William Gerald Golding was born on September 19, 1911, in Cornwall, England. He lived an isolated life with his parents and nurse in a gloomy house situated next to a graveyard, and the nearness of this burial ground gave rise to a terrifying fear of death and the unknown. The chestnut tree in the garden, however, provided refuge for Golding, and his vocation as a writer began to take shape there as he sat reading or gazing at his surroundings. In school, Golding was a “dreamer,” not particularly skilled at mathematical studies but fascinated with language and possessed of an active imagination.
At Brasenose College, Oxford University, Golding tentatively planned to complete a degree in the natural sciences, in accordance with his parents’ wishes. Two years later he switched to English, a field more compatible with his temperament and ambition to write. Before earning his bachelor’s degree at Oxford, as well as a diploma in education, Golding published his first book, a volume of poems. After graduating he began a career as a social worker while he continued to write, act in, and produce plays for a small London theater.
Upon marrying Ann Brookfield, an analytical chemist, in 1939, Golding followed a family tradition and embarked on a teaching career. But shortly after beginning work as an English and philosophy teacher at Bishop Wordsworth’s School in Salisbury, Golding was compelled to join the Royal Navy because of the outbreak of World War II. Golding served on many different vessels, finally becoming the commander of a rocket-launcher. When the war ended he resumed his teaching career and began to write again. He published various essays and reviews, but none of Golding’s novels were accepted for publication. Still, Golding remained convinced that he was meant to be a writer, and persevered in his efforts.
Golding first achieved success with the 1954 publication of Lord of the Flies in England. Published in the United States the following year, the novel initially enjoyed far greater popularity in Great Britain than it did in America. Only upon its reprinting in 1959 did Lord of the Flies become a popular, as well as a critical, success in the U.S. A common addition to school reading lists, it soon rivaled the best-selling Catcher in the Rye in repute among teen-age readers.
Golding’s many subsequent novels, works of nonfiction, and dramas achieved various degrees of popular success and critical approval. Always notable for their originality, Golding’s works reflect both his preoccupation with testing his creative ingenuity and his concern with the individual’s responsibility to maintain the moral fabric of society.
Throughout his literary career, Golding remained a controversial figure. His works, beginning with Lord of the Flies, received both lavish praise and severe criticism. Golding won several major awards, including the 1980 James Tait Black Memorial Prize for Darkness Visible (1979), the 1981 Booker McConnell Prize for Rites of Passage, and the 1983 Nobel Prize for Literature.
A complex man with wide-ranging interests, Golding often addressed spiritual issues in his writing but referred to himself as “incompetently religious” and was not publicly affiliated with a particular denomination. He described himself politically as a “disillusioned ex-liberal.”