William Golding: A Critical Study
The Art of William Golding
In Chapter 12 of William Golding’s Free Fall the hero, Sammy Mountjoy, describes a drawing he made of his girl, Beatrice Ifor:
In carelessness and luck I had put the girl on paper in a way that my laborious portraitures could never come at. The line leapt, it was joyous, free, authoritative. It achieved little miracles of implication so that the viewer’s eye created her small hands though my pencil had not touched them. That free line had raced past and created her face, had thinned and broken where no pencil could go, but only the imagination.
This passage is quoted in William Golding: A Critical Study as bearing also, however obliquely, upon the novelist’s art, “or what he would like it to be.” Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor make the point, but it is a marginal gloss, not part of their main argument. Indeed, the only limitation in their unfailingly perceptive book is that it does not pursue the implication of Sammy’s drawing. The book is a detailed study of Mr. Golding’s novels, Lord of the Flies, The Inheritors, Pincher Martin, Free Fall, and The Spire, followed by a chapter which raises certain important questions about his work as a whole. As critical analysis, the book is superb, easily the best study of Mr. Golding’s art, but it does not sufficiently consider Sammy’s careless drawing. To me, the drawing stands for a fundamental desire in Mr. Golding to write a Novel. Not a fable, a myth, a parable, a romance, or an allegory, but a novel, careless, free, joyous, authoritative. Since Lord of the Flies Mr. Golding’s fiction has been a remarkable labor of craft, the meanings carefully adjusted, word by word. This is not to imply that the books are propelled by sheer force of will in the absence of imagination. But the craft, so hard to learn, has been acquired at the cost of freedom and nonchalance. There is some evidence, especially in Free Fall and Pincher Martin, that Mr. Golding, fabulous artificer, would like nothing better than to write a loose baggy monster of a novel, possessed of life to the degree of irrelevance. Or at least to write a book, all carelessness and luck, which, given the first push, would leap its own way. The novelist would not have to put everything in to make sure that it was there. He would gamble recklessly on the “little miracles of implication,” like Beatrice’s small hands. In a discussion with Frank Kermode a few years ago Mr. Golding said of Pincher Martin:
I fell over backwards in making that novel explicit. I said to myself, “Now here is going to be a novel, it’s going to be a blow on behalf of the ordinary universe, which I think on the whole likely to be the right one, and I’m going to write it so vividly and…
This article is available to online subscribers only.
Please choose from one of the options below to access this article:
Purchase a print premium subscription (20 issues per year) and also receive online access to all all content on nybooks.com.
Purchase an Online Edition subscription and receive full access to all articles published by the Review since 1963.
Purchase a trial Online Edition subscription and receive unlimited access for one week to all the content on nybooks.com.