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The Spire ()

Anthony Burgess : 99 Best Modern Novels (1934-84) (1964)

Dean Jocelin of the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary has set himself and Roger Mason's building crew an impossible task : to add a 400 foot stone spire to the Cathedral, despite the fact that the building has no foundation and can not possibly support such a structure.  Obsessed by a vision, Jocelin persists and drives those around him through financial problems, internal dissent, job actions, fire, plague, death, and delirium.  When the very rock of the cathedral itself starts to sing from the strain of supporting the spire, it is only the force of Jocelin's will that holds the building up :

    The singing of the stones pierced him, and he fought it with jaws and fists clenched.  His will began
    to burn fiercely and he thrust it into the four pillarsd it in with the pain of his neck and his head and
    his back, welcomed in some obscurity of feeling the wheels and flashes of light, and let them hurt
    his open eyes as much as they would.  His fists were before him on the stall but he never noticed
    them.  He knelt confusedly and mutinously: It is a kind of prayer! So he knelt, stiff, painful and
    enduring; and all the time, the singing of the stones operated on the inside of his head.  At last, he
    understood nothing at all, he knew that the whole weight of the building was resting on his back.

When Mason questions his devotion to such an insane endeavor, Jocelin replies :

    ...the folly isn't mine.  It's God's Folly.  Even in the old days He never asked men to do what was
    reasonable.  Men can do that for themselves.  They can buy and sell, heal and govern.  But then out
    of some deep place comes the command to do what makes no sense at all--to build a ship on dry
    land; to sit among the dunghills; to marry a whore; to set their son on the altar of sacrifice.  Then,
    if men have faith, a new thing comes.

Supported by an angel, but beset by demons, Jocelin eventually loses his grip on reality and as he lies dying, his only comfort is that the spire, against all odds, still stands.  In his moment of death even the stones of the building declare their belief and as he passes these words linger : "It's like the apple tree!"

Now the author undoubtedly had some precise meaning that he attached to this whole parable, but he's left it opaque enough that the reader can supply his own.  Personally, I was struck most by the similarity of Jocelin to Atlas--both forced to bear the weight of the world as punishment for their ambitions--and of the spire to the Tower of Babel--both physical manifestations of man's aspiration towards godhood, but the building of both made impossible by God himself.  Man having eaten from the Tree of Knowledge, but not from the Tree of Life, can conceive of making himself a god, but can not achieve this goal.  Our capacity for acquiring knowledge is eternally limited by our mortality.  Likewise, the spire, however ambitious and heroic an undertaking, will not long outlast the Dean; a realization that is reflected in the final reference to the apple tree.

At any rate, that's what I took away from the book.  It's more than a little underwritten, so it will bear any number of interpretations.  The best thing it has going for it is the portrayal of Jocelin, a man in the grip of a religious mania.  He is a quite compelling figure no matter what our final judgment of him, and the spire which consumes his final years represents a triumph, however temporary, of the human will.


Grade: (C+)


William Golding Links:

    -WIKIPEDIA:William Golding
-ESSAY: William Golding and the curse of the dream: We must resist the lure of utopianism (Samuel Mace, 3/14/23, The Critic)
    -REVIEW ESSAY: Re-Evaluating ‘Lord Of The Flies’ (Peter Wells, 6/14/21, 3 Quarks)
    -REVIEW: of William Golding’s Rites of Passage (Annie Proulx, Lit Hub)

Book-related and General Links:
    -Home Page : William Golding Limited
    -William Golding (1911-1993) - in full Sir Willam Gerald Golding (kirjasto)
    -ENCYCLOPAEDIA BRITANNICA : "william golding"
    -William Golding (1911-1993) (Nobel e-Museum, The Nobel Foundation)
    -SIR WILLIAM GOLDING : 1983 Nobel Laureate in Literature (Nobel Prize Internet Archive)
    -ARCHIVES : "william golding" (NY Review of Books)
    -ARCHIVES : William Golding (books unlimited)
    -Literary Research Guide: William Golding (1911-1993)
    -EducETH - Golding, William (1911 - 1993)
    -William Golding (1911-1993) (Bohemian Ink)
    -A Tribute to Willliam Golding (Velissarios Valsamas)
    -PROFILE : GOLDING PINS HOPE ON WORDS  (R. W. APPLE Jr., December 8, 1983, NY Times)
    -ESSAY : SHOULD HOLDEN CAULFIELD READ THESE BOOKS?  (Donald Barr, May 4, 1986, NY Times Book Review)
    -ESSAY : ABOUT BOOKS AND AUTHORS : Birth of the Flies (Edwin McDowell, NY Times)
    -ONLINE STUDY GUIDE : The Lord of the Flies (Brian Phillips, Spark Notes)
    -Lord of the Flies  - turning paradise into hell -
    -Discovery Channel School: Lord of the Flies
    -ClassicNotes: William Golding
    -REVIEW : Apr 30, 1964 Frank Kermode: The Case for William Golding, NY Review of Books
               The Spire by William Golding
    -REVIEW : of CLOSE QUARTERS By William Golding (Robert M. Adams, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of CLOSE QUARTERS By William Golding (Walter Goodman, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of THE PAPER MEN By William Golding (Robert M Adams, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE PAPER MEN. By William Golding (Michiko Kakutani, NY Times)
    -REVIEW : of FIRE DOWN BELOW By William Golding (Deirdre Bair, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of  A MOVING TARGET By William Golding (Jan Morris, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : of THE DOUBLE TONGUE By William Golding (DAVID WILLIS McCULLOUGH, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW : Dec 7, 1967 Denis Donoghue: The Ordinary Universe, NY Review of Books
               The Pyramid by William Golding
               William Golding: A Critical Study by Mark Kinkead-Weekes and Ian Gregor
               The Art of William Golding by Bernard S. Oldsey and Stanley Weintraub
               Imaginary Friends by Alison Lurie
    -REVIEW : Feb 24, 1972 V.S. Pritchett: Genesis, NY Review of Books
               Glory by Vladimir Nabokov, translated by Dimitri Nabokov, and in
               collaboration with the author
               The Scorpion God by William Golding
    -BOOK LIST : MODERN NOVELS; THE 99 BEST : The Spire (1964)  (Anthony Burgess, February 5, 1984, NY Times Book Review)

    -FILMOGRAPHY : "william golding" (Imdb)


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yours faithfully Mrs Nahla

- Nahla

- Oct-04-2004, 04:31


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- Rich

- Mar-05-2003, 07:34