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Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves
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Goodbye to All That (1929)

by Robert Graves

Other authors: See the other authors section.

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3,080542,985 (4.02)185
""The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of thirty-three, are simple enough: an opportunity for a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that; forgetfulness, because once all this has been settled in my mind and written down and published it need never be thought about again; money."" "Thus begins Robert Graves's classic 1929 autobiography with its searing account of life in the trenches of the First World War; and yet this opening passage, together with much significant material, has been unavailable since 1957, when a middle-aged Graves totally revised his text, robbing it of the painfully raw edge that had helped to make it an international bestseller. By 1957 major changes in his private life had taken place. Graves was no longer living with the American poet Laura Riding, under whose influence and in whose honor the original had been written. By cutting out all references to Riding, by deleting passages which revealed the mental strains under which he had labored, and by meticulously editing the entire text, Graves destroyed most of what had made it so powerful but also removed it from the only context in which it could be fully understood. We are pleased to offer the original 1929 edition on the occasion of Graves's 100th anniversary, edited and annotated by Robert Graves's nephew and biographer, whose lucid introduction greatly enhances its value."--BOOK JACKET.Title Summary field provided by Blackwell North America, Inc. All Rights Reserved… (more)
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This memoir from Robert Graves, written in 1929 when he was 34, covers his life to up to that point, and most notably has some of the best writing about the WWI experience for British soldiers I’ve read. Graves immediately enlisted in 1914 at just 19, remained patriotic throughout the war yet recognized the senselessness of it, and wrote about his experience with great candor, making him a valuable source of information. It was highly ironic that Graves would fight the Germans on the other side of the trenches, since his mother’s side was German and he still had family there, which he covers in his family history and childhood in the first part of the book.

Graves’ childhood was in an environment that was not only anti-German but anti-Semitic, and it was an awkward one. He writes honestly of things like wetting himself when forced to do arithmetic to a metronome, as well as being sexually attracted to boys, something that would lead to a small scandal. Years later after having been to war, he admits “I felt difficulty in adjusting myself to the experience of woman love.”

The war is where the book really shines tough, and there are many memorable bits:
…the Welsh company he was in often breaking out into Welsh hymns.

…the ineffectiveness of the gas helmets, and their evolution over time. He also recalls a time when the release of the gas cylinders was in a way that the thick cloud gradually just returned back to their own lines.

…unashamedly saying that many men, including himself, wanted to survive the war by getting wounded, which he ultimately was, and almost died from it.

…his accounts of the various horrifying ways men died, and sometimes by their own hand (including the first and last dead soldiers he saw in the war, which were suicides). He also describes the swelling and stinking of the corpses in a sober way.

…the popularity of the brothels behind the lines (“I had seen a queue of a hundred and fifty men waiting outside the door”), explaining that many got venereal diseases but that “they did not want to die virgins.”

…personally crawling through No Man’s Land on a reconnaissance mission. He doesn’t make himself out to be a hero at all, despite continuing to volunteer after being wounded and suffering from shell shock (neurasthenia as he calls it). He does describe the misery though, e.g. squatting in the trenches and trying to get an hour or two of sleep before battle, after having marched twenty miles in the rain that day.

…the idiocy of officers who were far too concerned about the men keeping the buttons polished and their uniform clean, and how one complained bitterly of cold when he had “only two blankets” and was behind the lines. He also describes the cruelty of policies such as cowardice being “punished with death alone, and no medical excuses could be accepted.”

…commenting on how good a fighting force the Germans were, and how both sides would sometimes not shoot at one another when they were collecting their dead. He also debunks the more outrageous of the propaganda reports of atrocities, as well as pointing out instances he knew of when the Allies had committed atrocities.

…how the French townspeople gouged the soldiers, raising prices without a shred of shame.

In general it seems like an honest, believable account, but he does sometimes seem to stretch the truth a bit for the purpose of making the story interesting, such as saying he saw the ghost of a man who had been killed earlier in the war.

As for his disillusionment and view of the war which evolved over time, it reminded me a great deal of what returning Vietnam vets like John Kerry would say after having served valorously with honor:
“We could no longer see the War as one between trade-rivals: its continuance seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder.”

It’s notable that his friend Siegfried Sassoon actually tossed his medals into the sea, similar to how Vietnam vets protested by throwing their medals at the Capitol Building. In stark contrast to this, he publishes the ridiculous letter to the editor of a paper supposedly from a woman claiming to be a mother, which hit back at pacifists and arguing for more war until victory had been achieved in her “message to the pacifists/bereaved/trenches.”

What’s remarkable to me is that he continued to do his duty to the fullest all the way through to the Armistice. He was also certainly wise in understanding the dynamic of the war and its outcome (“The Treaty of Versailles shocked me; it seemed destined to cause another war some day, yet nobody cared,” he writes, and remember, this was 1929).

As for his other views, it’s also interesting to read of the evolution of his consciousness of his family’s aristocratic class and how servants were to be treated as a child growing up, to becoming socialistic, aided by the views of his first wife Nancy Nicholson, who was a staunch feminist as well, and ahead of her time. “God is a man, so it must all be rot,” she says about religion, and reading about her from Graves made me wish that she had written a book as well. I have to say though, that while his chapters after the war ended are of some interest, they drag on a bit, and moreover are disingenuous in that they don’t describe at all his affair with the tempestuous Laura Riding, or that she was with him and his wife when they went to Egypt, and that he left his wife for her. A lot of that salacious material can be found in a new biography of him by Jean Moorcroft Wilson though.

As part of the wealthy class with connections, Graves also name drops quite a bit which held some interest, including being in the public baths with the future Edward VIII (the one who would abdicate the throne in 1936), meeting Lloyd George (“when I looked closely at his eyes they seemed like those of a sleep-walker”), T.E. Lawrence (his “eyes immediately held me. They were startlingly blue, even by artificial light”), Thomas Hardy (who told him that to avoid forgetting a story or thought that occurred to a writer, “always carry a pencil and paper”), and various others, e.g. Aldous Huxley, Bertrand Russell, H.G. Wells, A.A. Milne et al. Perhaps the most poignant of these was his account of mountain climbing with George Mallory before the war, who would go on to die near the summit of Mount Everest in 1924. This was something that I found all the more fascinating because his body was discovered and written about in 1999, and there still is great speculation as to what happened to him.

The book may sprawl a bit, possibly a result of it having been hurriedly written in Mallorca as Graves needed to generate income, but it’s still a solid, interesting read. ( )
4 vote gbill | Feb 3, 2020 |
This is quite a good read, and is one of the big hits of the anti-war movement of the 1920's. Graves is also a poet and his use of the language is skilfull. If one wishes to understand the inter-war period this is the towering classic in English. Published in 1929. ( )
  DinadansFriend | Jun 8, 2019 |
As Hartley noted the past is a foreign land and Graves treads lightly. I wrote a university friend last night I had not seen in 27 years. He and the woman I loved had started a relationship and the riptide of life pushed us far apart. He's now a minister. We shall see.


Graves takes the reader by the hand from childhood through the public school and immediately t the Western Front. Each step is harrowing. Pained. Then Armistice and marriage and family. No gap years for Graves. The friendship with Sassoon appears fascinating. I will pursue that elsewhere. Graves met Ezra Pound in Oxford at the home of T.E. Lawrence who pronounced: you will dislike each other. Even more intriguing is the revenue scheme that the Graves family (Nancy Nicholson never took Graves' name for feminist reasons) started their own corner store in the lawn of a neighbor. Somehow that is more I Love Lucy than the author of The White Goddess. There's also a great encounter with Thomas Hardy. Despite these twinkling frames there's a brooding character to the overall narrative. Somehow there are subterranean vibrations of some emotional fissuring.


Most folks attend to the book because of its Great War account. The attention is deserved, though early section about the tradition of his unit is rather tedious. There is a recognition throughout the book of class--and how such favored his claim from the football pitch to teaching in Cairo in the 1920s. I had entertained thoughts of devoting this next month to Graves but the impulse has been diminished. ( )
1 vote jonfaith | Feb 22, 2019 |
Graves' account of fighting in the First World War on the Western Front is what elevates this book (first published in 1929) to the rank of the classic accounts of war. Graves' account is a no-holds-barred view of the Royal Welch [sic] Fusiliers, and was probably responsible for making this book controversial in its time. The Oxford Book of Military Anecdotes quotes liberally from the book, as it should. The initial section, on Graves' schooldays, is slightly less interesting, but still has a lot to recommend it. The post-war section is responsible for the loss of the 1/2 star in my rating, since it's not hugely interesting (save for one or two anecdotes about T.E. Shaw), but overall, this is still a good read. ( )
  EricCostello | Oct 22, 2018 |
Poet and novelist recounts his life from his early years through the Great War. An honest portrayal of life in the trenches. ( )
  charlie68 | May 21, 2018 |
Showing 1-5 of 50 (next | show all)
Writing "Good-bye to All That," Graves seized numerous opportunities to render the literal truth of the trenches in theatrical terms. And Graves was by no means alone in this: Just before the attack at Loos, a typical officer is recorded as experiencing "a feeling of unreality, as if I were acting on a stage." Seeking theatrical metaphors for the trench war, some journalists invoked the idea of tragedy. Graves will have none of such pretentiousness: To him, events at the front are more likely to resemble melodrama, comedy, farce or music hall. Or even that once-stylish English dramatic form, the Comedy of Humors, in which stock eccentric characters ("Humors") reveal their crazy obsessions and generally muddle things up.

 
Robert Graves's superbly sardonic account of his childhood, schooling, the great war and his first marriage was written in just four months in 1929, when he was 33. It was his attempt at "a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that". By then he had separated from his wife and was living with the American poet Laura Riding. The idea of a farewell to the past was hers.
added by SnootyBaronet | editThe Guardian, PD Smith
 

» Add other authors (6 possible)

Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Graves, Robertprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Fussell, PaulIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Graves, Richard PercevalEditorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Spencer, StanleyCover artistsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
Trevelyan, RaleighIntroductionsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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As a proof of my readiness to accept autobiographical conventions, let me at once record my two earliest memories.
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The most useful and, at the same time, most dangerous gift that I owe to my father’s side of the family – probably more to the Cheynes than to the Graves’s – is that I am always able, when dealing with officials, or getting privileges from public institutions which grudge them, to masquerade as a gentleman.
After tea we went into the garden, where Hardy asked to see some of my new poems. I fetched him one, and he wondered whether he might offer a suggestion: the phrase ‘the scent of thyme’, which occurred in it was, he said, one of the clichés which poets of his generation had studied to avoid. Could I perhaps alter it? When I replied that his contemporaries had avoided it so well that I could now use it without offence, he withdrew the objection.
Professor Edgeworth, of All Souls’, avoided conversational English, persistently using words and phrases that one expects to meet only in books. One evening, Lawrence returned from a visit to London, and Edgeworth met him at the gate. ‘Was it very caliginous in the Metropolis?’
‘Somewhat caliginous, but not altogether inspissated,’ Lawrence replied gravely.
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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141184590, 014104554X, 0241951410

 

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