Top positive review
on 24 November 2017
Robert Graves is famous today mainly for two things: this memoir of his early life, focusing on his experiences in the trenches of the First World War and his published poetry; and as the author, later in life, of the renowned historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God. He has an easy style in this memoir, which covers the first 33 or so years of his life until his departure from the UK to live in Majorca in 1929. His upbringing and schooling were conventional by the middle class standards of the time ("my sisters were brought up to wish themselves boys, to be shocked at the idea of woman’s suffrage, and not to expect so expensive an education as their brothers"), though for a book written nearly 90 years ago he is quite open about the homoeroticism in his independent school, Charterhouse. His wartime experiences and those of his contemporaries at Charterhouse make up the core of the book, as he says "at least one in three of my generation at school died; because they all took commissions as soon as they could, most of them in the infantry and Royal Flying Corps". Against the backdrop of the fighting and its impact on his mental state, he describes his difficult relationship with his parents, with their conventional outlook on patriotism and duty, and the hostility he sometimes faced due to his mother being German; the bonds that were formed between soldiers in the trenches and the completely inability of he and his contemporaries to find a common language with his parents and others at home, due to their vastly different experiences and assumptions about the reality of warfare. Graves knew many of the other greats of the time, in particular Siegfried Sassoon during the war, and Thomas Hardy in his old age after it. The end of the war is described very laconically, and the last section about his life after the war, getting married to Nancy and raising their four children will be of less interest to most readers. He hints at further in his life from 1926 and abruptly says that "The remainder of this story, from 1926 until today, is dramatic but unpublishable". In 1929, on publishing this memoir, he went abroad, "resolved never to make England my home again; which explains the ‘Goodbye to All That’ of this title". In his epilogue he explains a bit why this was, but this reader is left feeling a bit puzzled at the suddenness of all this.