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William Golding Intro

The British novelist William Gerald Golding was born in St. Columb Minor, a village in Cornwall, on September 19, 1911. Golding greatly admired his father, Alec Golding, a distinguished school master who “inhabited a world of sanity and logic and fascination.” His mother, Mildred Golding, was active in the suffragette movement.

Golding entered Oxford University, and to please his parents, he began to study science. After two years, however, he switched to English. He graduated in 1935 with a B.A. degree and diploma in education.

Golding moved to London, where he became a social worker. During this time, he began writing, acting, and producing for a small London theater, bu eventually deferred to family tradition and became a teacher. When World War II began in 1939, he was teaching at Bishop Wordsworth’s school, a boys’ school in Salisbury, Wiltshire.

In 1940, Golding joined the Royal Navy and served on a cruiser. Eventually he became a lieutenant, ending his career in command of a rocket launching craft. During his naval career, Golding saw action against battleships, submarines, and aircraft. He was present at the sinking of the Bismarck and took his rocket-launching craft to Normandy for the D-Day invasion.

golding1In 1945, Golding resumed his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School and began writing again. Some of his reviews and essays were published, but he found no publisher for the novels he had written. In spite of this, Golding persisted. He concluded that since he would probably never be published, he would simply write for his own satisfaction. One night after reading a bedtime story to his children, he spoke with his wife about his true desire, to write a book about what people are really like. Boys’ adventure books such as Coral Island and Treasure Island weren’t believable, and he wanted to trace the darkness that he witnessed as being part of every human being. The result was Lord of the Flies, published in 1954 when Golding was 43. Lord of the Flies sold well when first published;however, it sold fewer than 3,000 copies in the United States and soon went out of print. Later, the novel found and retained an influential audience and eventually became a favorite of college students, rivaled only by J. D. Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye. Later Golding published The Inheritors (1955), Pincher Martin (1956), and Free Fall (1959).

In 1961, largely due to the success of Lord of the Flies, Golding was able to leave his teaching post at Bishop Wordsworth’s School to become writer-in-residence at Hollins College in Virginia. Thereafter, he became a full-time writer. His later novels include The Spire, The Pyramid, The Scorpion God, Darkness Visible, Rites of Passage, The Paper Men, and Fire Down Below, published four years before his death at 81 years old.


In 1983, Golding received the Nobel Prize for Literature. Of his works in general, he was quoted as saying,

In all books I have suggested a shape in the universe that may, as it were, account for things. The greatest pleasure is…just understanding. And if you can get people to understand their own humanity–well, that’s the job of the writer.

His Nobel lecture discusses various topics and focuses not only on writers, their creations, and the impact that writing has on humanity, but also the mutual responsibility we have for the Earth. He ruminates on the interplay between pessimism (which people assume he has based on the dark focus of his works) and optimism, which he challenges us to embrace and recognize in the power of the written word. Golding says,

Words may, through the devotion, the skill, the passion, and the luck of writers prove to be the most powerful thing in the world. They may move men to speak to each other because some of those words somewhere express not just what the writer is thinking but what a huge segment of the world is thinking. They may allow man to speak to man, the man in the street to speak to his fellow until a ripple becomes a tide running through every nation – of commonsense, of simple healthy caution, a tide that rulers and negotiators cannot ignore so that nation does truly speak unto nation. Then there is hope that we may learn to be temperate, provident, taking no more from nature’s treasury than is our due. It may be by books, stories, poetry, lectures we who have the ear of mankind can move man a little nearer the perilous safety of a warless and provident world.

You may listen to a recording of Golding’s Nobel lecture here.

In the year before his death in 1993, Golding reflected with melancholy on the body of his literary career. Comparing his few works to other writers whose works number in the hundreds, Golding said,

The list makes me more aware of wasted time, the years the locusts have eaten, than of achievement. Seeing them in my mind’s eye I feel a little depressed, like a tourist catching sight of Stonehenge from a distance and for the first time: “not a very impressive scatter of a few stones heaped in a plain without much feature and under a gloomy sky.”

Of course when the tourist (if he can) gets inside the stone circle he will find things much different, and I hope against hope that the same thing can be said of my books.

golding3When looking at Golding’s philosophical attitude about Lord of the Flies, one interpretation is that each individual must acknowledge his connection to all people. Humanity’s problems stem from lack of awareness of this truth. People remain trapped inside themselves, too self-absorbed to look at the world around them. Only if people are able to see themselves as part of the whole, not as islands, will they find salvation. Humans must somehow find a way to connect with outer reality. Golding believes that humans’ intelligence will help them to make this necessary connection: one cannot change basic human nature, but can recognize and understand it. In so doing, individuals can willfully choose to suppress the savagery beneath their humanity.

For a commentary on Golding’s reputation in literary circles, check out William Boyd’s “Man as an Island,” published in the New York Times Book Review in 2010.

adapted from material by Jane Gutherman, DPHS English Department

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Esperanza Onstage

In 2009, the Steppenwolf Theatre Company in Chicago produced a stage version of The House on Mango Street as part of its Steppenwolf for Young Adults series. Written by Tanya Saracho, the play dramatizes many of the vignettes of the novel, with music and performances bringing the characters and neighborhood to life. The production was directed by Hallie Gordon and featured Belinda Cervantes, Gina Cornejo, Sandra Delgado, Liza Fernandez, Ricardo Gutierrez, Christina Nieves, Tony Sancho and Mari Stratton. Here are three scenes from the production, taken from “Our Good Day,” “The Family of Little Feet,” and “My Name.”

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Kate Chopin Introduction

Kate ChopinKatherine O’Flaherty Chopin was born on February 8, 1851, in St. Louis, Missouri. The O’Flahertys were a wealthy, Catholic family. Her father founded the Pacific Railroad, but he died when Kate was four. Kate and her siblings were raised by their mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother. These women proved to be strong role models. They encouraged Kate’s love of reading and storytelling. Kate was an average student at the convent school she attended. After her graduation, she became one of the belles of fashionable St. Louis society. She met Oscar Chopin, a wealthy cotton factor, married him after knowing him a year, and moved to New Orleans.

Oscar Chopin’s circle was the tight-knit French Creole community. Kate led a demanding social and domestic life because of her status. Unusually for the time, her husband was supportive of her independence and intelligence, and her storytelling gifts and her knowledge of French, English, and Creole made her a keen observer of  the local culture. She had much to draw from. Her husband’s business gave him prominence in the Creole community, and New Orleans was a city full of diversions, including horse racing, theater, music (Kate was an accomplished pianist herself), and, of course, Mardi Gras. norlhouseThe Chopins lived in three different houses in New Orleans; this one on Louisiana Avenue was the last. Like many wealthy families, they traveled by boat out of the city to one of the many small Gulf islands to vacation during the summer months. All of these experiences feature in Chopin’s stories and novels.

Oscar’s business failed in 1879. The family moved to their plantation in Natchitoches Parish near the small town of Cloutierville, which strengthened Kate’s connection to the Creole community and gave her more material to draw from. Malaria claimed Oscar’s life in 1880 at the age of 31. Kate moved back to St. Louis with their six children to draw support from her family and place the children in better schools than Cloutierville could provide. The loss of her mother a short time later added to her grief. A family physician suggested writing as an outlet, and Chopin’s literary career was born.

Chopin published her first story in the St. Louis Dispatch. Soon after, her first novel, At Fault, was published privately. Her prolific output over the next fifteen years includes nearly a hundred short stories for adults and children alike. The most famous of these, like “A No-Account Creole,” “Desirée’s Baby,” “The Story of an Hour,” and “A Pair of Silk Stockings” are set in the Creole community and explore its traditions and expectations, especially of the women concerned. Her story collections Bayou Folk and A Night in Acadie were nearly universally praised.

The publication of The Awakening in 1899, however, was a different story. Through its heroine, Edna Pontellier, The Awakening gave Chopin’s themes of independence, art, and possibility free rein. Edna’s decisions go against the expectations for women of the time. A few critics praised the novel’s artistry, but most were very negative, calling the book “morbid,” “unpleasant,” “unhealthy,” “sordid,” “poison.” Novelist Willa Cather labeled it trite and sordid. The overall view was that Edna’s decisions, which modern audiences view quite differently, as scandalous and unfeminine. Chopin was ostracized as a result. Her third story collection was refused by its publisher. The Awakening was removed from libraries for its scandalous content. Chopin herself never got over it; her writing output slowed to the point of cessation. Chopin bought a season ticket to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis and visited on August 20, an unusually hot day. She took to her bed complaining of a severe headache that evening and lapsed into unconsciousness. Two days later, Chopin died, probably from a brain hemorrhage.

Awakening CoverIn 1969 Norwegian critic Per Seyersted wrote that Kate Chopin “broke new ground in American literature. She was the first woman writer in her country to accept passion as a legitimate subject for serious, outspoken fiction. Revolting against tradition and authority; with a daring which we can hardy fathom today; with an uncompromising honesty and no trace of sensationalism, she undertook to give the unsparing truth about woman’s submerged life. She was something of a pioneer in the amoral treatment of sexuality, of divorce, and of woman’s urge for an existential authenticity. She is in many respects a modern writer, particularly in her awareness of the complexities of truth and the complications of freedom.”

Chopin did not consider herself a feminist, but her themes of independence and women’s self-realization are stirrings of a movement that would resound throughout the twentieth century. She is now considered one of the essential authors of American literature.

Includes material from the Biography page of the Kate Chopin International Society.

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William Faulkner Intro

The past is never dead. It’s not even past.
–William Faulkner, Requiem for a Nun


69eecb475a762e6c_largeNobel Prize-winning author William Faulkner is one of the best-known of Southern writers, if not the preeminent one. His rich and evocative writing style is unparalleled and very different from many of his contemporaries, most notably Ernest Hemingway. Where Hemingway is spare, direct, and laconic, Faulkner is lush, meandering, and protracted. One famous Faulkner sentence, located in the middle of Absalom, Absalom!, runs for 1,288 words. In that sense, Faulkner’s writing is much like the South he loved and sought to preserve on the page: a complicated, tangled mixture of the lyrical and the everyday.

Faulkner was born in Mississippi in 1897. He began writing as a young man. When World War I broke out, Faulkner attempted to enlist in the Army, but his age and height (he was only 5’5-1/2″) kept him out. Undaunted, Faulkner went to Canada to enlist in the British Royal Flying Corps. Despite never actually serving, he was fond of wearing his uniform and carrying the swagger stick he’d been issued. Soon after, he moved to New Orleans to begin his writing career. His first novel, Soldier’s Pay, was published in 1925. Apart from this brief period in New Orleans, occasional stints as a Hollywood screenwriter in the late 1930s and early 1940s, and as a writer in residence at the University of Virginia in the 1950s, he primarily lived and worked in his hometown of Oxford, Mississippi. He once remarked, “I discovered my own little postage stamp of native soil was worth writing about and that I would never live long enough to exhaust it.”

He was right. His interwoven collection of short stories and novels focused on his own back yard. Lafayette County became the fabled, fictional Yoknapatawpha County, whose families, history, and tales reflected both the high-minded ideals of the mythical South and the tangled, messy actualities of a region marked by pride, poverty, social status, and segregation.

Rowan OakRowan Oak, Faulkner’s home, is now owned and operated as a museum by the University of Mississippi. The house is preserved much as it was in Faulkner’s day. His Underwood typewriter sits ready on a desk, while riding boots rest on the floor next to a chair. A full outline and story notes for one of his last published works, A Fable, are penciled across the walls of his study. Faulkner’s connection to this house was legendary. One story goes that during one of Faulkner’s screenwriting jobs, the studio put him in an office and left him to work. After some time passed without much output, Faulkner said he thought he could write better from home, and the studio agreed. More time passed without any production, so the studio sent someone to Faulkner’s temporary California apartment—and he wasn’t there. When he asked to write from home, he meant Rowan Oak. They called and sure enough, Faulkner was in Mississippi, proving what he wrote for The Paris Review in 1956: “An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.”

Faulkner’s life was marked by excesses—his concentration on his work, his home, his alcohol consumption (he did not drink while writing but often binged afterward). He won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in both 1955 and posthumously in 1963, and was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature for his body of work in 1949. In his acceptance speech he remarked, “I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work—a life’s work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before. So this award is only mine in trust.” Hear a clip of his acceptance speech here.

Faulkner’s techniques, including his exploration of stream-of-consciousness writing, his invented verbiage, and his convoluted timelines, have earned him a permanent place near the top of the Southern literary tradition. Flannery O’Connor, another celebrated Southern author, stated that “the presence alone of Faulkner in our midst makes a great difference in what the writer can and cannot permit himself to do. Nobody wants his mule and wagon stalled on the same track the Dixie Limited is roaring down.”

For all kinds of great Faulkner resources, visit William Faulkner on the Web, hosted by the University of Mississippi.

“William Faulkner’s Hollywood Odyssey,” by John Maroney about Faulkner’s screenwriting days, was published in Garden and Gun magazine in 2014. Read it here.

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