Critical Overview

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Last Updated on May 12, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 427

Good-Bye to All That has been regarded, since its first publication in 1929, to be one of the most sincere books written about the Great War. Its sincerity, though, is an artistic sort of sincerity that was not always appreciated. As Steven Trout put it in an essay comparing Graves' form of "truth" with Daniel Defoe's nearly two hundred years earlier, critics judged books about the war ‘‘according to their perceivable 'facts'—whether a writer had accurately related the details of a particular battle, for example, or whether he had presented a supposedly isolated incident, such as drunkenness among officers, as a common occurrence.’’ By these standards, Good-Bye to All That was a weak and deeply-flawed narrative. The 1920s were a time of artistic revival, though, with literary theorists recognizing the fact that pure objectivity is nearly impossible. The writer is not a camera, and a work is going to reflect its author's personality. Critics who did not look to Graves' book for facts about the war but for a sense of what it was like were impressed with what he managed to convey. Paul O'Prey wrote of Graves' using his writing as "a form of therapy'' after the war, and the critics who recognized this element in the disjointed style of Good-Bye to All That knew how it helped make the soldiers' experience more vivid.

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In fact, the public taste for literature expanded so much during the 1920s that Graves' erratic structure was not just good for intellectuals and artistic theorists. According to Wolfgang Saxon's obituary when Graves died, the book ‘‘made an enormous impact on a reading public that was just beginning to come to grips with the realities of the war.’’ Richard Pearson credited the book with creating Graves' ‘‘reputation as a writer of the first rank.’’

Graves continued his literary career for more than fifty years after publishing Good-Bye to All That. He considered himself primarily a poet, and those who took him seriously as a writer thought of him that way too: "Graves is first and last a poet,'' wrote Randall Jarrell, himself a poet of some repute, ‘‘in between, he is Graves.’’ Jack Skow gave an even more lighthearted dismissal of Graves' non-poetic career in Esquire when he credited him with being "famous as a poet and as a literary buccaneer.’’ Though most critics acknowledge that Graves is known to the public for his autobiography and his novels, they have generally been willing to take him at his word, while respecting his prose works, and regard him primarily as a poet.

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Critical Context


Essays and Criticism