Robert Graves wrote his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, in 1929, when he was only in his mid-thirties. Born in 1895 into a middle-class English family with many literary and intellectual connections, Graves in this work ostensibly rejects his own personal experiences as well as the history of his time in order to pursue a new life. His mid-life crisis resulted from numerous private and public actions and events which the author was sloughing off, as he indicated in his title.
In general form, Graves’s work is a traditional autobiography. Perhaps parodying many nineteenth century literary biographies, the book begins with his earliest memories: watching Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee procession in 1897 and being overwhelmed by the sight of a full edition of the works of William Shakespeare in the family nursery. His father, of Scots-Irish background, was a local supervisor of schools in London as well as a poet of orthodox verse. His mother, of German ancestry, was related to the famous historian Leopold von Ranke. Graves’s childhood was traditionally Victorian in upbringing: Protestant Christianity combined with intellectual endeavor. He was reared to be an English gentleman.
As was expected of one of his social class, Graves was educated at one of the exclusive public schools, Charterhouse. Like other twentieth century English writers, Graves stated that his school days were not particularly pleasant. His schoolmates often referred to his German antecedents, so Graves instead argued that he was Irish. He developed a crush on a younger schoolboy, typical in that all-male environment. Graves gained some respect and recognition after taking up boxing. In 1914 he was to enter the University of Oxford. Before that could occur, war broke out in Europe.
The assassination in the Balkans of the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire soon evolved into the conflagration known as the Great War, or World War I. With many of his social class, Graves did what was expected. He enlisted as an officer in the British army and joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers, a highly decorated and much-honored regiment. Graves had had no intention of making the military his career; nevertheless, he became both a competent and a conscientious officer. He served in the trenches on the western front, fought in no-man’s-land, was wounded seriously twice—he was reported dead on one occasion—and spent time recovering back in Great Britain. Emotionally, Graves also suffered from severe battle fatigue. Unlike many, however, he survived the war.
Before the war had ended Graves married Nancy Nicholson; after it was over, he went up to Oxford, only four years late. There he studied, wrote poetry, and became acquainted with many literary figures of the day. Graves and his wife were constantly short of ready money, the difficulty compounded by four children, but Graves finally finished his thesis. Because of his financial circumstances, and at his family’s urging, he accepted an appointment as professor of English literature at Cairo University. It was the only salaried position he ever held, and he remained in it for only three months. He returned to England in 1926. During the following three years his marriage began to fail, and he and his wife were separated permanently in the spring of 1929. Much against his family’s wishes Graves decided to become a full-time writer and at the same time move to the Mediterranean island of Majorca. Goodbye to All That was written in 1929 as a farewell to his past.
A year later, from Majorca, in “Postscript to ‘Good-bye to All That,”’ Graves wrote that he had needed money in order to leave England and thus deliberately wrote a work which would have wide popularity. He said he emphasized such readable topics as food, ghosts, kings and prime ministers, stories of writers and famous people, sports and travel,...
(The entire section contains 3490 words.)
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