- William Golding: A Structural Reading of His Fiction
Philip Redpath, in his book on William Golding, adds to many other readings of the novelist a study that is quite individual. It is a reading that supplements and corrects other readings. Or so Mr. Redpath judges, and with some justice.
Redpath calls his reading of Golding's sizable body of work structural, and in several senses it is. For Redpath, by explicit assertion, separates himself from critics who move from a novelist's work to perceptions of excellence that all can—or should—subscribe to; or, beyond perceptions of aesthetic excellence that will appear the same to all readers, to still more intimate insights: insights into the author's conscious intent, insights that all "good" readers should agree on.
These are to Redpath—at the outset at least—forbidden terrains. What terrain, then, is indeed open to a careful student of a novelist? This, first of all: the way in which novels are put together. There are overt acts of construction that no one can—or at least should—miss. Thus in this study of Golding there is a goodly number of pages that allow all readers to see just how certain of the novels are assembled, how they are forced into some kind of unity. And such arrangements are patent facts that all readers can confirm.
But Redpath turns to another feature of the work of "all readers" that does not lead to any easy and general agreement. To Redpath, the hard fact about any novel is not that it is written; the evidence that truly exists, as a basis for comment and analysis, is that a novel is being read. Thus, criticism—structural and otherwise—can only be a report of this or that person's reading. None of these reports gives us easy access to the secret purpose of Mr. Golding over a long career. Each critical report—and much (but not all) of Redpath's work conforms to this—is one person's valuable account of the play of ideas and the literary strategies that embody them.
At this point we can be reminded of the adventures of a soul among masterpieces. The reader of Redpath's study, however, will at many points discover that William Golding is a book that eventually goes beyond the stated limits of the essay. In short, what one "soul" named Redpath perceives is offered to the "souls" who read the book as findings that all sensible readers ought to arrive at. For in novel after novel, analysis (that of Redpath and of other adroit readers, for that matter) will discover oppositions expressed in the structure of the books. The oppositions are always expressed obscurely, and the oppositions vary from novel to novel. Good and evil often alternate but never fully displace each other. Or the lived experienced is opposed to the written, created experience. Or the life that is conforming to convention alternates with the life that steps beyond conventional limits. [End Page 735]
All these perceptions perhaps concern matters that remain within the limits of particular novels. But toward the end of his study—a study that is always admirable and moving—Redpath steps, as it were, beyond the confines of particular novels and sums up the point of all the obscure contrasts that are Golding's specialty, as in a sentence such as this: "although the novels do not openly explain events in religious terms, they demand from the reader a religious interpretation."
If, as Redpath argues, this is so, it would appear that his critical "soul" and the "souls" of other readers move beyond perceptions that are unique to a consensus that will (or should) unite all readers of Golding. If this judgment is just, individual "readings" have at last merged, and we are left—and rather tellingly—with a report centered not on what readers can perceive severally but on what the novelist William Golding truly is.