'A Simple Enormous Grief'

Eighteenth-Century Utopianism and Fire Down Below

in Critical Survey
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  • 1 University of Roehampton k.mccarron@roehampton.ac.uk
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William Golding’s Fire Down Below (1989) is the last in his ‘Sea Trilogy’, a sequence of novels which began in 1980 with Rites of Passage and continued in 1987 with Close Quarters. Edmund Talbot, Golding’s young, aristocratic protagonist, finally arrives in Australia shortly after the end of the Napoleonic Wars and this sea-borne bildungsroman is brought to an end. The response to Fire Down Below was extremely enthusiastic, and markedly different from the cautious and even mildly hostile response which greeted Close Quarters. The great majority of reviewers agreed that the happy ending of Fire Down Below made it Golding’s most optimistic novel. John Bayley wrote: ‘Fire Down Below brings the whole magical enterprise to a prosperous and happy conclusion’, while John Fowles wrote: ‘In this black-besotted age some may be unsettled by the happy ending, indeed by the generally jaunty (a word that kept perversely returning to me as I read) spirit of this closing leg.’ However, the last of Golding’s books published in his life-time can be read as a deeply conservative political allegory and, overall, as one of his most deeply pessimistic novels.

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