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Goodbye to All That by Robert Graves

Goodbye to All That (1929)

by Robert Graves

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A large part of Robert von Ranke Graves' autobiography consists of his recollection of army life in the Great War.

There are a few chapters about the author's early life at Charterhouse school, and again about his post-war meetings with other poets and writers, but it is the forcefulness of Graves' war memories which burst through the text of the book and into the reader's consciousness.

Graves, who was a Captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, gives us his recollections shorn of any nostalgia or fond feeling. So we learn on pg. 54, for example, that "the average life expectancy of an infantry subaltern on the Western Front was, at some stages of the war, only about three months; by which time he had been either wounded or killed. The proportions worked out at about four wounded for every one killed."

He goes on: "Of these four, one got wounded seriously, and the remaining three more or less lightly. The three lightly wounded returned to the front after a few weeks or months of absence." And also "Since the war lasted for four and a half years, it is easy to see why most of the survivors, if not permanently disabled, got wounded several times".

We learn many more gruesome details, too, which only serve to reinforce the memory of a later generation, sung for us by Edwin Starr:

"War! Huh! What's it good for? (Absolutely nothing)"

Say it again. . . . ( )
  SunnyJim | Mar 30, 2017 |
I'm not sure why it took me so long to read this book (I've had it in my TBR for years), but it was an amazing read. I switched between this 1957 re-release and a 2014 version which restores a lot of the excisions made from the original 1929 edition, and it was fascinating to see the differences. The 1957 version is more cleaned-up and diplomatic, but it still conveys the horror of the trenches and Graves' anger at the way the war was conducted.

You need to be able to connect with the detached, satirical voice to get the full effect. If you want someone who emotes a lot, Graves is not for you. For me, it would have been no more effective (and probably less) if he had not reined in his emotions; when he lets them go, which is rarely more than a couple of sentences at a time, it's shattering.

Absolutely worth reading, and I'll probably reread it. ( )
  Sunita_p | Nov 24, 2016 |
This is a wonderful personal account of the author's early life. It is dominated by his time at the front in France during WW1 and his descriptions are incredibly grim. He does a great job of bringing the dreadful horrors to light, covering the selfless heroism of many of the soldiers and yet being realistically rational about all the very many who cracked under the strain. I so wanted things between Robert and Nancy to work out - oh well...It seems there must be another story there. ( )
  rosiezbanks | Oct 29, 2016 |
Goodbye to All That is the best of the British First World War memoirs.

[a:Robert Graves|3012988|Robert Graves|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1251049332p2/3012988.jpg] went straight from school to the army and then on to the Western Front. He fought there between early 1915 and late 1916, when he was badly wounded and returned to Britain. Goodbye to All That covers Graves' pre war life, his army experiences, and the post war period up to the book's publication in 1929.

Graves writes beautifully. Compared to the shallow and fastidious [a: Blunden|31139|Edmund Blunden|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1335026460p2/31139.jpg], he sweeps you along, providing a pitch perfect blend of the big picture and fine grained texture. His account of the battle of Loos in September 1915 is a masterpiece. The writing only flags in the last few pages and the ending is almost comically abrupt, like something from schoolkid's homework.

In Britain much of what is generally believed about the First World War comes from the poems, plays, novels, and memoirs it produced (the latter categories indistinguishable in some cases), such as this. While the book is fascinating reading on this period, caution ought to be exercised, as with all these sorts of books, when inferring anything about the macro level 'British experience' of the war.

For starters, like most of the authors, Graves is far from representative of the vast majority of British World War One soldiery. The book is full of names; [a:Sitwell|592374|Osbert Sitwell|https://s.gr-assets.com/assets/nophoto/user/u_50x66-632230dc9882b4352d753eedf9396530.png], [a:Lawrence|2875209|T.E. Lawrence|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1253509101p2/2875209.jpg], [a: Masefield|6209|John Masefield|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1225070546p2/6209.jpg] etc. It never feels like these names are being dropped for effect, but, nevertheless, there they are. Graves and his friends amuse themselves in e trenches by composing poems in Latin or reciting Catullus. By contrast, my great grandfather, one of the Sheffield Pals, was a labourer who misspelled his own name on his enlistment form. As [a:Richard Holmes|3002506|Richard Holmes|https://d.gr-assets.com/authors/1249593865p2/3002506.jpg] asked, isn't it likely that the harsh experience of trench life affected such different men differently?

Second, as with Blunden's [b:Undertones of War|55213|Undertones of War|Edmund Blunden|https://d.gr-assets.com/books/1356442153s/55213.jpg|53809], the author leaves the fighting early. Thought the 'Lions led by donkeys' stuff is laid on less thickly in these books than popularly believed, reading them you only encounter battles which ended in stalemate, such as Loos, the Somme, and Third Ypres. Might not Britain's popular memory be different if Graves or the others had fought at and written about the battle of Amiens or one of the battles in the subsequent Hundred Days offensive which rolled the German Army back and defeated it? But they did not, so while the stalemates are vividly painted by the First World War authors, the victories remain hidden in technical military histories.

Bearing these observations in mind, however, Goodbye to All That is a fascinating account of one man's role in the First World War. ( )
  JohnPhelan | Oct 4, 2016 |
Robert Graves was one of those well-educated British officers who reacted to the First World War with a kind of wise, Oxford-Book-of-Verse horror and had to expunge the experience as best he could through his writing – like Edmund Blunden, or Siegfried Sassoon. The three of them indeed fought near each other in France and knew each other well. It's a powerful and affecting vision, but it probably needs to be set against the rather different worldview of the private soldiers, as captured in Manning's The Middle Parts of Fortune or Barbusse's Le Feu.

Graves is less funny than Sassoon, more down-to-earth than Blunden – he writes with a dry, easy style which is witty but somehow also rather brittle. As in many similar memoirs, there is an awareness of the natural world which perhaps seems surprising to a modern reader (‘In March I rejoined the First Battalion on the Somme. It was the primrose season’), though the tendency here is nowhere near as pronounced as in Blunden's Undertones of War. There is a numbed sense of distance to many of the descriptions, and a sneaking suspicion that Graves may perhaps not have been the easiest person to get on with in real life. Nevertheless, the details of trench life are very fully evoked, from the boredom of waiting, to the strategy-less confusion of raids, to the desperate recreations available for men behind the line:

The Red Lamp, the army brothel, was around the corner in the main street. I had seen a queue of a hundred and fifty men waiting outside the door, each to have his short turn with one of the three women in the house […]. Each woman served nearly a battalion of men every week for as long as she lasted. According to the assistant provost-marshal, three weeks was the usual limit: ‘after which she retired on her earnings, pale but proud.’

When it comes to the gory realities of shelling and attrition, Graves adopts a chilly but effective matter-of-factness.

From the morning of September 24th to the night of October 3rd, I had in all eight hours of sleep. I kept myself awake and alive by drinking about a bottle of whisky a day. I had never drunk it before, and have seldom drunk it since; it certainly helped me then. We had no blankets, greatcoats, or waterproof sheets, nor any time or material to build new shelters. The rain poured down. Every night we went out to fetch in the dead of the other battalions. The Germans continued indulgent and we had few casualties. After the first day the corpses swelled and stank. I vomited more than once while superintending the carrying. Those we could not get in from the German wire continued to swell until the wall of the stomach collapsed, either naturally or when punctured by a bullet; a disgusting smell would float across. The colour of the dead faces changed from white to yellow-grey, to red, to purple, to green, to black, to slimy.

As with all of these First World War books, there is no animosity towards the enemy whatsoever. Graves's men shout friendly messages to the nearby Germans (reserving most of their hatred for the French) and have no concern whatever for the political currents that may be animating the conflict. Nor is religion a factor; given the old saw about how there are ‘no atheists in foxholes’, I'm surprised Graves isn't quoted more often, since he says exactly the opposite.

Hardly one soldier in a hundred was inspired by religious feeling of even the crudest kind. It would have been difficult to remain religious in the trenches even if one survived the irreligion of the training battalion at home.

In part this is what creates the enormous gulf that soldiers feel between themselves and those at home, who are keyed up with patriotic and religious fervour and who see the fighting men as the embodiment of all these feelings when in fact they share none of them. After the war, Graves falls in love delightedly with Nancy Nicholson, who as a feminist and socialist finds herself as set against conventional society as he now feels himself. Her précis of Christianity – ‘God is a man, so it must be all rot’ – was a huge relief to him.

Nancy sounds, indeed, in common with many women of that generation, completely fucking amazing. She read the marriage vows for the first time on the morning of their wedding, and was so horrified that she almost refused to go through with it – Graves's memory of the service is of ‘Nancy meeting me [on the aisle] in a blue-check silk wedding-dress, utterly furious’ and ‘savagely muttering the responses’ during the ceremony.

[C]hampagne was another scarce commodity, and the guests made a rush for the dozen bottles on the table. Nancy said: ‘Well, I'm going to get something out of this wedding, at any rate,’ and grabbed a bottle. After three or four glasses, she went off and changed back into her land-girl's costume of breeches and smock.

I love Nancy. Robert Graves I'm less sure about, but he is a joy to listen to – witty, anecdotal, and determined to bear witness to the collective stupidities that left half his generation dead in France. You can see why he'd had enough of England. They were lucky to have the use of him for as long as they did. ( )
2 vote Widsith | Jun 14, 2016 |
Showing 1-5 of 40 (next | show all)
Goodbye to all what? Not just to the trenches of World War I, but to all his life in England up to 1929, the year when poet Robert Graves wrote this memoir of his early years. I read it as an accompaniment to Pat Barker’s Regeneration, on which I will be commenting in a few days.

The same characters and the same war appear in both books — Graves himself, Sigfried Sassoon, the trenches, the mutilated bodies. While Regeneration is a novel, Goodbye to All That is a firsthand account of the horrors. Graves tells us how, as a boy of 19, he casually made the decision to fight.

"I had just finished with Charterhouse and gone up to Harlech, when England declared war on Germany. A day or two later I decided to enlist. In the first place, though the papers predicted only a very short war – over by Christmas at the outside – I hoped that it might last long enough to delay my going to Oxford in October, which I dreaded. Nor did I work out the possibilities of getting actively engaged in the fighting, expecting garrison service at home, while the regular forces were away."

And so it goes! Four years later,

"…I was still mentally and nervously organized for war. Shells used to come bursting on my bed at midnight, even though Nancy shared it with me; strangers in daytime would assume the faces of friends who had been killed."

Although my edition had a brief Epilogue from 1957, in the memoir itself Graves captures the mood of England’s middle and intellectual classes during the years before and after The Great War. As a new officer, Graves learned of his responsibilities as gentleman:

"First of all – I had not only gone to an inefficient tailor, but also had a soldier-servant who neglected to polish my buttons and shine my belt and boots as he should have done. Never having owned a valet before, I did not know what to expect of him. Crawshaw finally summoned me to the Orderly Room. He would not send me to France, he said, until I had entirely overhauled my wardrobe and looked more like a soldier…."

Once in France, Graves found more serious responsibilities than the polish of his belt. His report of those years is almost unemotional. He doesn’t feel sorry for himself, there is no “poor me” to get between us and his account of his experiences. After the war Graves was disabled by shell shock. Nervous and twitching and unable to settle comfortably into a new life, he continued as a writer. I am glad he survived to tell this story and all the others he gave us during a long career.

» 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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Amazon.com Amazon.com Review (ISBN 0385093306, Paperback)

The quintessential memoir of the generation of Englishmen who suffered in World War I is among the bitterest autobiographies ever written. Robert Graves's stripped-to-the-bone prose seethes with contempt for his class, his country, his military superiors, and the civilians who mindlessly cheered the carnage from the safety of home. His portrait of the stupidity and petty cruelties endemic in England's elite schools is almost as scathing as his depiction of trench warfare. Nothing could equal Graves's bone-chilling litany of meaningless death, horrific encounters with gruesomely decaying corpses, and even more appalling confrontations with the callousness and arrogance of the military command. Yet this scarifying book is consistently enthralling. Graves is a superb storyteller, and there's clearly something liberating about burning all your bridges at 34 (his age when Good-Bye to All That was first published in 1929). He conveys that feeling of exhilaration to his readers in a pell-mell rush of words that remains supremely lucid. Better known as a poet, historical novelist, and critic, Graves in this one work seems more like an English Hemingway, paring his prose to the minimum and eschewing all editorializing because it would bring him down to the level of the phrase- and war-mongers he despises. --Wendy Smith

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:06:43 -0400)

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Robert Graves's autobiography tells the story of his life at public school and as a young officer during the first world war.

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2 editions of this book were published by Audible.com.

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Penguin Australia

3 editions of this book were published by Penguin Australia.

Editions: 0141184590, 014104554X, 0241951410


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