Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1373
Good-Bye to All That begins with Robert Graves giving a brief account of his earliest memories, followed by a brief summary of what he is like at the time of writing: "My height is given as six feet two inches, my eyes as gray, and my hair as black.’’ With those staples of ‘‘biographical convention,’’ as he puts it, out of the way, Graves starts into the background of his family on both his mother's and father's sides, which is important information for showing the privileged class from which he came. His mother's German family is credited with being ‘‘a family of Saxon country pastors, not anciently noble'' but educated and thoughtful people. From his father's Irish family, he sees an inherited gift for conversation. His father was an amateur poet but mostly a school-board official, and he was widowed with five daughters when he married Graves' mother. He was their third child together, born in 1895, when his mother was forty and his father forty-nine. Due to this great age difference, his father had little to do with the young Graves' childhood and is hardly mentioned in the book.
Unique memories of his childhood include the time he realized that he and the servants who worked for the family were of different classes; another, his ‘‘horror of Catholicism,’’ which he learned growing up in a strictly Protestant household. In subsequent chapters, he explains that when he was not away at school, he was with his family at their house in Wimbledon or traveling, particularly to visit relatives in Germany.
Graves' childhood was spent moving from one preparatory school to another: his father disapproved of one, he was thrown out of another for using bad language, and he attended another for just one semester, ‘‘for my health.’’ From the earliest schools, he remembers traumatic sexual encounters with girls. The daughter of one headmaster tried, with her friend, to find out about male anatomy by peeking down his shirt front, and, in what he calls ‘‘another frightening experience from this part of my life,'' he once had to go to his sister's school and wait for her, with dozens of girls walking past and staring at him. ‘‘[F]or months and even years afterwards my worst nightmares were of this girls' school,’’ he explains, summarizing his fear as being ‘‘'Very Freudian,' as we say now.’’
The final prep school that he goes to, Charterhouse, is the one at which he spends the most time and the one that he dislikes the most. In his second year, he writes to his parents, listing the improper things that go on so that they will let him leave Charterhouse, but instead they take his letter to the headmaster, making Graves even more of an outcast. Left alone, he begins writing poetry and submits some of his work to the school's literary magazine, which leads to his joining the Poetry Society. There one of the other boys convinces him to try boxing, and he meets the character whom in the book he calls by the pseudonym "Dick." The book strongly hints at Graves' relationships with other boys while growing up. ‘‘In English preparatory and public schools,’’ he explains, ‘‘romance is necessarily homosexual.’’ His relationship with Dick is one of the most important things in his life at Charterhouse.
A few days after Great Britain declares war on Germany in 1914, Graves decides to leave Charterhouse and to enlist in the army. The war was expected to last only a few months, and he is desperate for an excuse to avoid graduating and moving on to college at Oxford. He takes a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a company with a long, revered history going back for several generations of British military service. After passing Officers' Training School, he enters the army as a lieutenant and, at age nineteen,...
(The entire section contains 1373 words.)
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