Dan Sandman

45: The Spire by William Golding

In Books, Fiction on 07/11/2014 at 12:00 pm

The Spire by William GoldingSet in the middle ages, The Spire (1964) is about the building of Salisbury Cathedral spire, which was most likely severely damaged shortly after its completion. The story follows the obsessions of Dean Jocelin, head of the cathedral, who believes that God wants him to complete the spire, and that the almighty has sent an angel to guide him. Jocelin will not listen to reason, ignoring the advice of his colleagues, despite the fact that he can hear the pillars sing ‘as if the strain had become intolerable’ (pg.124). It is a foreboding tragedy, full of impending doom and moral anxiety.

Literary critics have often commented on William Golding’s symbolism, whereby the writer uses symbols to represent ideas or qualities. For example, the collapsing spire could represent common fears surrounding social and political change. In an age where religious leaders were at the center of society and politics, Jocelin uses his religious power to build something that he hopes will enhance the presence of almighty God over the people of Salisbury. Yet symbolically, when Jocelin joyfully climbs the spire and looks down upon the city (chapter 5), he understands ‘how the tower was laying a hand on the whole landscape, altering it, dominating it, enforcing a pattern that reached wherever the tower could be seen (pg.107-108)’. And so, the joy that Jocelin feels by looking down upon Salisbury is somewhat symbolically ominous because of the spire’s enforcing dominance.

I think this is a difficult book to read because it is written in a stream of consciousness style, where the reader follows the actions and thoughts of Dean Jocelin. However, this emphasis on style gives the work a beautifully poetic quality, enhancing the plot. In my experience, books which focus on language’s subtle qualities require more concentration, which can result in a more spiritual reading experience. I am always impressed by the way in which a William Golding novel can hold my attention and get me thinking about the world we live in.

One of our finest writers.


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