As he approaches the end of his degree, Bradley Osborne and colleague Arabella Currie are hosting a symposium on the work of William Golding. An extensive range of work by the Cornish-born author is held in the University of Exeter Special Collections and archives. These are used extensively by academics and students and, often, inspire teaching modules.
Bradley’s thesis argues that Golding’s novels had a clear goal to reawaken in his readers, a sense of strangeness and mystery in the world, which he felt had been lost as a result of contemporary developments in science and technology. The symposium, which will include talks from academics at the University of Exeter, Chester and Bath Spa, similarly seeks to shed new light on Golding’s works, where the writer’s creative output has suffered from a dearth of serious critical attention in the past two decades.
What attracted you to William Golding’s work as a basis for your PhD?
I was not at all a Golding expert before starting the PhD and in fact I originally had no intention of studying his work. It was only when the university advertised a funded PhD studentship on Golding and the archive that I seriously considered making his writing the focus of my research. I realised very quickly that the study of Golding had been virtually abandoned for several years and that there was therefore an opportunity to do something completely new and fresh. So I applied for the funding and, as they say, the rest is history.
How important was the Special Collections Golding archive to your research?
The archive has been absolutely essential to my research. It’s fair to say that I could not have written my thesis without it. My argument heavily depends on the findings that have come out of my study of the drafts and notebooks held in the archive. On a slightly different note, what else the archive has given me is a genuine sense of discovery that I had never experienced before as a student of English Literature. During my undergraduate and masters degrees, I wrote on texts that I knew well and liked well already, and about which I already had a firm idea of what I thought and what I wanted to say. Whereas as a PhD student, I’ve found that my conception of what Golding’s work is about could change quite drastically from week to week, because of the discoveries I was making.
How did the event come about? Can you provide some insight into your collaboration with Arabella Currie and the Golding estate?
It’s been something of a pet project of mine and Arabella’s for a long time now. On more than one occasion, we discussed the feasibility of putting on a Golding conference at Exeter. I must admit that I was rather pessimistic about the likelihood of attracting a large enough audience and array of speakers to present. It was Arabella’s idea to put on a digital event, and it’s an example perhaps of one of the very small number of positive results that have come out of the current pandemic. What this means for us is we can attract a global audience that might otherwise have been dissuaded from attending, had we organised an in-person event in Exeter. Golding’s name is internationally recognised, so it’s important that we in Exeter stay in touch with fans and scholars scattered across the globe.
Why do you feel that Golding’s creative work has suffered from a dearth of critical attention in the past 20 years?
I can certainly elaborate on it, though I wish I could explain it. Lord of the Flies, of course, suffers from being done (and therefore overdone) at secondary schools, so I suspect that most students are discouraged from reading the rest of Golding’s work. School textbooks are ultimately based on the academic scholarship, and the critical consensus on Golding has not changed very much since the 1960s. Back then, most critics argued that Golding was a pessimist as a result of his experiences during the Second World War, and thus they read his novels as allegories of the human condition. My guess is that the study of Golding collapsed from exhaustion – there was too much being written that had too little that was fresh and original to contribute to what was already known and thought about his work. But this is exactly why there is a huge opportunity now – thanks, in large part, to the archive being made available to researchers – for anybody who is interested in Golding to change the narrative, and this is what we are trying to encourage with this event.
What panels are you particularly looking forward to?
I must admit that I have a favourable bias towards research that is outside my own expertise – so I’m especially excited to hear Cristina Ferreira Pinto and Sofia de Melo Araújo’s paper on teaching Lord of the Flies in primary school and in universities. Otherwise, though, I think we have a nice range of papers, selected from a large number of proposals. The other presentations such as Adam Gutch’s proposal for a film & the conversation with Una McCormack and Nina Allan are hugely exciting too and will be a nice break from the more serious academic discussions which will take up the rest of the event.
The symposium aims to be an important first step in reawakening interest in Golding’s work and in re-establishing it as a viable field of study for future scholars. Exeter professor, Tim Kendall, told us that Arabella and Bradley are both writing ground-breaking books on Golding’s work and that the university are proud to be organising a virtual symposium on Golding’s achievement.
To register for the event and view a full programme see: