with the birthmark on his face (the first littleun to raise the possibility of a beast on the island) disappeared, my sense of liberation had become tinged with unease. And by the time the badly ill – and perhaps visionary – Simon confronts the severed and fly-blown head of the sow, which has been stuck on a pole, I was in terror. … there was nothing scholarly or analytical about my first reading of Lord of the Flies. It was, so far as I can remember, the first book with hands – strong ones that reached out of the pages and seized me by the throat. It said to me, ‘This is not just entertainment; it’s life or death.’ … By the time I reached the last seventy pages of Lord of the Flies I understood not only that some of the boys might die, but that some would die. It was inevitable. I only hoped it wouldn’t be Ralph, with whom I identified so passionately that I was in a cold sweat as I turned the pages. No teacher needed to tell me that Ralph embodied the values of civilization and that Jack’s embrace of savagery and sacrifice represented the ease with which those values could be swept away; it was evident even to a child. Especially to a child, who had witnessed (and participated in) many acts of casual schoolyard bullyragging. ...I finished the last half of Lord of the Flies in a single afternoon, my eyes wide, my heart pounding, not thinking, just inhaling. But I’ve been thinking about it ever since, for fifty years and more. My rule of thumb as a writer and a reader – largely formed by Lord of the Flies – is feel it first, think about it later. Analyse all you want, but first dig the experience.
What I keep coming back to is Golding saying, ‘Wouldn’t it be a good idea to write a story about some boys … showing how they would really behave.’
It was a good idea. A very good idea that produced a very good novel, one as exciting, relevant and thought-provoking now as it was when Golding published it in 1954.
- To me it [Pincher Martin] belongs to a class of reading that I deplore, which looks at nothing except what I call the underbelly of the human body, and it sees nothing but the nasty side of it, the horrid side of it.
- C. A. Lejeune on the BBC Radio programme The Critics (28 October 1956), quoted in John Carey, William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies (2009; 2010 ed.), p. 200
- A splendid work of imagination... his vision is true, sad and superbly conveyed.
- Philip Oakes, review of The Inheritors in Truth (1955), quoted in John Carey, William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies (2009; 2010 ed.), p. 185
- [Golding is] the most original and imaginatively exciting novelist we have today...enthralling...a many-dimensional and astonishing book.
- Isabel Quigly, review of The Inheritors in The Spectator (30 September 1955), quoted in John Carey, William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies (2009; 2010 ed.), p. 185
- The way you have sounded the universal elements in this horror strikes me as masterly.
- Mary Renault to Golding after reading Lord of the Flies (1954), quoted in John Carey, William Golding: The Man who Wrote Lord of the Flies (2009; 2010 ed.), p. 165
- I found the tone of the book singularly attractive. It is highly individual yet profoundly modest; it has an unusual, slightly angular candour, full of painful knowledge and a beautiful humanity; it couldn't be pretentious if it tried... [E]ven the slightest piece bears the mark of his rare, austere mind, his remarkable imagination... Even these occasional essays are enough to remind us that, on his day, there is not, at the moment, a writer to touch him.
- William Golding Ltd. the website of Golding family
- Official Facebook page
- Profile of William Golding at the Nobel Prize website
- "William Golding – Universal Pessimist, Cosmic Optimist" Interview by Mary Lynn Scott
- BBC television interview from 1959
- "Last Words" an account of Golding's last evening by D. M. Thomas, in The Guardian (10 June 2006)
- Nobel Prize Lecture
- "William Golding's crisis", The Guardian (11 March 2012)