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see why it was Goodbye to All That
on 1 January 2013
Reading 'Goodbye to all that' many decades after it was written I found a remarkably frank picture of life of the privileged class prior to, during, and following the 1st World War. The world was changing fast and Graves describes how his conservative parents never forgave him for (eventually) calling himself a socialist.
Graves hated Charterhouse ('from my first moment I suffered an oppression of spirit that I hesitate to recall in its full intensity') and describes how he learned to cope with the totally anti-intellectual values that prevailed. At Charterhouse success in games made the man: he considered cricket the most objectionable because it wasted the most time in the best part of the year. Fortunately boxing success gave Graves the necessary status to cope.
Graves did not suffer fools gladly, and he valued personal strengths - whether found in the so-called privileged or working classes. His honesty here is remarkable.
In his harrowing descriptions of life in the 1st World War trenches I found myself thinking rather along the lines of Black Adder - would I have gone readily 'over the top' (probably), or would I have shown the conspicuous bravery of Graves and many others? (probably not). Survival was a matter of luck, and Graves survived. 'We learned not to duck a rifle bullet because, once heard, it must have missed'. Graves explains that hardly one soldier in a hundred was inspired by religious feeling, even of the crudest kind; and they had little respect for Anglican regimental chaplains who were remarkably out of touch with their troops - they scuttled up to the front to do their job and quickly scuttled back again.
Graves pulled strings to get his own way, and his privileged background helped here. He knew a remarkable number of poets, painters and writers, and his descriptions of these people - for example Thomas Hardy, and Lawrence, is both fair and revealing.
Graves remained a virgin until he married. There was an easy availability of brothels for the WW1 troops, which, together with the knowledge that life in the trenches could be very short, would have tempted many. He came to women late. Graves explains that in English preparatory and public schools romance was necessarily homosexual. The opposite sex was despised and treated as something obscene.
When Graves married, his wife, Nancy, warned him she was a feminist and that he had to be careful about what he said about women. They were both shocked by The Treaty of Versailles which seemed destined to cause another war some day. 'Nancy and I took all this to heart and called ourselves socialists'. Later Nancy wanted somehow 'to be dis-married but not by divorce, ...so that she and I could live together without any legal or religious obligation to do so'.
There are touches of ironic humour such as when an error in a Morse code message sent his battalion to Cork instead of York!
I have my Kindle to thank for leading me to browse and then read this book. I am very glad I did.