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How can one Record and not Invent?

Comment transcrire sans inventer ?
Judy Carver
p. 145–156


J’entends faire usage de mon expérience filiale pour interroger le rapport entre mémoire et imagination dans quatre des romans de mon père. Dans The Pyramid figurent des éléments qui rappellent son vécu: il dépeint des gens qu’il a connus sans véritablement les travestir. Cette absence de “re-configuration” imaginative explique peut-être les faiblesses relatives de cette œuvre, dont les éléments fictifs lui paraissaient plus intrigants que ses souvenirs originels. Pincher Martin, où le personnage principal construit un rocher afin de survivre, est né du souvenir d’une rage de dents et il incombe également au lecteur de reconstituer le roman une fois qu’il a pris connaissance de la fin. Dans Free Fall et To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy, mon père propose deux versions d’un souvenir crucial: son propre père, Alec Golding, sur son lit de mort. La première est proche de la réalité, mais son exactitude ne la rend pas moins poignante. La seconde, ressaisie plus radicalement par l’imagination, est plus feutrée. L’ensemble de la Trilogie contient d’autres instances puissantes de remémoration. Le romancier utilise ce qui est à sa portée. Au lecteur, s’il le désire, de faire la part entre mémoire et imagination afin d’entrevoir l’auteur dans un processus de création qui demeure toutefois un mystère.

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1I have some unique knowledge connecting episodes from my father’s life with scenes from his novels. The nature of that connection is enigmatic and the terms of the discussion hard to define. Nevertheless I wish to compare examples of such connection to see if they produce any conclusions. Knowledge is contextual, and my knowledge is that of a daughter.

Memory and Imagination

2In his autobiographical essay “Billy the Kid” (Golding 1965, 162), he asks “How can one record and not invent?” The question, a rhetorical one, is posed at a point of ambiguity. He records, with what looks like painstaking exactness, an episode in his childhood when he was economical with the truth (after a quarrel with his schoolmates for which he might have been slightly more responsible than he claimed): he saves up his tears, so that he can present a more convincing display of sorrow when he reaches home. But the sorrow is genuine. He portrays himself as a child, perhaps seven or eight, already in that border area between memory and imagination, both recording and inventing.

3In his Foreword to the one-volume edition of his Sea Trilogy, To the Ends of the Earth, my father implies that memory and imagination are closely linked —“our memories become imaginations and our imaginations memories”. But he makes a distinction. He suggests that a memory is usually “there”, available. By implication, “an imagination” (his term) is more crafted. However, he gives these hints merely to explain what he means by a particular imagination being “like” a memory. Evidently we are concerned here with a continuum, rather than discrete categories.

4“How can one record and not invent?” We could follow his question with another. Why, when you are a writer famous for your imagination, should you employ memory at all? Why not roam free in a purely imagined world? Even in those novels where he appears to do just that—Pincher Martin, for example memory plays a very significant part. So why use memory—assuming we can more or less recognise it? Several reasons might be mentioned, though there are no doubt more:

To nourish the book: he says “I can only just write my books”
(Carey 1986, 173).
To forgive oneself. (In Medcalf 1977, [unnumbered] 21 he says “Any novelist is forgiving his own sins, really [. . .]. If he has luck, he forgives other people’s sins, too.”)
To incorporate something important to him. To resolve a conflict.

5I propose to examine the uses of memory in four of my father’s works: The Pyramid, Pincher Martin, Free Fall, and To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy.

6These, and all his novels, contain elements or environments from his life which are used I believe in what might loosely but intelligibly be called a symbolic manner. These involve memory, but to call them memories seems perverse. Two obvious examples are sea and forest. These are very clearly connected with his childhood, and with what he termed the “two ends of my English life”—Cornwall and Wiltshire (Savernake Forest in particular). However, their predominating location in the process of imagination (as, for example, in The Inheritors) seems clear to me. I shall concentrate on that other area, a debatable land indeed, where I can suggest that the two activities of memory and imagination—if they are two—are merged.

7If it seems presumptuous for me to do this—to provide a sort of shadow world for the novels—I can take some comfort from a paragraph in the essay “Fable”, which he wrote in 1961–2 to provide answers to the questions he was often asked about Lord of the Flies.

8I no longer believe that the author has a sort of patria potestas over his brainchildren. Once they are printed they have reached their majority and the author has no more authority over them, knows no more about them, perhaps knows less about them than the critic who comes fresh to them, and sees them not as the author hoped they would be, but as what they are. (Golding 1965, 100)

9Actually, I suspect this passage was if not ironical then at least rueful: an acknowledgement that it was pointless to shut the stable door when the horse had already galloped happily out of sight. Moreover, we can none of us now come fresh to the book. Even the King of Sweden had to study Lord of the Flies at school. Nonetheless, the author here sets down in print an abnegation of his fatherly power (the Roman power of life and death) over his texts, his “brainchildren”. We have his permission to explicate the text.

10The elision of people and prose is something that occurred to him elsewhere. After a particularly nasty dream about a seacoast similar to Cornwall, he wrote in his journal, “Every man’s history is no more than a footnote to his childhood!” (Golding, Journal, 12 November 1974.)

11Every individual, he implies, or at least every man, is an edited text, complete with critical apparatus. The primary text, like Plato in the original remark of G.E. Moore, which I am sure my father references here, is childhood. Remembering is then a process of re-editing. Later, he wrote, “A new universe comes with every child.” So, perhaps, a new text with every reader.

The Pyramid: Autobiographical Reference

12Here is a snippet from my father’s Journal:

Yesterday, Judy brought me a message from John Harris [a friend of mine at Oxford, where we were both postgraduates]. She had told him that I don’t know what to write next. He suggested I should start writing my autobiography. He pointed out that after a time I should start embroidering, and then take off into fiction. This is an accurate diagnosis of my inability to tell the exact truth and my ability to invent; but he doesn’t know that I’d already done something like that in Men, Women And Now [a piece of life writing dating from 1964–6]. Ann [my mother], when I told her about this, pointed out that what emerged was The Pyramid.
[Sunday 24 February 1974]

13The Pyramid (1967) contains much recognisable reference to my father’s own life. Some details of remembered figures are changed. My father observes, for example, that Miss Dawlish, the piano teacher in the novel, is based on a Miss Salisbury who taught him the piano, but he adds that the original was more cheerful than her fictional counterpart. The narrator’s father in the book is a pharmacist rather than a science teacher like my grandfather. Nevertheless, the book bears a close, observable relationship to my father’s life. Its narrator Oliver has much in common with the author.

14My mother did not regard the book as a great achievement. She felt the material from my father’s life was insufficiently re-imagined and the novel inferior as a result, a judgment worth examination. However, elements taken from his life and re-imagined in the book were often more vivid to my father, more readily recollected by him, than the real-life originals. Once, in the 1970s, he and I happened to be in Marlborough (the town where he grew up), and we walked past the house that had belonged to the long-dead Miss Salisbury. My father’s nickname for her had been “Dap” or “Dapper”. In the novel, Oliver calls her “Bounce”. As we passed the house my father said, “Hi, Bounce”. Not “Hi, Dapper”.

15This replacement of the actual memory by the re-imagined sometimes caused embarrassment. From October 1967, when I went to Oxford, he often gave me a lift home via Marlborough. On one occasion we stopped there to buy petrol at the garage owned by the man whose determined rise to prosperity had figured in The Pyramid with little disguise. We were served by this man’s son, who told my father in a meaningful way that he had read “that novel”. My father had so completely dissociated the actual people and place with those in the novel that he assumed this rather hostile observation referred to Lord of the Flies. He was disconcerted when I suggested later that the garage-man’s son had meant The Pyramid.

16Such circumstances, however fixed in my father’s mind in their re-imagined state, were matter-of-fact, and closely akin to their actual counterparts. I don’t think The Pyramid is one of my father’s best books. However, I am not convinced this is because the events and characters are insufficiently re-imagined. I think the book has a limited, wearied quality. It draws heavily on my father’s capacity for self- condemnation, something true of Pincher Martin and Free Fall. Perhaps in those two novels, in my opinion far more successful, he has the “luck” (Medcalf 1977, [unnumbered] 21) to forgive himself.

Pincher Martin: Creation and Recreation

17A reader who comes to the end of Pincher Martin is obliged to rethink it. Some have even recorded a certain irritation at being required to work overtime. Surely once they have read the book—not a particularly easy book—their task is over? Hints are present, of course, to suggest to the alert that the rock which the shipwrecked Pincher manages to climb is uncomfortably similar to something Pincher remembers, something jagged and aching which turns out to be his own missing tooth. However, I doubt that many first-time readers grasp that Pincher dies in the first three pages and merely fantasizes his material salvation. In the United States, the novel was called “The Two Deaths of Christopher Martin”, which displeased my father. He thought it inaccurate.

It might be thought we are straying from memory. On the contrary.

18In the summer of 1955, my parents and brother and I stayed for six weeks, together with my grandparents, in a hired house in the Cornish village of Polruan, across the river from the town of Fowey. We borrowed a sailing dinghy and pottered around the estuary. However, as the holiday progressed, my father became increasingly withdrawn. Finally, one day when he was out sailing with my brother David, then nearly fifteen, he said he was sorry but he had unendurable toothache. David remembers sailing the dinghy back and mooring it. My father took the little ferry straight over to Fowey.

Years later, my father recalls that time:

Tuesday 10 July 1973
Woke at 4 o’clock with gland played up. I can’t understand it—one cheek is perceptibly fatter than tother and has a sub[-]hurt, a warm feeling. But both the wisdoms are gone on that side—one extracted by an exhibitionist in Fowey, fifteen years ago.

19His memory of the dentist is vivid, colourful even. But fifteen years would take us back to 1958, one of the successive summers we spent in our boat Wild Rose, actually the summer that my grandfather Alec came sailing with us, and the year in which he died. The Polruan holiday happened in 1955. It can’t have been earlier: while we stayed there my father showed me a finished copy of his novel, The Inheritors, published in the autumn of 1955. It can’t have been later because the next summer, 1956, was our first, dramatic summer voyage in Wild Rose, first of an annual series. So there are thirteen months between the holiday at Polruan and the publication (October 1956) of Pincher Martin, with its rock built on the memory of an aching tooth.

20My father had already corrected the proofs of his novel before we went away for our summer holiday of 1956, our first in Wild Rose. We nearly drowned. Our boat, headed for Cherbourg, staggered into Le Havre after three days of storm. Such excellent copy was sadly too late for Pincher, though it wasn’t wasted. It appears, several decades later, in the Sea Trilogy. And my father had—in my view, very successfully—described the experience of drowning before we even set sail. Here we are dealing with what might be described as a remembered imagination. He mentioned to Stephen Medcalf that he had often imagined drowning, during the war (Medcalf 1977, [unnumbered] 2).

21Pincher’s rock must have entered the novel early on in the writing process. My father, therefore, assimilated a memory and successfully re-imagined it while it was relatively recent. He had also imagined—or perhaps observed—over the same period the process whereby a memory turns into something different, since Pincher himself uses memory to build a rock, just as my father was building a novel. Jocelin in The Spire creates the spire in his mind and then in actuality, as the novelist does his novel, but we have no indication that Jocelin remembers an earlier example. Furthermore, in Pincher Martin the reader has a position with similarities to that of Pincher and the novelist. Once at the end, the reader finds out that Pincher is still wearing his sea boots. He has to build the novel again, from a combination of memory and imagination.

22Pincher Martin, however, uses many other memories, which are much more immediate in their relationship to my father’s life. My father drew on his time at Oxford. He had been very unhappy there, and often said to me how listening to the bells on a Sunday night was enough to drive one to suicide, a thought he did not mention lightly.

The centre endured a progress through an alley, across another road, a quadrangle, climbed bare wooden stairs. It sat by a fire and all the bells of Oxford tolled for the reservoir that overflowed and the sea roared in the room.

The centre twisted the unmanliness out of its face but the ungovernable water ran and dripped down the cheeks.

“I am so alone. I am so alone!” (Golding 1956, 181)

23Nathaniel Walterson, the benevolent friend whom Pincher attempts to murder, is a scarcely disguised portrait of my father’s friend of nearly six decades, the anthroposophist priest Adam Bittleston, whom he met at Oxford. Nathaniel points up Pincher’s outrageous evilness. This man, who has helped Pincher in his loneliness at Oxford, as Adam helped my father, becomes the object of Pincher’s jealousy and—perhaps more unforgivably—his contemptuous irritation. Pincher tries to kill Nathaniel by causing the ship they are on to make an unnecessary avoiding manœuvre—and at that moment they are actually torpedoed. Even the alarm about the torpedo may stem from a wartime memory recorded in our family papers, where my father, on watch, mistook a spouting whale for a torpedo. His remembered childhood fears of the cellar in the house at Marlborough (Golding 1965, 166) are also given to Pincher—and they play a powerful role in the crumbling of Pincher’s rock.

24It also seems to me probable that some of the Fowey dentist’s character—that of an exhibitionist—went into the make-up of Pincher, as a form of revenge, which is after all a species of memory, though such revenge would have been strictly private. So, in one novel, the uses of memory are various, and manifest varying degrees of re-imagining, but it seems to me that these elements work together successfully.

Memory in Free Fall

25In my father’s novel, Free Fall, there is much of his own life once more. I wish to concentrate on one episode in particular which refers to a very important moment in my father’s life—the death of his father. It can also be compared with a scene in a later novel, which portrays that event in an altered, re-imagined form.

26Sammy Mountjoy, the hero and narrator of Free Fall, is presented with two different views of the world. One, the rational, scientific world, is both demonstrated and explained by Sammy’s science teacher, Nick Shales, openly acknowledged by my father to members of his family as a portrait of his own father, Alec Golding, who taught science at Marlborough Grammar School. The religious world, usually the world of the spiritual and supposedly imaginative, is voiced, if not demonstrated, by the dreadful Miss Rowena Pringle. She too is based on a teacher at my father’s school, a Miss Pierce, who according to my father in his journal ended her days in the lunatic asylum in a neighbouring Wiltshire town. I have been unable to verify that statement. Miss Pringle, however, also exemplifies another aspect of the mysterious. She is gratuitously cruel, evil in an unfathomable way. Sammy tries to explain it all in terms of Miss Pringle’s sexual and emotional frustration, rather as, later in The Pyramid, Oliver recoils in disgust and pity at the thought of the “unused body” of Bounce, Miss Dawlish. But Oliver’s explanation is too pat, and the mystery remains.

27Free Fall was published in October 1959. Alec, my grandfather, died on 12 December 1958. In the novel, grown-up Sammy wishes to tell his old teacher where he, Nick, went wrong. He goes to see him.

But Nick was in hospital dying of a tired heart. Even then it seemed to me he had less than his share, a bed in a ward in a town he always wanted to avoid. I saw him that evening from far off down the ward. He was propped up on pillows and leaned his immense head on his hand. The light from a bulb behind him lay smoothly over his curved cranium, snowed on him like the years, hung whitely in the eaves over his eyes. Beneath their pent his face was worn away. He seemed to me then to have become the image of labouring mind: and I was awed. Whatever was happening to him in death was on a scale and level before which I felt my own nothingness. I came away, my single verse unspoken. (Golding 1959, 250–251)

28This scene is completely recognisable to me. I too remember that hospital ward, and the figure of my grandfather, with his huge round head. I remember him sitting up in bed. He talked to me and—maybe—to my father as well, standing silent behind me. A day or so later Alec died, a couple of hours after my father had visited him.

29So, a very few months after Alec’s death, my father wrote of Nick Shales, and composed that elegiac non-farewell. “I came away, my single verse unspoken.” Fleetingly, Nick shows him a mystery. The intensity of that description does not seem to me hampered by its exactness as a memory. And a re-imagined version of it is, I believe, less effective.

Memory in the Sea Trilogy

30In the Sea Trilogy, the two figures of Mr Prettiman and Miss Granham (later Mrs Prettiman) loom large in the sentimental and social education of Edmund Talbot, the hero and narrator. “Granham”, I might point out, is a place name from Marlborough, where my father grew up. You could I think make out a case for a connection between the name Alec Golding and Aloysius Prettiman. After all, gold is pretty. I stretch a point. But luckily I don’t need to. My father acknowledged that these two figures were at least in part portraits of his parents. This is information I owe with thanks to a personal communication from Professor John Carey.

31In Fire Down Below, the third book of the trilogy, I contend we are given a re- imagined version of that painful scene with Nick Shales. Prettiman has been injured by a fall and is in his bunk, crying out with pain. Talbot and the new lieutenant, Benét, try to ease his agony by turning him round. This will enable him to endure the ship’s motion more easily. Unfortunately, through their clumsiness and (crucially) competitiveness, their actions cause him terrible agony. He falls unconscious and they are told they have killed him. However, it turns out that despite the pain they caused him they have inadvertently produced a partial cure.

32Talbot persuades Mrs Prettiman to allow him to wait silently beside the sleeping man. But silence for Talbot is not possible. He sees that Prettiman has been reading. A slight movement of Prettiman’s hand allows Talbot to identify the book, and he exclaims: “Good God! Pindar!”

33My father was very fond of Greek poetry. I distinctly remember him telling me that Pindar was extremely difficult. However, there are editions of Pindar among his books. Alec, my grandfather, did not read Greek, nor did he read poetry, at least when I knew him. Talbot identifies the “verse” from Pindar which Prettiman seeks (an apposite one, and perhaps a nod to the unspoken “single verse” of Sammy’s). “Grey hairs flourish even among young men, here and there before the right time of life for it.” Then he reads aloud to the sick man, from Voltaire’s Candide and then again from Pindar. He finds a parallel between the two writers, and Prettiman goes so far as to say: “It was—perceptive of you to bring it [Pindar] into the ring with Eldorado.”

34Prettiman is a radical. Initially, Talbot has been entrusted with the task of watching him, since the government believe he is dangerous. Mrs Prettiman says reproachfully to Talbot that her husband could have been to the Southern Ocean what Tom Paine is to the Atlantic. My grandfather was a lifelong socialist, a believer in the production of a good society through socialism, equal opportunity and above all free education. When I knew him Alec was not irascible like Mr Prettiman. But my father told me he had mellowed.

35He also told me he could always get a rise out of Alec by saying that he, my father, was one of Nature’s dukes. Talbot, tall, handsome and an aristocrat, is not like my father who was 5 foot 8 inches, certainly not classically handsome, and of lower-middle-class origins. Nevertheless, I think my father identifies with him. The conversation between the two men, on what could have been Prettiman’s deathbed, sketches a resolving of that intense relationship, more important in my father’s life than any except the one with my mother—that between Alec and his rebellious younger son. Through the proxy of Prettiman, Alec the socialist, the radical, is brought to acknowledge the world of his son—poetry, inequality, a rejection of certainties. Most crucially, perhaps, Prettiman listens to Talbot.

36So the earlier, recognisable scene is changed in many ways in the later novel, and perhaps made more bearable for its author. I don’t find it as powerful as the earlier scene in Free Fall. I consider it far less intense, more diffuse, less credible. I am of course affected by my own memories of Alec’s death.

37Perhaps one might argue as well that Fire Down Below is a book of my father’s old age, with some diminution of whatever faculty/ies we are discussing. But there are stirring and powerful uses of re-imagined memory in the later parts of the trilogy.

38In Close Quarters the captain is persuaded by Lieutenant Benet to allow the use of a dragrope to clean the weed off the bottom of the ship. During this dangerous operation, the rope pulls off a piece of timber, part of the ship’s keel, an event fraught with danger for the old vessel and those in her. The broken timber rises horrifyingly “like the crown of a head pushing up through the weed”, and then sinks again out of sight.

39Here, my father uses a remembered wartime experience. He told me of a time when he was a rating, a crewmember on a large ship, probably H.M.S. Galatea. The ship’s anchor was being raised by a winch and would not come. With greater force, it began to rise up from the sea bed, though still reluctantly. As it finally broke the surface, the crew saw with what my father described as a kind of primitive horror that an ancient, weed-encrusted, monstrously big anchor from some huge vessel of a previous century was caught on the modern one. As the modern anchor swung free of the water, the old one tilted, fell off and sank out of sight. Here, the changes do not seem to me to militate against the success of the passage. I find the Close Quarters passage more frightening, if anything, than my father’s accounts of his recollected wartime experience.


40For the novelist, monarch of all he or she surveys, the important distinction in the material is not the extent to which the memory is re-imagined. The question is simply whether the material helps. (“I can only just write [. . .]”) There may be private satisfactions for the novelist through using memory: forgiveness, blame, jokes, reconciliation. But the main thing is always the book. In addition, after writing the book, the memory, for my father, is often less vivid, less accessible, than the re-imagined version. Nor does the success of the material’s use depend, as my mother felt The Pyramid demonstrated, on the degree of re-imagining. Memory versus imagination is of tantalising interest to the reader, who cannot possibly know of every memory. We are impressed but frustrated by the opacity of the imaginative process. Do we wish to place the novelist in a metaphorical Petri dish, where he or she visibly makes things up? However closely observed, the process remains mysterious.

41My father asked “How can one record and not invent?” I would add, “How can one invent and not record?”

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Works by William Golding, published in his lifetime:

Golding, William, Lord of the Flies, London: Faber, 1954.

Golding, William, The Inheritors, London: Faber, 1955.

Golding, William, Pincher Martin, London: Faber, 1956.

Golding, William, Free Fall, London: Faber, 1959.

Golding, William, The Spire, London: Faber, 1964.

Golding, William, The Hot Gate, London: Faber, 1965.

Golding, William, The Pyramid, London: Faber, 1967.

Golding, William, The Scorpion God, London: Faber, 1971.

Golding, William, Rites of Passage, London: Faber, 1980.

Golding, William, The Paper Men, London: Faber, 1984.

Golding, William, Close Quarters, London: Faber, 1987.

Golding, William, To the Ends of the Earth: A Sea Trilogy, London:
Faber, 1991.

Unpublished writings by William Golding (all quotations © William Golding Limited):

Golding, William, Journal 1971 to 1993, manuscript, Golding Archive (some selections from 1971 have been published in Areté 16 [Winter 2004], 25–42).

Golding, William, Men, Women & Now, manuscript, Golding Archive, written c. 1965–6.

Golding, William, Scenes From A Life, manuscript, Golding Archive, written c. 1989–93. (part of this has been published in Areté, 2, Spring-Summer 2000, 23–38).

Other works cited:

Carey, John, ed., William Golding: The Man and his Books. A Tribute on his 75th Birthday, London: Faber, 1986.

Medcalf, Stephen, ed., William Golding in Conversation with Stephen Medcalf, transcription of an interview, London: The British Council, 1977.

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Judy Carver, « How can one Record and not Invent? »Études britanniques contemporaines, 38 | 2010, 145–156.

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Judy Carver, « How can one Record and not Invent? »Études britanniques contemporaines [En ligne], 38 | 2010, mis en ligne le 11 avril 2016, consulté le 23 avril 2024. URL : ; DOI :

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Judy Carver

Judy Carver was born in 1945, the younger of the two children of William Golding and his wife Ann. She was awarded degrees at the universities of Sussex, Oxford, and the University of the West of England. She worked in publishing until she had her three sons. Since her father’s death in 1993 she has looked after his literary estate and is currently preparing a memoir of her father for publication.

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