Good-Bye to All That

by Robert Graves

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Biographers have identified the boy whom Graves refers to as "Dick'' to be George Johnstone. At Charterhouse, Dick is admittedly one of the most important things in Graves' life. He is three years younger than Graves; they meet when they are both in the choir. It is implied, though never stated, that there is a romantic relationship between them. Dick weaves in and out of chapter VII, always mentioned as an important fact of Graves' life, although the book only talks about his attachment to Dick without ever showing them interacting. When a poem that he writes about Dick gets him called before the headmaster as "filthy," Graves threatens to reveal the fact that the headmaster is guilty of kissing Dick, too. When Dick is sent for, he confirms the story, although he later admits that he made it up.

While Graves is away at war, fighting in the trenches, he receives news that Dick "was not at all the sort of innocent fellow I took him for.’’ Since the news was sent by a cousin who has a grudge against him, Graves decides to forget about it. Later, a colleague sends him a newspaper clipping about a court case in which a sixteen-year-old boy—Dick—was arrested near Charterhouse for propositioning a soldier. The article is written to complain that the boy had been given a light sentence because he came from an aristocratic family. After reading it, Graves decides that Dick must have been driven insane by the war, because he knows that there is insanity in his family. After this, Graves decides, ‘‘It would be easy to think of him as dead.’’

Robert Graves

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Graves is of course the central figure of his autobiography. The book starts with a chronology of his family, tracing it back for centuries on both his mother's and his father's sides and pointing out famous people with whom the family interacted in order to establish the author's social rank. His childhood is spent in Wimbledon, with some summers spent in Germany visiting relatives on his mother's side. He ends up going to six preparatory schools, changing often because his father, an education specialist, disagrees with their programs, and this leaves Graves with a negative impression of the strictness and artificiality of the education system. He hints at sexuality with the sentence, "In English preparatory schools romance is necessarily homosexual,’’ but, even though romances are hinted at (especially with the boy referred to as ‘‘Dick’’), he gives no specific confirmation of any involvements. At his last school, Charterhouse, he learns to fit into the tight social order by taking up boxing, which establishes his niche as an athlete and leaves him with a broken nose.

Most of the book is about Graves' service in the First World War. He is attached to the Second Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers. His involvement in fighting is minimal; the French and Germans have fairly intricate systems of trenches dug across from each other, and there are only occasional reasons to go out into the open, called "No-Man's Land,’’ where one might be exposed to gunfire. For the most part, the danger is in standing up and being shot by one of the German snipers, who always seem to be ready for anyone. In the few cases in which there are outright attacks, such as the attack at the Somme, where Graves is injured, he offers graphic descriptions of the deaths that surround him. Because he is a gentleman-officer, Graves does not let his punctured lung keep him out of the service, and he returns to his battalion...

(This entire section contains 474 words.)

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as soon as he can, only to find that he is too injured to bear the strain of war.

After leaving the service, Graves turns his attention to writing. He attends Oxford, only because the government is willing to pay his tuition, and he meets dozens of famous, influential writers. Teaching English is not, however, something that he wants to do. After he and his wife and children leave Oxford, they take a small cottage in Islip, living in near poverty and taking charitable contributions from friends to get by. A few friends recommend him for a teaching position at the University of Cairo, and the book's final chapters are spent describing the ways of the Egyptian people. Much detail about his personal life is missing from these chapters, which, by no coincidence, cover the years of his life that the poet Laura Riding was traveling with his family.

Nancy Nicholson

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Nancy Nicholson is Graves' wife and the mother of his four children. Graves meets Nancy in 1916, when he is on leave after having his nose operated on. She is sixteen. He has come to visit her brother, whom he knows from the army, and after leaving he keeps thinking about her. They keep in touch because she is going to illustrate some children's poems of his, and at some point during their correspondence, he realizes that he is in love with her. They are married in January 1918, when she is eighteen and he is twenty-two.

Nancy is a strict feminist, according to Graves. She retains her own name and gives their daughters the last name Nicholson, while their sons have the last name Graves. When he rejoins the war, she is the inspiration for his poetry. After the war, they live in several locations—first Harlech, where his parents live, then Oxford, then Islip—with Graves writing and Nancy giving birth to babies and tending to them. She has four children with him in five years. At Oxford, it is Nancy's idea to open a little shop, like one that her old nurse opened in Devonshire. When it turns out that the shop is not only keeping her away from painting but also from raising the children properly, Nancy makes the decision to sell it, six months from when it opened. During the four years they spend at Islip, Graves is content to stay at home, but, at Nancy's request, they periodically take a borrowed vehicle and go on short trips, traveling without any plan, meeting interesting characters. The book does not mention it, but the trip to Egypt at the end included not only the Graves family but also Laura Riding, who was along, officially, as a secretary to Graves. By the time they returned to England, Graves was involved with Laura Riding, with Nancy's knowledge and consent, a relationship that is not mentioned in the book and is only hinted at in the ‘‘Dedicatory Epilogue’’ of the 1929 edition.

Other Key Figures

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While the Graves family is living a peaceful suburban life in Islip, they try to be as good as they can to the unemployed beggars who have found themselves out of work in the postwar economy, especially those who have been in the service. Daisy is the thirteen-year-old daughter of one of those men. To save the trouble of worrying about her on the road, the Graves take Daisy into their house, offering to adopt her.

Daisy, as Graves puts it, ‘‘was not a success.’’ She is big and coarse and awkward, unwilling to go to school; she argues with children her own age and is homesick for life on the road. When the homeless come around asking for handouts, she chases them away, knowing better than the Graves family which ones are able-bodied but unwilling to work. The next time that her father passes through town, he takes Daisy with him.

Laura Riding GottschalkSee Laura Riding.

Thomas Hardy
Hardy is one of England's greatest literary figures. His international reputation was established by the five novels he published before the turn of the century, from Far From the Madding Crowd in 1874 to Jude the Obscure in 1895. When Graves and Nancy go to see Hardy on one of their bicycle trips, he has them stay until the next morning. They talk about writing, about the neighbors, and about fashions. Near eighty by then, Hardy is bemused by Nancy's feminism, and he takes Graves' advice on handling autograph seekers.

T. E. Lawrence
Lawrence was an internationally respected hero in the First World War, having mobilized the Arabs to revolt against Turkish control of their country, weakening Turkey and, by extension, the entire Ottoman Empire. When Graves meets him in 1919, Lawrence has already achieved legendary status. They enjoy each other's company, talking about poetry. In 1927, Graves is contacted by a publisher to write a biography about Colonel Lawrence. The book turned out to be a bestseller, giving Graves his first taste of financial success.

George Mallory
Mallory is an instructor at Charterhouse school who befriends Graves. He is only twenty-five or -six at the time of their meeting, but he seems much younger, making people assume that he is a student. He becomes an admirer of Graves' poetry and shows it to others. It is Mallory who introduces Graves to the sport of mountain climbing. "George was one of the three or four best climbers in climbing history,’’ Graves explains. The book later mentions that Mallory died climbing Mount Everest after the war.

John Masefield
Masefield is one of the most famous poets of the World War I generation. When they move to Oxford after the war, Graves and his family rent a house on Masefield's property. They expand the house to include a little shop, but they have trouble keeping it going, and so they go bankrupt. The Masefields are not interested in continuing the shop after Graves and his wife are forced to move away.

Laura Riding
Though she is not mentioned within the text of the book and is not mentioned at all in the revised 1957 edition, Good-Bye to All That has Riding's influence all over it. The original 1929 book uses a poem of hers, ‘‘World's End,’’ as an epigraph, and the book ends with a "Dedicatory Epilogue'' addressed to her.

Riding was Robert Graves' mentor, his instructor in poetry, and, finally, his mistress. She traveled with the Graves family to Cairo when they went, turning their marriage into a threesome. When they returned to England, she took on another protege, a handsome young writer named Geoffrey Phibbs. When he left her, she drank disinfectant and then jumped out of a window, a fact referred to in the 1929 epilogue. Her life was saved, but she was an invalid, and she and Graves were together for another ten years after that.

Raymond Rodakowski
Raymond is a boy at Charterhouse who befriends Graves when he joins the Poetry Society. He is the one who recommends that Graves take up boxing, which he does with great success. At school Raymond stops associating with Graves because he is ‘‘a complete and ruthless atheist,’’ and Graves begins thinking about religion while preparing for his confirmation. He mentions in passing that he went to see Raymond once, years later, when they were both in the army, and that still later he heard that Raymond was killed at Cambrai.

Siegfried Sassoon
Sassoon, one of the most influential poets to come out of World War I, served with Graves in the same battalion in the war. After Graves has been sent home with permanent disabilities, he keeps up correspondence with Sassoon, who stays in the battle even after being injured and submits his poetry to pacifist publications. In 1917, Graves receives a newspaper clipping in the mail, an article that Sassoon has published, called "Finished With the War: A Soldier's Declaration.’’ The argument that it makes against the ‘‘political errors and insincerities'' that caused the war is enough to have Sassoon court-martialed. To save his friend, Graves calls acquaintances in the army chain of command, using whatever connections he has to make them overlook Sassoon's treason on the grounds of his recent injury. Sassoon is sent to a home for neurasthenics, where his influence convinced Wilfred Owen, one of the most-read war poets of all time, to start writing poetry.




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