Speakers at the event included Judy Carver, daughter of Golding, who curated the exhibition, and Brian Aldiss OBE, a friend of Golding and another Faber author. Brilliantly, during the speeches, a conch was passed around allowing the next presenter to speak! Judy talked about the process of selecting items for the display and said that she hoped it would inspire visitors to read a Golding novel other than Lord of the Flies. Brian Aldiss, perhaps most well known as a science fiction writer, discussed his friendship with Golding; recalling that he and Golding were both Faber ‘new boys’ in the 1950s. He paid tribute to Charles Monteith, who had been both Aldiss’s and Golding’s editor at Faber, and who famously rescued the manuscript of Lord of the Flies from the slush pile.
The Golding display centres around Lord of the Flies and there are some stunning treasures on show. The highlights are the original manuscript and typescript of Lord of the Flies which have never been on public display. The hand-written version is covered in Golding’s tiny writing and seems almost incomprehensible. Golding wrote much of the novel whilst he was a teacher in Salisbury and it is clear that the draft has been written in a school notebook! The typescript (with added corrections in pen) lies open at one of the key incidents in the book: Simon’s encounter with the pig’s head.
Also featured is Golding’s original submission letter to Faber and Faber on which Faber’s reader has scrawled ‘Rubbish & dull. Pointless’. This letter was my favourite item and its inclusion is deliciously ironic in an exhibition which celebrates a Nobel-prize winning author, who is most famous for this ‘pointless’ novel. Charles Monteith rescued the manuscript from the rejection pile at Faber and letters between him and Golding are also on display, as is Golding’s Nobel medal. All of his novels are featured in their original editions and I share Judy Carver’s hope that visitors will be inspired to explore some of these other works.
Bristol Museum have loaned a conch to the Bodleian for the duration of the exhibition and excitingly, Golding may have actually seen this conch on trips to the Museum as a child. Could this very object have inspired one of the most memorable symbols in English Literature? It certainly is a tantalising prospect.
‘William Golding: Lord of the Flies and Beyond’ will be on display until 23rd December at the Proscholium, Bodleian Library.
Clive Hurst, Head of Rare Books at the Bodleian and Judy Carver.
Portrait of William Golding Copyright Estate of Michael Ayrton
Conch shell, Charonia tritonis from the Indo-Pacific Ocean, kindly loaned by Bristol Museum & Art Gallery