International Women’s Day 2019: Sophy in Darkness Visible

In his 1979 novel, Darkness Visible, Golding created his first narrative from the perspective of a female narrator. The first section of the novel is viewed through Matty, but the second, entitled ‘Sophy’, focuses on Sophy Stanhope. Sophy and her twin Toni are characterised by their appearances – both are beautiful and well-mannered, and are adept at presenting a façade of politeness and charm. However, this external beauty disguises the ugliness in their characters, and allows them to manipulate others. At the age of eleven, after witnessing a shoplifter, Sophy begins to understand how people can make choices – to be good or bad – and Sophy makes a choice to be bad. She and Toni plan to steal sweets, but it is too easy, too ‘boring’ to be satisfying.

The twins have a difficult childhood. Their mother has left to be with another man, and their father is irritated by their presence. When he begins a relationship with the ‘au pair’ Winnie, they are banished to live in the stables building at the bottom of the garden. They quite enjoy this, although they aren’t particularly close with one another. They prefer to exploit everyone’s expectation that they are inseparable for their own means. On hearing that her father is to marry Winnie, the ‘au pair’, Sophy decides to seek revenge. ‘She found herself with a passionate desire in the darkness to be Weird – there was no other name for it. Weird and powerful’ (187). Sophy divides her self between  ‘Sophy’, the visible presence, to ‘This’ who ‘lived and watched without any feelings at all and brandished or manipulated the Sophy-creature like a complicated doll’ (184).

At fifteen, Toni leaves for London and is arrested for being with people who were running drugs. Sophy is jealous and decides she must lose her virginity as she assumes Toni must have done. Her dalliances with boys leave her unimpressed but ‘they did teach her the astonishing power her prettiness could wield over men’ (201). Sophy’s desire to achieve ‘weirdness’ develops into misanthropy: I hate! I hate! I hate! (206), although she begins to miss the women she used to have around her: Gran, her ‘forgotten mother’, and Toni. She thinks that ‘it was almost better being forced to everything with someone you didn’t really like than this living with yourself and to yourself’ (207).

Sophy briefly returns to her family home and her father looks at her with dislike. He tells her:

“For God’s sake go and marry somebody.”

“You’re no advertisement for marriage, are you?”

“Neither are you.” (209)

Sophy is bored by everything and ends up becoming tranquillised by the TV set, watching anything indifferently. She receives a postcard from Toni, now working with a terrorist group, which reads ‘I (and then she had crossed out the I) We need you’ (211). Sophy ignores the postcard and begins a relationship with ‘dull’ Roland Garrett, before meeting Gerry. She has feelings with Gerry but

‘they did not, must not use that four-letter word, the many-splendoured, but all the same, when you are young and have yourself what nonsense so much is, you cannot help an occasional glance at the current situation and say to yourself – is this it?’ (230).

Sophy’s refusal to admit love, or admit when someone loves her, leads her to seek excitement elsewhere. She accompanies Gerry and his friend Bill on armed robberies, before planning what she thinks is the perfect crime with more return for the risk. Sophy leads this kidnapping plot, using her skills to locate the richest child, and sketching a way to carry out the crime.

Sophy is convinced that the world is ending in some way: ‘Everything’s running down. Unwinding. We’re just – tangles. Everything is just a tangle and it slides out of itself bit by bit towards something that’s simpler and simpler – and we can help it. Be a part.’ (250). For Sophy, life is patternless and happens by chance. She wants to control this randomness and have a say in her own destiny. Her rejection of her father, declined marriage proposals, and intelligence give her strength in a society that tries to deny it. While Sophy is certainly not a ‘good’ person, she is defined by her desire to effect change, and to live her own life. Her choice to be bad is her own decision and as such, Sophy is the most fascinating character in Darkness Visible.

International Women’s Day 2017

International Women’s Day 2018


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