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William Golding

Not everyone can say he became a best-selling author because of the horrors of war.  But that's exactly what happened to William Golding.  Author of the novel, Lord of the Flies (1954), Golding was born in Cornwall, England, on September 19, 1911.  Educated at Marlborough Grammar School where his father taught and at Brasenose College, Oxford, he was graduated in 1935. 

After working in a settlement house and in several small theatre companies, he became a schoolmaster at Bishop Wordsworth's School, Salisbury.  His parents had pressured him to study the natural sciences; but, after two years, he decided to switch to the study of English literature.  His first book of poems was published a year later, in 1934.

When World War II broke out, Golding joined the British Navy and spent six years at sea, except for seven months in New York and six months helping Lord Cherwell at the Naval Research Establishment.  He saw action against battleships, including the sinking of the Bismarck, as well as against submarines and aircraft.  He served as a lieutenant in command of a rocket ship.  He was present off the French coast for the D-Day invasion.  By the time he completed his service, he had become disgusted by the horrors of war and came to realize that everyone--including children--are capable of doing terrible things.

After writing and having rejected three formula novels in the late 1940's and early 1950's, Golding set out to write from his own heart and mind.  He said, "I believe that we have a great capacity for love and self-sacrifice, but we can't refuse to recognize that there is active human evil."

The outcome of this revelation was Lord of the Flies (1954), which was the story of a group of English schoolboys who become stranded on a desert island and struggle for survival.  One of the boys tries to establish a democracy, but a bunch of boys break off from the main group, and the splinter group becomes an anarchy.  The book became a bestseller when it was discovered by American college students.  It has been a staple on high school and college reading lists and an international bestseller ever since.

The Inheritors, which was published in 1955, was set in the last days of Neanderthal man and is another story of the essential violence and depravity of human nature.  It tells the story of the destruction of Neanderthal man by Homo sapiens and was the favorite of the author's own works.  In Pincher Martin (1956), the guilt-filled reflections of a naval officer whose ship is torpedoed faces an agonizing death.  Two other novels, Free Fall (1959) and The Spire (1964), also demonstrate Golding's belief that "man produces evil as a bee produces honey."  Darkness Visible (1979) tells the story of a boy horribly burned in the London blitz during World War II. 

Golding's later works include Rites of Passage (1980), which won the Booker McConnell Prize, and its sequels, Close Quarters (1987) and Fire Down Below (1989).  In 1983, Golding  won the Nobel Prize for Literature.   He was knighted in 1988.

Golding once said, "Novelists do not write as birds sing, by the push of nature.  It is part of the job that there should be much routine and some daily stuff on the level of carpentry."

William Golding died in 1993.

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