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.’’
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 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...
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