The XX Factor

The Author of “Lord of the Flies” Tried to Rape Someone When He Was 18. So What?


A guest post from Slate intern Kim Gittleson:

Should what we learn about an author’s personal life change the way we view his or her work? That’s the eternal question that’s sprung up again in the wake of the revelation that William Golding, author of Lord of the Flies , tried to rape a 15-year-old girl, Dora, when he was 18. Biographer John Carey stumbled upon Golding’s admission in an unpublished memoir that Golding wrote for his wife. Golding writes that he went on a walk with the unfortunate Dora after returning from Oxford and “felt sure she wanted heavy sex, as this was visibly written on her pert, ripe and desirable mouth.” Although Sigmund Freud might have agreed with Golding, it turns out Dora was anything but itching for an affair: The two ended up “wrestling like enemies” before she eventually escaped.

These admissions, as well as the plethora of manipulative sexual dealings that Carey goes on to describe in his biography, William Golding: The Man Who Wrote Lord of the Flies , are shocking and nauseating. But do they change anything? Did anyone after reading Lord of the Flies really believe that Golding was a stand-up guy who really understood the female psyche?

Personally, when I read the book in fourth grade, I was horrified that my teacher even thrust the material on us. A group of pig-headed boys trapped on an island in an implausible 1950s-era Lost scenario don’t want to work, try to one-up one another in increasingly dangerous displays of male bravado, form rival gangs, and eventually start killing one another. Shocker! Anyone observing playground dynamics would have been able to predict that outcome. While the lack of female characters isn’t enough to write off the book completely, that, combined with the unbelievable dialogue (“Kill the beast! Cut his throat! Spill his blood!”) and the anticlimactic ending, should have been enough to have it removed from reading lists across the country. It seems to me that condemning Golding (or questioning whether or not the incident was even rape ) is moving the focus away from where it should be-namely, getting that tripe off of required middle-school reading lists. What do you all think? Am I the only one still holding on to my childhood Golding grudge?