As Graves recalls in Goodbye to All That, he grew up in a household that stressed the time-honored virtues of Christianity, patriotism, and progress. Along with millions of other young Englishmen, he found that these virtues were severely shaken, if not totally destroyed, by the nightmare of World War I. Unlike most of his contemporaries, however, Graves was a brilliant writer, and his classic autobiography is an account of both his own personal experiences and the end of innocence for an entire generation and nation.
Although the book covers all Graves’s life up to the time he wrote it, the work is primarily a memoir of his service in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, one of the most respected regiments in the British army. After a brief account of his family life and a rapid but thorough review of his education at Charterhouse, Graves thrusts the reader directly into the experiences of modern warfare. These are by turns stirring, boring, horrifying, heroic in brief moments, and brutal for long stretches. The battlefield of World War I was not a glamorous place or an arena for storybook heroism; it was a nasty, death-filled place. The Western Front was a morass of death and mud where huge armies grappled without seeming purpose or hope of victory.
As a young lieutenant being sent into battle, Graves had a life expectancy on the front lines of just about three months; he lasted for two years. He was then severely wounded and reported as dead. For more than a week, his friends and family back in England believed that Graves had, in fact, died. His unexpected recovery and the delayed notification to his family constitute the “resurrection,” which is one of the central passages of Goodbye to All That. The experience clearly had a deep and lasting influence on Graves both as a man and as a poet....
(The entire section is 752 words.)