To The Ends Of The Earth
William Golding's 'To The Ends Of The
Episode One: Rites of Passage
This diverse, complex and haunting trilogy of William Golding novels
- Rites of Passage, Close Quarters and Fire Down Below - charts
a dazzling and hazardous sea journey from England to Australia in 1812/13,
as experienced through the eyes of one young Englishman, Edmund Talbot,
who goes through his own rites of passage from youthful bravado to maturity,
from arrogance to humility.
The bulk of the story is set on board a ship on the high seas towards
the end of the Napoleonic Wars.
As in Lord of the Flies, Golding uses a singular and isolated environment
as a microcosm in which to explore, with a unique comic eye, the themes
of human obsession, love and guilt, the capacity for self-delusion and
brutality, for insight and redemption, for courage under prodigious odds
but for fear and cowardice too. All human life teems within the cramped
confines of this creaking and perpetually endangered hulk.
Edmund Talbot is on his way to Australia to take up
a Government post there, secured for him by his rich and influential godfather.
He is young, witty and naive, and all set for adventure and bravery in
the face of whatever a long sea voyage might throw at him.
He is also immature, vain, haughtily cocksure in his perception of the
world and ripe for certain lessons, both emotional and intellectual.
The vessel is an outdated and decrepit 18th Century wooden warship
which 'renders like an old boot'. There is nothing in the least bit romantic
about it. It is crammed with a disparate assortment of officers, seamen
and passengers (made up of gentlemen like Talbot and few ladies) and a
'cargo' of poor emigrants.
Presiding over this little society is the irascible Captain Anderson,
who is positively hostile to Talbot until he learns of the young man's
powerful patron, which makes him grudgingly respectful.
Notable among the crew are Lieutenant Summers, a consummately
professional sailor who has come up through the ranks, and the dashing
Lieutenant Deverel, whom Talbot admires for his cynicism
and masculine flair.
Among the passengers are a Republican called Prettiman,
a severe governess called Miss Granham, and a drunken
and verbose painter called Brocklebank, who appears to
be enjoying a menage à trois with two women whom he claims to be
his wife and daughter, even though this seems highly unlikely. There is
also the timorous and fawning young parson, Colley.
The voyage is rough and shattering, relentless and wearisome. Out of
monotony and claustrophobia there soon grows a need for distraction and
mischief, which results in the wretched death of the parson.
Appalled at his own entanglement in the victimisation of Colley, Talbot
is forced to participate in a whitewash of the case when there is an enquiry
Chastened by this black event and made altogether wiser by the realisation
that he doesn't yet understand the world he inhabits, Edmund continues
on his journey.