British and Irish Literature William Golding
Arnab Chatterjee
  • LAST REVIEWED: 12 January 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 12 January 2022
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199846719-0182


Sir William Gerard Golding (1911–1993), the writer of Lord of the Flies (LOTF), occupies a pivotal position within the post–World War II canon of writers. Though Golding does not seem to belong to any particular “school” or movement of fiction writers who wrote at the height of Cold War and its aftermath per se, he is a staple in high school, college, and university curricula all over the globe. His magnum opus, Lord of the Flies (1954), transformed him into a writer who commands worldwide attention. In the book he attacked the belief in any stable notions of civilization, society, and culture, and was keen to show the innate depravity of the human spirit. His trilogy To the Ends of the Earth, which comprises Rites of Passage (1980), Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989), further explores his themes of the civilizing process and class consciousness, while the travelogue An Egyptian Journal (1985) shows his fascination for the ancient land and his journey there after he won the Nobel Prize in 1983. His famous quote about humanity, “Man produces evil as a bee produces honey,” speaks of his disbelief in the progress and the health of modern civilization and any stable notions of human progress. His Nobel Prize citation stated it was given “for his novels which, with the perspicuity of realistic narrative art and the diversity and universality of myth, illuminate the human condition in a world of today,” thus summarizing his lifelong mission as a writer. Golding’s themes are class consciousness, human society (particularly what happens to it in isolation), modern and postmodern trauma with respect to human dreams and aspirations, and, lastly, the entire notion of “civilization” itself. His fiction has been analyzed with recourse to anthropology, psychoanalysis, postmodernism, narratology, trauma studies, and queer scholarship. Critical commentary on Golding continues to grow, especially around LOTF, due to its continued relevance owing to themes of violence, totalitarianism, queer studies, and its apocalyptic vision. It should be stressed, however, that compared to LOTF, his only play, The Brass Butterfly (1958), his Poems (1934) and his other nonfiction, such as A Moving Target (1982) and The Hot Gates (1965), the three short narratives in The Scorpion God (1971), and even his posthumous The Double Tongue (1995), have received scant attention. Though the themes of the essential drama of human conflict played against the backdrop of morality, human choice, and postmodern trauma that remain foundational to human existence might be applied to any 20thcentury writer, they are particularly germane to Golding’s works.

General Overviews

The official William Golding website is periodically updated and gives an exhaustive bibliographic record on the writer. It may be considered a starting point for a serious researcher looking for authentic material. More information can be had from Crawford 2002, which provides a critical account of the use of the fantastic and the carnivalesque in Golding’s works not attempted elsewhere as a book-length study, and Kinkead-Weekes and Gregor 1967, one of the earliest scholarly reference books on the writer, which is particularly invaluable because it underwent many editions after Golding published his subsequent novels. It is of capital importance to a scholar of Golding, as the authors knew the writer personally and had the rare occasion of discussing his works with him. The value of the work increases with the inclusion of a biographical sketch of Golding by his daughter, Judy Golding. Fort 2003 is a valuable book on Golding, as it is one by very few by a non-Anglophone critic. Gekoski and Grogan 1994 is an authoritative bibliography on Golding, supervised by the novelist himself; Gilmour and Schwartz 2011 is in all probability the first book to situate Golding within the historical context of the end of the British Empire and novel writing. The biography Carey 2009 gives a peek into the life of the novelist by someone who had access to Golding’s papers and journals; the book gives a fair account of the man and his works and how each shaped the other. Gindin 1988 discusses five major novels of Golding and looks at each of them under an abstract category—the work is keen to discuss Golding as a writer who follows binary opposites as a structural motif. Bloom 2008 provides a comprehensive discussion of Lord of the Flies, with an introduction, extensive notes, and critical commentary, and is best suited for an undergraduate student. Finally, Biles 1970 comprises a series of conversations between Golding and the critic on his major works, and Baker 1965 is an early bibliography on the writer.

  • Baker, James R. William Golding: A Critical Study. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1965.

    A chronological bibliography of works by and about Golding.

  • Biles, Jack I. Talk: Conversations with William Golding. New York: Hartcourt Brace, 1970.

    A series of talks between the critic Biles and Golding concerning the writer’s works and themes. Available online from the Internet Archive.

  • Bloom, Harold. William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. New York: Chelsea House Publishers, 2008.

    A student friendly edition with exhaustive notes and critical commentary by the author. Best suited for students and novices trying to gain a working understanding of Golding’s novel with recourse to its major themes.

  • Carey, John. William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies. London: Faber and Faber, 2009.

    The biographer gives an inner peek into Golding’s life, his parenthood, and how such elements shaped his writing.

  • Crawford, Paul. Politics and History in William Golding: A World Turned Upside Down. Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 2002.

    Gives an account of the fantastic and the carnivalesque in the writer, with recourse to the milieu of the Holocaust and the Cold War.

  • Fort, Camille. De’rives de la parole: Les re’cits de William Golding. Paris: L’ Harmattan, 2003.

    A comment on Golding’s novels by a non-Anglophone critic.

  • Gekoski, R. A., and P. A. Grogan. William Golding: A Bibliography (1934–1993). London: Andre Deutsch, 1994.

    An authoritative bibliography on Golding with inputs by the novelist himself.

  • Gilmour, Rachael, and Bill Schwartz, eds. End of Empire and the English Novel since 1945. Manchester, UK: Manchester University Press, 2011.

    Probably the first book-length study that explores the history of postwar England and the prominent novelists writing during this period; covers from George Orwell through Golding to Ian MacEwan.

  • Gindin, James. William Golding. London: St. Martin’s Press, 1988.

    Provides a study of Golding’s fiction with recourse to the binary oppositions in his works. Part of the “Modern Novelists” series.

  • Kinkead-Weekes, Mark, and Ian Gregor. William Golding: A Critical Study. New York: Harcourt Brace & World, 1967.

    One of the earliest book-length critical commentaries on Golding. Revised subsequently with a chapter by the novelist’s daughter.

  • William Golding.

    An exhaustive online bibliography on Golding with reference to books, articles, etc. on the writer, as well as audio resources and other allied material provided through open access. Updated periodically with new entries on the writer. Edited by Dr. Nicola Presley and hosted by Faber and Faber. Contains an illuminating video on Judy Golding’s comments on the writer, along with a tour of Golding’s house.

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