This is a guest post written by Rachel Lindan.
Marlborough is an obvious must-visit for the William Golding enthusiast wishing to make a literary pilgrimage, not just as the town where the author grew up but somewhere that had a deep, lasting influence on his psyche and work. Having been talking about making the trip for years, this particular Golding nerd only got around to it last month, inspired to action by the announcement of a talk by Judy Carver (nee Golding, William’s daughter) as part of Marlborough Literature Festival. Along with Nicola Presley (lecturer in English at Bath Spa University), Judy would be discussing her father’s legacy, with particular focus on his relationship with his home town and the portrayal of this in his sixth novel, The Pyramid. It seemed rather like fate was pointing and yelling ‘look! Now is the time! Go!’ – all right, fate! I get it! I’m going!
I had read Judy’s memoir about life with her father, The Children Of Lovers, a few years ago, and therefore knew her to be a beautiful writer in her own right. With tender but insightful flair, Judy takes you into the very heart of her family and the book is a richly important addition to the body of work about William Golding. I couldn’t think of anyone better to give a talk about him, nor who I would rather see.
Wandering up and down Marlborough’s High Street on the September afternoon of the talk, it was hard to imagine William Golding amongst the passers-by, or indeed to understand why he held such a strong, lifelong aversion to the town. Its well-preserved buildings, numerous independent shops and Saturday market stalls made it feel like a proper old town centre, and the influx of punters for the literature festival brought a liveliness to complete the impression.
A little way out of town, on one side of a small square of grass and trees, is number 29, The Green (aptly named). This was William Golding’s childhood home, and nowadays a blue plaque denotes it as such. It is pleasant to look at, but as a Golding fan, you know there is more to it. If you go behind the house, in something of a real life metaphor for diving deeper into the author’s mind, you will find St Mary’s Church, and its graveyard. In the early autumn sunshine, awash with golden leaves, one might never suspect the horrors this setting might inspire – not only in the imagination of a small boy, but in a shadow that stretched across a lifetime. It seems appropriate that the interior of number 29 is out of bounds (it being a private property) – the rest of Golding’s formative setting, including the infamous cellar of his nightmares, cannot be seen. We get but a glimpse.
The White Horse is a lovely bookshop, full but not overstuffed with thoughtfully curated books and associated treasures. At the back is an almost hidden gallery space, and it was here that Judy and Nicola gave their talk to a sold-out audience. An image of William Golding – looking effortlessly iconic, as he did – smiled from the screen behind as Judy introduced herself and began to speak, with quiet but fierce pride, warmth and eloquence, of her ‘brilliant, completely original’ father.
His legacy is a truly singular juggernaut, his works so ground-breaking and culturally consequential. If we consider Lord Of The Flies, Judy said, we find endless symbols, phrases and ideas that have become part of our vernacular, universally understood: the conch, ‘it’s like Lord Of The Flies‘, reality television. The characters have become types of their own – the Ralph, the Piggy, the Jack. Politically, Nicola pointed out, it remains so relevant that you can see the parallels with unsettling ease, as can journalists – who drop constant Lord Of The Flies references in their reporting. It has also had nods from just about every other cultural behemoth there is, from Stephen King to The Simpsons, and remains on the GCSE syllabus to this day. Lord Of The Flies is crucial to an understanding of the modern world – and, for all it is, it is only one of Golding’s works.
Nicola passionately argued that people are missing out on Golding: whilst Lord Of The Flies is deserving of its renown and it’s fantastic that so many people have read it, if even 10% of those people had also read, say, Darkness Visible – Golding’s eighth novel, the first after a near decade of personal struggle and turmoil – then she’d be happy. I wanted to cheer! Being well-known, successful, winning awards – none of these things mean that a writer is fully appreciated, and the vast majority of readers have picked up a mere nugget from the mouth of the Golding goldmine.
From here, Judy and Nicola moved on to discuss an especially overlooked Golding novel: The Pyramid. Judy said it tends to be thought of as ‘easy-listening Golding’, which she thinks is unfair – ‘it is accessible, but complicated.’ She walked us through a mental tour of the bits and pieces of Marlborough her father worked into the book, affectionately chiding him now and then for how he chose to portray certain things, including himself – ‘he always enjoyed painting himself in the worst possible light!’ The Pyramid is, she thinks, a thought experiment: Golding playing out his frustrations and troubles with his hometown to see if anything could have worked out any other way, concluding that it couldn’t have… ‘and then blaming himself for it all.’
It is one of the Golding novels I am yet to read, and now the next on my list. I was fascinated by all the layers of the book that Judy peeled back for us, pointing out many of her father’s signature themes within – facing up to difficult questions without expecting answers, deeply-considered characters, gender and sexuality, class and societal structure, the spirituality of music, self-fulfilment and lives-not-lived – as well as the things which make The Pyramid unique, such as the expansion of a penchant for rewriting tidbits of reality into past works to muddling fact with fiction for a whole novel, and Golding’s conscious attempt to address criticism of his female characters.
After almost an hour of immensely enjoyable and engaging conversation, Judy and Nicola took a few questions to round off the event. I didn’t manage to write down the questions in my fervent note-taking, but in response to one about Golding’s approach to current affairs Judy spoke of her father always trying to keep up with world events, and mentioned that he was thrilled when the EU was formed and would describe himself as a European. Nicola said that the enduring themes of Golding’s novels demonstrate a shrewd grasp of politics beyond its passing forms – the human nature and conflicts beneath it all remain the same, they just manifest differently.
When asked about the breakdown her father suffered in later life, Judy said that he was wary of therapy and ultimately read and wrote himself out of crisis, helped greatly by the works of Carl Jung, writing reams of personal essays, and starting to keep journals. Overall these writings amount to 2.4 million words, which are slowly but surely being edited for publication – very exciting news!
In closing, Judy told us that it was her parents’ 78th wedding anniversary that day – the 30th of September 2017. On the screen behind, she showed us a stunning portrait of her mother as a young woman, and read a short but profound diary entry of her father’s about how much he loved his wife, and thought nothing in his life would have been possible without her. It was the perfect way to end an event that had so welcomed and trusted its audience. My heart was warm, and my notebook full.
I was lucky enough to talk to Judy and Nicola afterwards, and that is why I find myself writing here today, another small continuation of William Golding’s incredible, living, growing legacy: because somehow, we all ended up in the same place at the same time, impassioned, connecting and creating – because of him.