The entropy of Englishness
Reading empire’s absence in the novels of William Golding
in End of empire and the English novel since 1945
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William Golding's source for the first novel Lord of the Flies was 'the great original' of the boys-on-an-island tradition, R.M. Ballantyne's The Coral Island, with its intrepid boy-heroes, sure of their position in the racial order of things. In Golding's second published novel, The Inheritors, it is an act of cannibalism which serves as the most powerful emblem of the drive to colonise. For the Crusoe-esque protagonist of Golding's third novel Pincher Martin, cannibalism is a 'superbly direct' expression of the drive to conquer. By the time Golding published his 'condition of England' novel, Darkness Visible, in 1979, he was addressing the condition of a post-imperial England in decline. Returning to post-imperial Englishness in the late 1970s and 1980s, in an increasingly comic mode, Golding tentatively explores the flaws and blind spots in a shared imaginative landscape forged through the history of imperialism.

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