Saturday, 11 December 2010

Golding again

Just got John Carey’s biography, William Golding: the man who wrote Lord of the Flies. All the facts are in there about how he wrote the book and got it published. (See earlier posting.)

I suppose I shouldn’t be disappointed by this but the book is as good as it is because he had a brilliant editor at Faber. Charles Monteith persuaded Golding to cut out an atomic war at the beginning and a naval battle at the end from which the ‘trim cruiser’ that finally rescues the boys emerges.

But what’s most disappointing to me is that the Simon we have in the printed version owes his fascinating mysteriousness to ruthless excision. In the original Simon was very explicitly a Christ figure who has direct contact with something, a god, or God, or a person -- Golding tells Monteith explicitly that he needs to ‘“convey a theophany of some sort or else he [Simon] won’t be as big a figure as he ought”’, a ‘theophany’, Carey explains, being the ‘appearance, or showing forth, of a god’ (159). The reason Simon retires into a secret place is for a voice to speak to him -- it assures him for instance that Ralph will get home safely, and indeed in our text Simon does give that assurance to Ralph, though we no longer know where he has got his assurance from. ‘He also led some of the boys in Good Dances on the beach’ (154).

In the original, too, ‘Simon has an intuition that there is a “prohibition” against eating the fruit on the island.’ And he actually meets and dances in the clearing (with the butterflies) with the ‘person’ who had done the prohibiting. Then, after hearing the pig’s head speak he faints, and then on recovering has the thought that he could offer himself to the beast as a sacrifice so the others could be spared. Terrible stuff, as Monteith realised; Golding would need to to make it so that everything had a rational explanation.

So in the end, as a result of Monteith’s patient persuasion, ‘“the allegory, the theophany, is [still there as] the imaginative foundation...[but is there] like all foundations, to be concealed and built on”’ (160). ‘At one point [Monteith] crosses out more than a page in which Ralph thinks Simon has an “aura” round him and was “charged with a particular significance”’ (162).

It will be hard now for me to read the novel again without being constantly aware of its ghost predecessor, Golding’s earlier version(s), which would have been an intolerable book. But I should put those thoughts aside. Golding after all showed no unwillingness to go along with Monteith’s amendments and seems indeed to have recognised that they would make for a better book. The Waste Land, too, we recall, was as much Pound’s work as Eliot’s -- or at least Pound made it into something quite different from what it had been. Nothing wrong with literary collaborations: a work emerges and has its autonomy; once it’s accomplished and there, the author(s) too, as well as the reader, can contemplate it as something outside themselves with its own existence and the right to work its own power on its own terms; the details of how it came into being are finally irrelevant. Much as Golding is diminished in my eyes when I learn of his original conception, he’s restored by his recognition of the poetic value of what emerged.

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