Saturday, August 29, 2009

William Golding's biographer on the unfortunate nature of many eminent creators

This past week on the BBC Radio 4 arts and entertainment program(me) "Front Row," host Mark Lawson interviewed biographer John Carey who has just completed the first ever biography of Nobel Prize winning novelist William Golding, using hundreds of pages of personal journals, letters and unpublished works -- that haven't before seen the light of day.

Lawson's interview is a fascinating listen for anyone who enjoys literary biography. But it's also relevant to the Shakespeare issue because Carey is a critic who has reviewed many literary biographies himself. As Lawson points out, Carey once famously observed that Anton Chekhov seems to be "perhaps the only great writer who had also been a wholly commendable human being."

Carey's portrait of Golding reveals an author who -- if Stratfordian standards of moralistic judgment about Edward de Vere's character applied here -- should clearly be deemed unfit to have written great literature.

Carey's biography of Golding reveals the Nobel laureate to have been, in his own words, a "monster" who admitted in his own journals that "I understand the Nazis because that's basically what I am." In those same journals, Golding owns up, for instance, to an attempted sexual assault on an underaged girl.

Golding's journals, Carey says, contain a kind of self-loathing and deep-seated shame -- the full origins of which are not entirely clear. Carey qualifies Golding's sensational "Nazi" remark to note that, unlike the poet Ezra Pound, Golding was never a supporter of the Third Reich. Rather, Golding's strange confession might seem to stem from a more generalized understanding he felt, in some primal way, for organized acts of depravity or inhumanity.

These horrific qualities of one of the great British novelists of the 20th century of course provide only one small insight into a man who also gave the world one of the most stunning and poignant portraits of the savagery inherent in all human societies.

But it would also appear that, in this case at least, Golding knew all too well the monstrous extremes to which human behavior can sometimes descend. Clearly a redeeming grace was his extraordinary talent for rendering it into words.

My general response to those who try to pull the moral argument against Edward de Vere as "Shakespeare" is to ask if they've ever actually read, say, Titus Andronicus. Or Pericles. Or how about Macbeth?

To that list I might now add Lord of the Flies -- and then point them toward Carey's new bio.

[Creative Commons image by Sun_Dazed]

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