Goodbye to All That

Goodbye to all that is Robert Graves' great autobiography of his life from birth to 1929 the year in which he said "Goodbye to all that" and left England for the place that would become his home for most of his life, Majorca.

I first read his autobiography about 6 or 7 years ago. Up to that point I had read some of his poetry, mainly at school, but none of his prose. Since the first reading of Goodbye to all that I've read the Claudius novels, and was much amused on reading the opening lines of the autobiography to think "but it's Claudius speaking" as Graves humorous chatty style exactly mirrored the style he used for Claudius.

This is a very good piece of writing, he's generally not judgemental, he just comments very matter-of-factly on what's happening around him, whether this is being bullied at Charterhouse, or the horrors of the First World War trenches. The war material is incredibly powerful. He was such a young man, going straight into the trenches from school, and tells of such horrors in such an everyday voice, it's chilling. What's even more chilling is that Robert Graves was a decent young man, and talking about shooting rats while at dinner, or coming upon the body of a dead German soldier blocking the entrance to a trench have to be talked about in an everyday voice, because they are everyday occurences. While in the trenches he met Siegfried Sassoon, fairly recently arrived in France, and they had a debate about writing war poetry - Sassoon ironically thought that it should not be realistic - Graves comments that he will soon change after he's been in the trenches for a while.

This should be compulsory reading on any course that deals with war, along with Vera Brittain's Testament of Youth, it gives a stunning portrait of those who fought and died, and those who survived.


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