Last Updated on August 6, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 864
Graves's 1957 prologue to his heavily revised second edition of Goodbye to All That is, in large part, an apology: he wonders how his publishers "escaped a libel action" after the initial book was published "during a complicated domestic crisis" for Graves. Copies of the original 1929 edition of the book are difficult to find, but if you do get the opportunity to compare the old to the new, the degree of difference is actually startling. What is particularly interesting is that the 1929 version is, indeed, "ragged" in its prose style, as the author later admits, and seems to leap from subject to subject in the manner one might expect of something that was largely dictated into a tape recorder. It betrays Graves's state of mind, having "quarrelled with, or been disowned by, most of [his] friends" and no longer caring at all "what anyone thought of me." Yet, despite the, at times, sloppy prose and the lack of internal cohesion in the original book, two sections stand out as powerful and vivid pieces of writing: Graves's account of his public school experiences and his study of his time in the trenches of the First World War. It is because of these sections that the book sold so well and became a modern classic, and the raw energy Graves pours into them reflects the fact that he is, in writing this book, seeking to externalize these harrowing experiences so that he might, perhaps, be rid of them.
Goodbye to All That is an excellent read on its own, but it should not be considered in a vacuum. Read it alongside Siegfried Sassoon's Memoirs of George Sherston, for example, and consider the different ways in which the two men present what is effectively the same narrative. Graves objected bitterly to Sassoon's portrayal of him (as "Cromlech") in his memoir—Sassoon being one of the close friends with whom he had "quarrelled" at the time of writing Goodbye to All That. Sassoon complained about Graves's portrayal of him. And yet, years later, when the dust of the argument had settled, both grudgingly agreed that the descriptions were fairly sound. Graves's intense friendship with Sassoon changed the direction of his war experience, and it is interesting that, even writing after a falling-out, that still comes through in this novel. Sassoon, a man who Graves identified at once as a kindred soul because he "brought Lionel Johnson with him to the war," drove the much younger Graves to petition an army board, in tears, to allow a judgment of insanity rather than a court martial when Sassoon decided to object by letter to the war. And yet Graves agreed with Sassoon: the war was all wrong, Siegfried was right in objecting to it, and yet the only way to save his life was to insist that he was insane. It was, as Graves depicts it, a truly hypocritical situation.
Hypocrisy, and Graves's conviction that England after the war was a hypocritical nation in which he could not remain, is a thread in this book which recurs again and again. When, during the war, he returns home to see his parents, everybody behaves as if nothing is amiss. When the war is over, everybody tries to behave as if the world has not been transformed entirely from what it was when Graves, as a baby, was held up to watch Queen Victoria pass the window of the family home in Wimbledon. Graves's first marriage had just failed, and his relationship with the American poet Laura Riding had caused many of his friends to abandon him, largely out of concern for him; they felt, although Graves could not at the time understand, that she was abusive of him. Graves always struggled to have relationships with women; his vicious exposé of the public school system serves to externalize a little of his frustration and confusion in this area. Only a man who truly "no longer cared what anyone thought of me" could have written so freely...
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