In an admission in some ways as disturbing as his famous novel, Lord of the Flies, author William Golding wrote in an unpublished memoir that he had tried to rape a fifteen-year-old girl when he was eighteen.
Biographer John Carey discovered the memoir among Golding's papers while doing research for his book, The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies, available September 3. In it, Golding says he met the girl when she was 13, and that she was "beginning to burn sexually" at that time. By 14, he wrote, she was "already sexy as an ape." When he saw her again, on a visit home from Oxford, he said he "felt sure she wanted heavy sex, as this was visibly written on her pert, ripe and desirable mouth." This she-wanted-it language is obviously upsetting, as is the admission that he "unhandily tried to rape her." She managed to get away, leaving him calling "I'm not going to hurt you," and thinking he "had made such a bad hand at rape."
Sadly, none of this — from the assumption that physical attractiveness as a sign of sexual desire to the disingenuous claim that "I'm not going to hurt you" — is unusual. What is unusual is the source of the admission — an author who had written elsewhere about the darkness of the human spirit. Golding apparently wrote his memoir, which he called Men and Women Now, to explain his "monstrous" side to his wife Ann. It seems, however that he also wanted to excuse his actions, with claims that the girl was "depraved by nature." Confessing the attempted rape to his wife years after the fact, when it's likely that no restitution could be made, seems more like a selfish unburdening than a generous act of honesty. And Golding's repeated claims about the girl's sexuality suggests he wasn't ready, even at that late date, for true contrition.
Golding's papers also reveal that he pitted boys against each other when he was a schoolteacher, and that as he gave them more autonomy, his "eyes came out like organ stops" to witness their actions. These creepy war games, in which he "divided pupils into gangs, with one attacking a prehistoric camp and the other defending it," may have been an inspiration for the ultimately murderous conflict between boys in Lord of the Flies. Of that novel, Golding said in a publicity questionnaire,
The theme is an attempt to trace the defects of society to the defects of human nature. The moral is that the shape of a society must depend on the ethical nature of the individual and not on any political system however apparently logical or respectable. The whole book is symbolic in nature except the rescue in the end where adult life appears, dignified and capable, but in reality enmeshed in the same evil as the symbolic life of the children on the island.
The author's words on evil and "the defects of human nature," along with his admission of his "monstrous" side, may be telling. If Golding believed that humans were evil at base, that given freedom they would turn against each other, then he might have thought his attempted rape was in some way mitigated. And his depiction of boys corrupted by a mysterious devil that at first appears external but more and more seems to operate within them may be a claim for the lack of free will in the face of the corrupting influence of human nature itself. Whatever the case, we know now that someone who wrote memorably about evil had first-hand experience with it, and saw it within himself, as much as he sought to excuse it.
Author Golding Admitted To Attempted Rape [UPI]
Author William Golding Tried To Rape Teenager, Private Papers Show [Guardian]
William Golding, Author Of Lord of the Flies 'Tried To Rape A 15-Year-Old Girl' [Telegraph]