Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography

Good-bye to All That: An AutobiographyAlternate Cover Edition Of ISBN ISBN 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 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 Even Appalling Confrontations With The Callousness Arrogance Of The Military Command Yet This Scarifying Book Is Consistently Enthralling Graves Is A Superb Storyteller, There S Clearly Something Liberating About Burning All Your Bridges At His Age When It Was First Published In 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 Critic, Graves In This One Work Seems 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 A Poet at War19 December 2017 As I was wandering through Newtown in Sydney I came across a crate of books dumped at the side of the road Considering that the law states that if somebody throws something away then it ceases to by anybody s property which basically means that anybody can then make a claim to possess that object, and also due to the fact that they appeared to have begun to be worn down by the elements, I concluded that the owner of these books no longer wanted them So, I decided to have a look through them and my eyes immediately fell upon this book There was a little niggling at the back of my mind that this was a book that I wanted to read, and I was familiar with the author, having read I, Claudius, and am still digging through my pile of books attempting to locate Claudius the God As it turned out I had read a review on Goodreads and had immediately became enamoured with the book, and noting that it was Grave s autobiography grabbed me even Okay, I m actually not a big fan of autobiographies, but then again when they basically consist of a bunch of books about actors, politicians, sports stars, and musicians, and are inevitably ghost written by somebody that can t actually write, then I m sure you will probably agree with me However, every so often you come across a gem, and that is an autobiography written by a really good writer one of them was Surprised by Joy by C.S Lewis, and as I started reading this book, I quickly came to conclude that this one was basically up there with the best of them However, it isn t actually quite like what you would expect from an autobiography, much in the same way that Lewis isn t quite an autobiography, and that is because they are writers, and because they are writers then they really don t want to bog people down with the minute details of their lives such as what they like for breakfast, and what bus they catch to work every morning This is probably why my friend used Ricky Ponting s autobiography as a door stop In many ways this was similar to Lewis book, where the first part of the book has a strong focus on life at the English public schools, while the twenties seemed to be a token addendum However, where Lewis focus was on his own spiritual experiences, Grave s focus is his time in World War One In fact Lewis doesn t say all that much about his time in the trenches, but that isn t all that surprising considering a lot of people took years to get over it, if they ever did This was actually the case with Graves, and he even says that he was not completely over the horrors of the war until about 1928, which is why it took over ten years for him to write this book, and by that time he was facing a breakdown in his marriage His original intention was simply to write a personal history of his experience in the war, and in a way this goes above and beyond the myriad textbooks and second hand histories on the subject here we feel as if we are in the trenches with Graves, but we also shake our head at the stupidity of commanders, and learn of the somewhat darker aspects of the war such as the suspected British atrocities, and also how French women could make a packet working as prostitutes for about six months The thing is that Graves was an officer, having reached the rank of captain, but it was a rank that still had him sitting in the trenches Yet, in a way he seemed to empathise with his men because he was there watching the industrial war machine turning hundreds of thousands of young men into dogmeat while the commanders sat behind the lines coming up with stupid schemes that simply would not work This is the thing with World War One it was the classic definition of insanity that is doing the same thing over and over again on the slim hope that the results might be come out differently, This was basically fighting the war by bombarding the enemy positions with incalculable amounts of artillery, and then sending troops over the top only to have them gunned down by the enemy Even when they had developed tanks this didn t necessarily change the war because they either got bogged, or simply blown up by the enemy s artillery It also brought out the true horrors of the industrial age in that it simply seemed to be a machine that was designed to kill as many people as possible in fact an entire generation was destroyed by the war, and even if they survived physically they would still find themselves suffering PTSD for years afterwards One interesting thing that Graves brought up was how haunting it was back in England, where the population was sheltered from the horrors, and to protest against the war was considered insane, or worse Yet there were many mothers who simply refused to believe that their children were dead, while the children who ended up in the trenches pretty much knew that this was their life, and it was pretty much going to be extinguished on the muddy fields of the Western Front The other interesting thing are the number of names that Graves seems to drop throughout the story For instance he was a good friend of Siegfried Sassoon, a famous World War I poet who I initially though was German due to his first name We also meet Wilfred Owen, whose poetry we studied in High School and he never made it out of the Western Front Among others include Aldous Huxley, and he even spends a couple of days down in Dorset with Thomas Hardy where we learn that at this time he has basically grown out of writing novels, which is something that I can relate too because looking back at what I wrote when I was younger I simply could not bring myself to even attempt to publish it because, well, it is basically rubbish Then again, I shouldn t be surprised because like minds tend to stick together, and that includes writers, or at least the good ones Finally, there is this idea of the Gentleman Basically England is a very class based society well despite what people say but there has always been a divide between the haves and the haves not no matter where we are, but as Lister pointed out in Red Dwarf, in England members of the working class do not go into wine bars, and members of the upper class, or the gentlemen, do not go into pubs This was particularly true in Graves day, and this is something he picked up quite young There were his friends and family, and there were the servants, who were clearly considered to be on a lower level than he was The upper class went to the public schools, and there they learned to be gentlemen Yet the public school system was rather interesting in and of itself, and they definitely did not sound like very nice places to spend your younger years The other thing, unlike Lewis, Graves had no problem telling us what went on, whereas Lewis was a lot subtle Then again, like Lewis, it was clear that Graves simply didn t enjoy his time there, though I am somewhat curious that out of all the writers that he encountered during his time in Oxford, Lewis and Tolkien weren t included among them. The opposite of a love letter to Edwardian England, a literary explanation in the form of a memoir of why the author abandoned he land of his birth in favour of Majorca, despite the experiences of George Sand and Frederic Chopin in the Balearic Islands.The book has a striking description of Robert von Rancke Graves view spoiler a grand nephew of Leopold von Rancke on his mother s side hide spoiler In 1929 Robert Graves aged 33 went abroad, resolved never to make England my home again which explains the title However this autobiography does little to illuminate that decision in an epilogue he says that a conditioning in the Protestant morality of the English governing classes, though qualified by mixed blood, a rebellious nature, and an overriding poetic obsession, is not easily outgrown Nor is it easily escaped when writing about your own life one thing that does not feature is his inner, emotional life, which I daresay is only to be expected of a man who went through English public school in the early part of the 20th century and then the horror of the trenches in WW1.His description of life after the War indicates how that experience refused to let him go the years between 1918 and 1926, when the story ends, are narrated hurriedly and in a desultory fashion, as if marriage and children, and finding his feet as a poet, and earning a living were somehow of little importance Which no doubt they were.He does have a lovely sardonic habit of seeing himself in a sort of tableau, what he calls caricature scenes , which show a fine sense of the absurd As a portrait of an age, it is interesting, and moving too But very removed, very distant. This is one of the great books to come out of the First World War It is usually categorized as a memoir, but there is probably fiction in it than fact Graves was up front about this he wrote the book in just eleven weeks, because he needed the money, and admitted that he threw in every plot element he could think of that would help it sell For all that, it transcends its genre, because sometimes fiction reveals than fact By not restricting himself to just what he personally saw and heard, he was able to add stories and anecdotes that bring the experience of war alive His descriptions of the trenches and the battles are laconic but do not spare the reader the madness and horrors of combat Similarly, his descriptions of life out of the line are interesting and memorable, especially the the senior officers who could not shake their pre war fixation with shined buttons and sharp salutes faced with the imbecilities and petty harassment of the battalion mess, an exasperated Graves says at one point, But all this is childish Is there a war on here, or isn t there Graves talks about the constant turnover of officers and men, as they are killed, wounded, or taken sick In Siegried Sassoon s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer he recalls being told that infantry battalions turned over their personnel every four months, so that by the time a sick or wounded man returned it was all new faces This is borne out by the British Army s statistics on what they called wastage, an average of 7000 men per day lost to all causes Since the part of the Allied line held by British and Dominion troops nominally required 800,000 infantrymen to hold, at 7000 losses a day, sure enough, it would mean most men would be gone by the end of four months time.It is one of the odd coincidences of the war that three of the best books to come out of it were written by men who served together and knew each other well In addition to Graves Good Bye to All That, and Siegfried Sassoon s Memoirs of an Infantry Officer, there is J.C Dunn s The War the Infantry Knew 1914 1919 What ties them all together was service in the Second Battalion of the Royal Welch Fusiliers, where Dunn was the battalion doctor for much of the war His book is officially a unit history, but, where many of those are dull or concerned with the unit s reputation than with an accurate portrayal of events, his is brilliantly written and is the best account a reader will find of the actual day to day lives of the soldiers in the British Army Each of the three books mentions the authors of the other two, sometimes giving different perspectives on the same events Sassoon s book was lightly fictionalized but the actual people were clearly recognizable to anyone who knew them In it Graves, for instance, is called David Cromlech, and Dunn is Captain Munro.The fine introduction to this edition was written by Paul Fussell, author of The Great War and Modern Memory, which is considered by many myself included to be the essential starting point for anyone trying to understand the historical, cultural, and social factors than influenced how the men who fought the war experienced, remembered, and wrote about it Fussell was himself a combat veteran, having served as a second lieutenant in the U.S Army in Europe in 1944 45 He writes that Graves was not popular with many of his fellow battalion officers he was a bit too forthright in his commentaries about Army life but was well liked by his soldiers Like all good officers he took seriously his responsibilities toward them and refused to play the role of petty martinet Good Bye to All That is well worth reading for anyone with an interest in World War I, or, for that matter, anyone looking for insights into how men in any war respond mentally and physically to the stresses of combat. The human mind invariably seeks patterns And so, reading WWI histories always has been frustrating because of the war s Brownian motion the inability to discern any strategy at all So the great value of Graves s anti war memoir is that, as a Captain in a Welch regiment, he had no clue about, and thus does not write about, the larger strategy of the war He confines his pen to tactics, and the tactics he observed are damning Lesson one, btw, is that the surest way to lose public support for war is to issue false communiques and casualty reports.Yet, somehow I was disappointed Not in the writing Graves is brilliant But the book doesn t live up to its famous title Why the author decided to chuck it all when he did seemed less related to the war and to his personal life There was no there there But a damn good read nonetheless Sergeant Smith, my second sergeant, told me of the officer who had commanded the platoon before I did He was a nice gentleman, Sir, but very wild Just before the Rue du Bois show, he says to me By the way, Sergeant, I m going to get killed tomorrow I know that And I know that you re going to be all right So see to it that my kit goes back to my people You ll find their address in my pocket book You ll find five hundred francs there too Now remember this, Sergeant Smith you keep a hundred francs yourself and divide up the rest among the chaps left He says Send my pocket book back with my other stuff, Sergeant Smith, but for God s sake burn my diary They mustn t see that I m going to get it here He points to his forehead And that s how it was He got it through the forehead all right I sent the stuff back to his parents I divided up the money and I burned the diary For Anglican regimental chaplains we had little respect If they had shown one tenth the courage, endurance, and other human qualities that the regimental doctors showed, we agreed, the British Expeditionary Force might well have started a religious revival But they had not, being under orders to stay behind with the transport The colonel in one of battalion I served with got rid of four new Anglican chaplains in four months finally he applied for a Roman Catholic, alleging a change of faith in the men under his command For the Roman Catholic chaplains were not only permitted to visit posts of danger, but definitely enjoined to be wherever the fighting was, so that they could give extreme unction to the dying And we had never heard of one who failed to do all that was expected of him and Jovial Father Gleeson of the Munsters, when all the officers were killed or wounded at the first battle of Ypres, had stripped off his black badges and, taking command of the survivors, held the line One day I left the Mess to begin the afternoon s work on the drill ground, and went past the place where bombing instruction went on A group of men stood around a table where various types of Bombs were set out for demonstration I heard a sudden crash A sergeant of the Royal Irish Rifles had been giving a little unofficial instruction before the proper instructor arrived He picked up a No 1 percussion grenade and said Now, lads, you ve got to be careful here Remember that if you touch anything while you re swinging this chap, it ll go off To illustrate the point, he rapped the grenade against the table edge It killed him and the man next to him and wounded twelve others or less severely Lytton Strachey was unfit, but instead of allowing himself to be rejected by the doctors he preferred to appear before a military tribunal as a conscientious objector T o the chairman s other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant Tell me, Mr Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister he replied with an air of noble virtue I would try to get between them. This is a good year to read about World War I and there s no shortage of new material out there for anyone interested in the subject However, this is a work that has been around for a very long time since 1929, in fact Published when Graves was just thirty four, he wrote in the prologue to the revised edition published in 1957 that the work was his bitter leave taking of England where he had recently broken a good many conventions It signalled Graves departure for Spain, where he lived for most of the remainder of his life.A middle class public school boy with an Anglo Irish father and a German mother, Robert Graves served in France during World War I as a lieutenant and then as a captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers The main part of the work provides a detailed description of trench warfare, including accounts of the Battle of Loos and of the fighting during the first phase of the Battle of the Somme Graves also deals with his family history, childhood, education, and early post war married life.There s a poetic sensibility to Graves approach to his various subjects, as well as unsentimentality and frequent humour However, Graves is also both distant and elusive A reader has to work hard to discern how he really felt The picture that emerges is of a man very much of his time, place and class, with all that connotes Graves is not aways likeable and he isn t easy to get to know, but what he writes is worth reading. It s 2014 and the centenary of World War One I heard a discussion about it the other day and one thing struck me The idea being suggested was that it would have been BETTER FOR EVERYONE if Germany had WON the First World War How about that I never thought of it before, but the logic was compelling Germany s victory would have stifled Hitler s political career before it got going There would have been no Versailles treaty, no reparations, no financial catastrophe No Nazis.No Holocaust.No World War Two.Just something to ponder during the year. Another book in the series I am reading about WW1 It was interesting reading this in conjunction with A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor I found Graves much less likeable than Fermor However this is a very powerful description of the war and life in the trenches it also covers Graves s life before the war and until 1929.Graves was half German and half Irish and had a German middle name This meant he had a very difficult time at public school Charterhouse as war with Germany gradually became inevitable What saved Graves at Charterhouse was learning to box and one of the masters, George Mallory later to die on Everest who came across as a good man and taught Graves to climb Graves joined the army at the beginning of the war and remained in it throughout in a variety of roles He was reckless at times on holiday in Switzerland he decided it would be a good idea to ski down the skeleton bob run he survived and this showed at times in his approach to the war What Graves does excel at is describing army life in the trenches the comradeship, tensions, the idiocy of senior officers which he describes in cutting detail , the dangers, the squalor and the immediate risk of death Forays into no man s land, encounters with the enemy and with dead and decomposing bodies some of the accounts are horrific yet one feels even then that Graves holds back a little What makes this account so good is Graves s detachment He describes leading virtually suicidal missions in a workaday way He knew the generals were clueless The daily interactions with the other soldiers are fascinating Graves also describes the onset of shell shock and war weariness and this is also very interesting the contrast between patriotism at home and the feeling of the insanity of it all which pervaded most of those at the front.Graves suffered his share of injuries and was seriously wounded at the Somme, so badly that his family were sent a telegram announcing his death he arrived in London shortly after the telegram Graves also describes the condition known as shellshock and very matter of factly describes his nightmares and psychological disturbances The lightness of touch and humour makes the description of the horrors even powerful Graves describes his interactions with other poets Sassoon, Owen, Blunden amongst others, which are always fascinating His interactions with medical boards and senior officers are also illuminating Graves s detachment makes it difficult sometimes to locate him in all this and I suspect from his descriptions of his sufferings that this is a defence mechanism.The post war reflections are less powerful, but a number of things stand out Graves married Nancy Nicholson, daughter of the artist Sir William Nicholson She was a feminist who kept her own name and ensured their children had her name When they lived in Oxfordshire she used to cycle around the villages explaining contraception to the women it was still illegal at the time She was later a fabric designer She struck me as someone whose biography I would like to read When Robert and Nancy visited Thomas Hardy she mentioned that she had kept her own name, expecting him to be scandalised However he thought it rather old fashioned as he recalled that when he was a boy many women did keep their own name on marriage The other post war figure that stood out was T E Lawrence, who met Graves at Oxford He was clearly damaged by his life experiences and avoided any physical closeness But he was a man of great principle he wrote about his experiences in the war in two bestselling books He decided that he could not personally profit from the Arab revolt and ensured the royalties went to a variety of charities I was slightly ambivalent about Graves himself, but this is a well written and informative account of great horrors and the pointlessness of war and Graves is an excellent and gripping narrator. The back cover blurb describes the contents of this volume ascandidThat puzzled me until well into the text I realised that this was perhaps Robert Graves personal survival stratagem My grandfather s was quite the reverse only once, and when I was ill, did he talk to me of his military service in the Great War Are there events where it is literally healthier for our psyche that we remember and learn from simple and candid fact, rather than spend excessive time in introspection attempting, often impossibly, given the clouding effects of time to reach and be only satisfied by some deep and publishable psychoanalytical understanding Or am I just plain cynical When I reached the last page I realised that I had used a whopping twenty five brightly coloured page markers to indicate comments and passages which had struck a chord with me as I read beginning with George Mallory then a master at Charterhouse taking the young Robert Graves a pupil at Charterhouse to climb Snowdon one January where only the previous night the roof of the hotel on the summit had been blown off Graves recalls sitting by the cairn and eating Carlsbad plums and liver sausage sandwiches before he and Mallory cast around for stones to shie at the chimney stack of the building until it collapsed and joined the heap of rubble that had once been the roof p.62 Nowadays one imagines that such a highly visible published confession 1929 would result in receiving an official letter in the post threatening legal action unless appropriate reparations were made Ah, the thoughtlessness of youth even if Mallory really ought to have known better A second example of the impetuousness of youth follows a few pages on, when on holiday with his mother and sisters in Switzerland, Graves for some unaccountable reason decided to find out what skiing down the hard ice of a skeleton bob run was like Terrifyingly dangerous was the answer p.65 No wonder that to this day it isn t an Olympic sport.It is a great strength of this autobiography that for a book of words it reads like a gallery of brightly hued paintings of a tremendous number and variety of scenes Colour was definitely there when discussing, warts all, the extremely high prevalence of venereal disease All of a sudden, Goodbye To All That took on a different and desperately awfully sad meaning as my thoughts flew to those very young men sent to the Front who simply couldn t face the thought of very likely being killed before they had experienced sex for the first time.Graves candidness scores big time in this book, whether he s describing the sudden blowing out of a colleague s brains p.118 or waste in trench warfare firstly in the the use of ration biscuits in place of hard to get kindling, to fuel a fire to boil a dixie of water or the use of water cooled guns to fire off quantities of belts of ammunition in the general direction of the German trenches, until the coolant began to boil and tea could be made Graves caustically notes that such expensive tea will have to be paid for by increased taxation in peacetime p113 Harder to communicate is the stink of thegas blood lyddite latrine smell of the trenches p.164 lyddite is a highly explosive fused picric acid and the shockingly inexplicable 200 charge that the French authorities levied on the passage of every British hospital locomotive and carriages between railhead and base p.173 I think that it is that very candidness that Graves displays here in spades that makes Goodbye To All That a book to be picked up, actively read, and acted upon how is another question whereas by contrast I have always found it very difficult to read Wilfred Owen s poetry which I find frankly depressing without my mind drifting off and losing the thread.Finally, in all this talk of war, pages 275 to 360 should not be overlooked marriage in 1918 to an extreme Socialist George Mallory lifting off the three tiered plaster cast of imitation icing to reveal a very modest wedding cake p.283 a wartime custom I d only heard of employed in WW2 , T.E Lawrence, John Masefield, Thomas Hardy, and a veritable conviviality of other Great Names Graves ends with a punch,The remainder of this story from 1926 until today 1929 , is dramatic but unpublishable Health and money both improved, marriage wore thin New characters appeared on the stageThough I call it a punch , nothing contained within that elegantly succinct final paragraph actually startles That isn t the end of the book though Graves considerately gives his reader an Epilogue a thoughtfulness of just a little time to adjust to parting from this wonderful author and his book, and gaining an outline of retrospectiveMy only real criticism lies vehemently with the publisher of the edition I read The font size in this Penguin edition turned is a whisker too small for comfortable reading, and is made worse by a number of unfortunate line breaks one example will have to suffice here lines 1 2, p.243 reasons and resented the professional soldier tradition Sieg fried had already shown what he meant The Fricourt attack Goodbye to bad type setting, I hope.

Robert von Ranke Graves, born in Wimbledon, received his early education at King s College School and Copthorne Prep School, Wimbledon Charterhouse School and won a scholarship to St John s College, Oxford While at Charterhouse in 1912, he fell in love with G H Johnstone, a boy of fourteen Dick in Goodbye to All That When challenged by the headmaster he defended himself by citing Plat

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  • Paperback
  • 282 pages
  • Good-bye to All That: An Autobiography
  • Robert Graves
  • English
  • 03 December 2019

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