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Goodbye to All That

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An autobiographical work that describes firsthand the great tectonic shifts in English society following the First World War, Robert Graves's Goodbye to All That is a matchless evocation of the Great War's haunting legacy, published in Penguin Modern Classics.

In 1929 Robert Graves went to live abroad permanently, vowing 'never to make England my home again'. This is his superb account of his life up until that 'bitter leave-taking': from his childhood and desperately unhappy school days at Charterhouse, to his time serving as a young officer in the First World War that was to haunt him throughout his life. It also contains memorable encounters with fellow writers and poets, including Siegfried Sassoon and Thomas Hardy, and looks at his increasingly unhappy marriage to Nancy Nicholson. Goodbye to All That, with its vivid, harrowing descriptions of the Western Front, is a classic war document, and also has immense value as one of the most candid self-portraits of an artist ever written.

Robert Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was a British poet, novelist, and critic. He is best known for the historical novel I, Claudius and the critical study of myth and poetry The White Goddess. His autobiography, Goodbye to All That, was published in 1929, quickly establishing itself as a modern classic. Graves also translated Apuleius, Lucan and Suetonius for the Penguin Classics, and compiled the first modern dictionary of Greek Mythology, The Greek Myths. His translation of The Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám (with Omar Ali-Shah) is also published in Penguin Classics.

281 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1929

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About the author

Robert Graves

451 books1,549 followers
Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985), 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 Plato, Greek poets, Michelangelo & Shakespeare, "who had felt as I did".

At the outbreak of WWI, Graves enlisted almost immediately, taking a commission in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He published his first volume of poems, Over the Brazier, in 1916. He developed an early reputation as a war poet and was one of the first to write realistic poems about his experience of front line conflict. In later years he omitted war poems from his collections, on the grounds that they were too obviously "part of the war poetry boom". At the Battle of the Somme he was so badly wounded by a shell-fragment through the lung that he was expected to die, and indeed was officially reported as 'died of wounds'. He gradually recovered. Apart from a brief spell back in France, he spent the rest of the war in England.

One of Graves's closest friends at this time was the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also an officer in the RWF. In 1917 Sassoon tried to rebel against the war by making a public anti-war statement. Graves, who feared Sassoon could face a court martial, intervened with the military authorities and persuaded them that he was suffering from shell shock, and to treat him accordingly. Graves also suffered from shell shock, or neurasthenia as it is sometimes called, although he was never hospitalised for it.

Biographers document the story well. It is fictionalised in Pat Barker's novel Regeneration. The intensity of their early relationship is nowhere demonstrated more clearly than in Graves's collection Fairies & Fusiliers (1917), which contains a plethora of poems celebrating their friendship. Through Sassoon, he also became friends with Wilfred Owen, whose talent he recognised. Owen attended Graves's wedding to Nancy Nicholson in 1918, presenting him with, as Graves recalled, "a set of 12 Apostle spoons".

Following his marriage and the end of the war, Graves belatedly took up his place at St John's College, Oxford. He later attempted to make a living by running a small shop, but the business failed. In 1926 he took up a post at Cairo University, accompanied by his wife, their children and the poet Laura Riding. He returned to London briefly, where he split with his wife under highly emotional circumstances before leaving to live with Riding in Deià, Majorca. There they continued to publish letterpress books under the rubric of the Seizin Press, founded and edited the literary journal Epilogue, and wrote two successful academic books together: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928).

In 1927, he published Lawrence and the Arabs, a commercially successful biography of T.E. Lawrence. Good-bye to All That (1929, revised and republished in 1957) proved a success but cost him many of his friends, notably Sassoon. In 1934 he published his most commercially successful work, I, Claudius. Using classical sources he constructed a complexly compelling tale of the life of the Roman emperor Claudius, a tale extended in Claudius the God (1935). Another historical novel by Graves, Count Belisarius (1938), recounts the career of the Byzantine general Belisarius.

During the early 1970s Graves began to suffer from increasingly severe memory loss, and by his eightieth birthday in 1975 he had come to the end of his working life. By 1975 he had published more than 140 works. He survived for ten more years in an increasingly dependent condition until he died from heart failure.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 803 reviews
Profile Image for Warwick.
841 reviews14.6k followers
June 14, 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.
Profile Image for Murray.
Author 151 books544 followers
August 25, 2023
a haunting poetic memoir

✨Extraordinarily written, prose with that poetic style and imagery that gives narration a penetrating depth. Marvelous to read and, as I found with T. E. Lawrence, offering those who pick it up a glorious indulgence in and enjoyment of, the English language. (Lawrence and Graves were friends.)

The first quarter of the book deals with Graves’s life before the war - visits to the German side of the family in Bavaria; his experiences in English public schools; climbing with George Mallory of Everest (“because it’s there!”).

The next two quarters of the memoir are about the war, and he brings it freakishly close to home and right into your head and heart. It is the most astonishing piece of work at that point. It’s destabilizing in its power.

The final quarter of the book concerns the end of the war; his struggle with shell shock (PTSD) and gassed lungs; his first marriage and first group of children and then his second marriage and second group of children. Possibly most fascinating are his descriptions of meeting Thomas Hardy, John Masefield, T.E. Lawrence, T.S. Eliot and other writers. Equally fascinating to me, throughout the book, are his accounts of inexplicable premonitions that others experienced prior to their war deaths, as well as him seeing soldiers he knew and recognized on the street weeks after their death in combat and burial. Mystifying. Though I have heard explanations for such phenomena that are based on the willful creations of the human mind, in addition to supernatural revelations, I remain mystified.

Certainly deserves its reputation as one of the most striking depictions of the dark heart of war and one of the most powerful memoirs written.
Profile Image for Paul.
1,216 reviews1,962 followers
August 3, 2014
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 more 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.
Profile Image for Jan-Maat.
1,565 reviews1,887 followers
December 19, 2017
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' formal schooling as perversion, a form of espalier that prevented him from growing freely, instead giving him a series of difficulties that he had to later overcome.

Although chiefly a memoir of Robert Graves' service as an infantry officer on the western front during WWI, there is an awful lot more here, the war poets, the English literary scene feminism, socialism, war trauma, Egypt. Above all an indictment of Britain as being light-weight, lacking in gravity, earnestness, and moral seriousness, their places instead taken by snobbish traditions and curious customs. To this Graves eventually says Goodbye, however one can't take a holiday from oneself quite as easily as one can resettle in Majorcia: And if condemned to relive those lost years I should probably behave again in very much the same way; 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. (p.282)

During the second world war he refuses to go before a draft board because he is only offered a third class travel warrant, insisting as a retired Captain on his right to First class travel and not to have to sit shoulder to shoulder with the likes of the village policeman, at which one wonders a little about the qualities of Graves' professed socialism even as one notes how he can't escape that learnt snobbishness of his early years.

Later in between poetry and I, Claudius and the like, he wrote The white Goddess , and in my innocence I had imagined that was part of his reaction to schooling in the trenches and at Charterhouse, and Marija Gimbutas style inventing in prehistory a happy mythology of a woman centred age, cheerfully peaceful and considerate, however I found on this very website the following from that later book:“Poetry began in the matriarchal age, and derives its magic from the moon, not from the sun. No poet can hope to understand the nature of poetry unless he has had a vision of the Naked King crucified to the lopped oak, and watched the dancers, red-eyed from the acrid smoke of the sacrificial fires, stamping out the measure of the dance, their bodies bent uncouthly forward, with a monotonous chant of "Kill! kill! kill!" and "Blood! blood! blood!” which rather suggests that he invented for himself not an escape from his experiences but a justification - the war as crucifixion, indeed as in the Anglo-Saxon The Dream of the Rood Christ stepping up to the cross is the heroic act of a warrior, of a hero, a Beowulf, the sacrifice of warfare as an end in itself. He does mention in passing that he had been reading Nietzsche in the trenches and I wonder if he felt that the test of war was the forge of the superman, certainly in this account the French civilians, the Liverpool shipping magnates , the politicians are all beneath contempt, he would have been as happy shooting them as he tells Bertrand Russell that he imagines his soldiers would be happy to shoot striking munitions workers if given the chance, he's not possibly so far from the mainstream of European Fascism, the war is wrong but violence, or rather one's preparedness to do one's duty and stand by one's comrades or the soldiers under your charge, while under fire is the only virtue. Still from Graves' eyes we see the war as a bizarre and horrific self inflicted injury monstrously chewing through people or "human ammunition" as "a mother" describes sons in a popular published reply to a soldier's request for peace >spoiler> the war enthusiasm and blood thirstiness of the home population are particularly sickening .

Here we see in his account that the school and the war are parallel experiences, it is not the winning that counts, but playing the game (either football, rugby, or trench warfare it is all the same), and playing with the right spirit and attitude. Both the school and the war are both scoops out of the same cultural soup, the arcane traditions of the school dress code are mirrored by the army . The whole thing is gloriously idiotic and amateur just as the pupils despise the staff so too the soldiers despise the army leadership. The good teacher, George Mallory (of Everest fame) is the role model for the good officer that Graves and Siegfried Sassoon aspire to be . From a systems point of view this is all disturbing, as it is a circle of stupidity that offers no possibility of escape, the war is like school, one enters as a first year and must simply endure it, to escape it is cowardice, to change it impossible from his perspective, the only thing to do is revel in the snobbishness: listing men in order of cleanliness and fighting prowess - unsurprisingly English and German Protestants are considered the most clean and the best soldiers, the French and Portuguese the dirtiest and least soldierly. Irish and Scottish Catholics too excitable, and thus liable to get themselves shot when doing something stupid. Though Graves feels the Catholic chaplains are better than the Anglican, and he's impressed that Glasgow Catholics would follow their priest into 'woodland' under fire and hold their position even when they refused the orders of their regular officers. Although a colleague points out that he felt an Anglican chaplain's sermon on tithes was wonderfully distracting before the men were ordered into action in Iraq.

I was struck by how cold Graves' account was, it burns like ice, this was though was effective, I noticed that once he got to 1916 I was feeling pretty nauseous while reading, and the armistice brings no relief, Graves was suffering from war dreams regularly until 1928 and in receipt of a war pension for shell shock, war in Ireland and demobilisation are followed by the idiocies of Patriarchy and parochialism in civilian life. Majorca is the only option really, hence ' Goodbye to all that'.

The conduct of the war is insane from Graves' point of view, the attitude at home even more mad he traces the Chinese whisper effect of a story about church bells rung to announce the fall of Antwerp to heroic Belgian Priests used as human bell clappers in five steps, and on the internment of German nationals - "The Times" making light of reports of forty waiters escorted by fifty police with carbines from London to Lancashire, Graves reports true as he was the officer who took custody of them - in order to make sure that the potential military forces were evenly matched, the waiters were also in hand-cuffs, the police manage to break two windows with their carbines on the train journey north.

The business of gas masks is in some ways typical, with the British using gas weapons before they had an effective gas mask he recounts all the different types of gas masks that he is issued with, one after another slightly less deficient in some way than the previous model.

As an aside on Egypt and Feminism he visits the house of a Greek family, one of the daughters tells him that in another twenty years the women of Egypt would control everything. The feminist movement had just started and since the women were by far the most active and intelligent part of the population, great changes might be expected. Neither she nor her sisters would stand her father's attempt to keep them in their places (p.270) however a few pages earlier he had been warned by Lawrence of Arabia The Egyptians..you need not dwell among. Indeed it will be a miracle if an Englishman can get to know them. The bureaucrat society is exclusive, and lives smilingly unaware of the people (p.264) it seems so far that in the clash between bureaucracy and women for the control of Egypt that the bureaucrats continue to win.

None of which has any great relevance to the first world war but gives an idea of how wide ranging Graves' memoir is.
Profile Image for ·Karen·.
617 reviews767 followers
March 28, 2013
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.
Profile Image for Jamie Smith.
494 reviews78 followers
February 5, 2019
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 more 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 more 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 more 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.
Profile Image for David Sarkies.
1,813 reviews315 followers
December 22, 2017
A Poet at War
19 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 more. 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 more 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.
Profile Image for Nooilforpacifists.
870 reviews37 followers
May 5, 2017
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 more 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 more. 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 more 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.'"
Profile Image for Paul Bryant.
2,213 reviews9,886 followers
January 15, 2014
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.

Profile Image for Chrissie.
2,780 reviews1,459 followers
December 23, 2022
At the age of thirty three, in 1929, Robert Graves wrote and dictated this book. He writes of his life up to this point. Twenty-eight years later he filled in names which had not been revealed when the book first came out, to protect individuals’ privacy. With the passage of almost three decades names could be stated outright. This is explained in the short prologue of the edition I read.

The book ends at the point when Graves and his first wife Nancy split, he leaves England and takes up residence in Majorca, Spain. Thereof follows the title. He is saying, “Goodbye to all that!” meaning another stage of his life had begun. A good title, if you ask me!

What this book tackles is his childhood, his youth, education and participation in the First World War. The central focus are the war years. Graves enlisted at the start of the war. He joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers. In May 1915 he was sent to France. On July 20, 1916, during the Battle of the Somme, four days before his twenty-first birthday, he was struck by a shell fragment. Passing through his shoulder and chest, it seriously injured his right lung. Although near death, he did survive, contrary to what had come out in the press! The Times listed him the next day among the dead! Physically and psychologically recuperation was a battle in itself. Few of of those who do survive a war ever talk and explain and share with others their experiences. I am here thinking of my own father. Not a word would he ever say other than that he was there at the Battle of the Bulge. It takes strength and great courage to speak out, as Graves has done. We observe his path back toward mental stability, growth toward maturity and an understanding of himself. A person can study psychology and read in a textbook about post traumatic stress disorder, but this book is so much better. It brings one closer to a fuller understanding! Graves reveals his personal struggle.

The war experiences are well told and through them we observe their impact on Graves.

Graves’ friendship with other poets, authors and fellow compatriots I found extremely interesting, particularly that with the poet Siegfried Sassoon. Sassoon was a fellow-Fusilier! T. E. Lawrence became a friend after the Armistice. Arnold Bennett was another dear friend. I am mentioning a mere few.

You get a good feel for who Robert Graves really was. He was stoic. He had a stiff upper lip. He is reserved, doesn’t show his emotions. Speaking of his near fatal injury, he says merely, “I had much discomfort and shortness of breath.” He has humor. It is ironic in tone. He points out that when leaving boarding school, i.e. Charterhouse, a professor exclaimed, “Well goodbye Graves, and remember your best friend is the wastepaper basket!” Yet Graves also informs us, in self-defense, that lines do not simply fall from his fingers; he writes and rewrites everything. He works to get the lines right!

At Audible this book is abridged. Be careful, don’t choose that. I am fortunate enough to have access to the book at Legimus, a site in Sweden for those with poor vision. The Legimus version is read by Sean Barrett. His narration is topnotch! I get a kick when he switches between American and British English. This does make one smile. His French pronunciation is OK. I feel he captures well Graves’ personality through his speech. This is important since Graves is telling us the story of his own life. In addition, every word spoken is clear and distinct. His narration n is easy to follow. He pauses in all the right spots. I have rated the narration five stars—it was that good!

This is a very good book. I could go on and on mentioning tidbits that I find noteworthy, but enough is enough. I definitely recommend the book. You get to know a very interesting person and Graves has important things to share with us about the First World War and more.
Profile Image for Nigeyb.
1,242 reviews280 followers
April 11, 2020
It is as a document of World War One that this book really shines. Robert Graves includes a wealth of little details that bring the day-to-day life of him, and his regiment, to life: the gallows humour, the values of the soldiers, the disillusionment with the war and the staff (and yet the loyalty to their officers), the lice, the food, the other privations. It's all there in this excellent memoir. Robert Graves also captures the tragedy and waste of the conflict - friends and fellow soldiers dying or getting wounded all the time. Extraordinary luck means that Robert Graves beat the odds and manages to survive but not without injuries and many brushes with death.

Goodbye to All That was written in 1929, when Robert Graves was 33 years old. Although primarily known as a memoir about Robert Graves' experience of World War One, in which he served in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, the book opens with his family background, childhood, and education, before - at the outbreak of World War One - he enlists. The book also details his life for the ten years after World War One.

Goodbye to All That is an amazing memoir. For such a short volume Robert Graves packs in so much information and detail, and the book really brings alive day-to-day trench life with all its attendant horrors, boredom, pettiness, depravation, camaraderie and humour. Essential reading for anyone who wants to understand what life was like in the trenches.


Profile Image for Kim.
426 reviews511 followers
August 4, 2014

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.
Profile Image for ^.
907 reviews61 followers
February 4, 2015
The back cover blurb describes the contents of this volume as “candid”.
That 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 more 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 the “… gas-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 stage. …”. Though 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 more time to adjust to parting from this wonderful author and his book, and gaining an outline of retrospective

My 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.
Profile Image for Tyler .
323 reviews313 followers
May 3, 2020
Herbert Marcuse describes in One-dimensional Man a world where clashing ideas are held together in a way that makes them impossible to evaluate. We see this with the current PBS ads which, in service to some obscene aesthetic, combine classical opera with film of a napalm attack on Vietnam. A kindred juxtaposition makes the technique of Goodbye to All That recognizably modern. Graves relates his life in a succession of caricatures that shift between the comic and the horrific. Young Graves faces two hurdles: British boarding school and World War I. It’s his accounts of both that bring this book fame. But is it really all that?

In upper class schools for boys we find, as the story begins, bastions of intramural sex that administrators ignore. Graves takes a partner, Dick, as a matter of inveterate custom; his tone tells us it would be in bad form to register much more than a raised eyebrow over this. True, it’s not as graphic as Céline’s frank account of British boarding school in Death on the Installment Plan. But later comes a kind of punch line. Dick gets arrested for coming on to an officer. Graves denounces him, realizing, apparently for the first time, that Dick really is “like that.” I’m not gay, Graves tells us, but my boyfriend is. Having torn the mask off British boarding school, Graves, we find, has adapted to its carnal secrets quite nicely, thank you. Wickedly funny, sir. Take a bow but please, no encore.

Adapting to anything is the link that gets us from sex to war. One moment finds Graves killing Krauts and tripping into rotting corpses; next thing you know he and Siegfried Sassoon are sitting in the grass reciting poetry. Graves plays on this contrast between Britain’s home front dream of war and France’s reality. These absurd transitions take events in stride without regard to their moral status. Graves chronicles them. Conclusions are left to the reader.

A light touch helps sidestep the in any case inexplicable enormity of the Great War. But at this point we run up against the circularity of the author’s worldview. Implicit in the book is a concession that the system that causes war is its own raison d’etre. This undertone weakens the farce we might otherwise notice. The memoir is in part a comedy of evil; but Graves’s comical approach, because of his dry class humor, often turns a fuming crime into a desiccated absurdity. It’s hard to read the theatricality the way the author may have meant it.

A puritanical upper class conformist, Graves is content to be part of the state of affairs he excoriates. The book's light moments rely on a satire of manners that plays to his immense vanity; the rich details of a catered life flesh out various sketches – every faux pas made, the style of the place settings, his illustrious friends and family, the weave of the many strings he pulls. He drops names with astonishing recall, and I certainly can’t deny his entitlements. Yet it’s hard to effectively attack this system from within. The sheer scale of the evil doesn’t yield easily to jaunty farce. Readers in our day can only too well see World War II just dying to climb out from these pages.

Fans of satire might disagree with me as to how effectively it works here. But I can safely say that this is not the scorching declamation of injustice one might be led to expect. Even so, this important war memoir received special attention in the elegantly conceived The Great War and Modern Memory. Graves’s book is in fact well structured and well written, containing all the effects that make for good storytelling. It’s a precise read that doesn’t tarry too long on any one point and an unexpected page turner.

The particular attraction of Goodbye to All That is for students of World War I, fans of memoirs, people who like poetry (although the book contains none) and poets, and anyone curious about the scandal endemic to boarding schools. On the other hand, readers outside these categories may find in this autobiography an insufferable litany of manners, titles, class, ego and conformity. Proceed, but with realistic expectations.
Profile Image for Mikey B..
1,004 reviews373 followers
January 22, 2021
I really struggled through the first thirty or so pages of this and started to skim. It just wasn’t for me. I had no desire to trudge through another three hundred pages. I found the writing insipid and just plain dry and dull. I had no desire to read of Robert Graves upbringing of schools and headmasters and the people he met. I have read books on the British school system - “Of Human Bondage” comes to mind and that was far more passionate and meaningful.

About half of this book is on Graves’ World War I experiences. I suppose there are interesting excerpts here and there, but I had lost the desire to wade through his tedious prose to come upon them. Far better was “The Soul of War” by Philip Gibbs.
Profile Image for Teresa.
Author 8 books815 followers
April 12, 2018
The lines that have stayed with me after finishing this book are those Graves wrote about his time in Oxford after the war, when he was experiencing vivid "daydreams" of trench warfare. It's obvious now that those 'dreams' were flashbacks -- I'm guessing the term hadn't been invented yet -- and Graves says they were always of his first four months in the trenches, that his feeling-apparatus had shut down after that time.

As a schoolboy, Graves suffered under the herd mentality at boarding school and was bullied until he took up boxing. Immediately after his graduating, war broke out and he entered into Army life as a break from school life: he was not looking forward to going to Oxford. But in the Army, he finds much of the same kind of inanities he tried to avoid as a student, though he seems better equipped to handle them now. He had trouble with authority, but the men he captained seemed to admire him, as he never asked them to do what he didn't do himself.

Of his post-war memories, I enjoyed his encounter with Thomas Hardy the most. He describes a day where he and his young wife biked to Hardy's Dorchester home. Graves had kept a record of their talk and it was quite interesting to me, as I've read all of Hardy's novels.
Profile Image for Erwin.
89 reviews71 followers
February 2, 2014
This is Robert Graves's autobiography which he finished in 1929 at the age of 32 or 33. Fortunately, his life didn't end there but as he said himself, many years later, his life after that wasn't worth writing about (again). In his memoirs, he mostly talks about his experiences during the Great War, as an officer in the British Army ( the Royal Welch; yes Welch with a c). This work is a honest, no nonsense piece of art/literature. It was a pleasant and accessible read. I highly recommend this work!
Profile Image for Jean.
1,728 reviews752 followers
November 10, 2014
This book was written in 1929 as a memoir of his service in World War One. The book covers his early life, his time at Charterhouse School where he was mercilessly bullied, the war and the post war period up to writing the book in 1929.

Like many young men Graves enlisted within days of the outbreak of the Great War with no understanding of what war was like. He enlisted as an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He fought in France—the Somme, Souchez, Bethune, Loos, Cambria and Cuinchy—and was seriously wounded and discharged in 1918. In January 1926 Graves, Nancy and their four children set out for Egypt where Graves was to take up an appointment as professor of English in Cairo. In 1929 he divorced his wife and set up house in Deya, Majorca with the American Poet Laura Riding. Graves book “Goodbye To All That” was published the same year as Erick Maira Remarque’s “All Quiet On the Western Front.” Graves was a well known poet and he also wrote poems about WWI as did his friend and fellow soldier Siegfried Sassoon. Graves is best known for his book “I Claudius.”

What makes this such a good memoir about the war is that it is not bogged down with ideologies or politics. He presents what it was like to live day to day in the trenches (as an officer). His vivid account of life and death in the trenches is haunting. While there is obviously much fear, discomfort and horror, there is also lots of comedy and camaraderie. Graves wants to show what WWI was really like, no sentimentalizing it or giving it a meaning he didn’t feel. It was a horrific, life changing experience and that was all.

I had just finished reading “The Storm of Steel” by Ernst Junger. Junger’s memoir is similar to that of Graves in that they both are about reportage. Graves included information about his fellow soldiers, Junger did not, both books tell about the daily life of a soldier. I find it interesting to read about the same battle they both fought in but on opposite side such as the Somme and Cambria. Between the two books I have seen World War One from both viewpoints of the average German and English soldier. Both books reveal a unique, honest and incredibly powerful depiction of the realities of life as a soldier, and of the true effects of fighting on those who experienced it. I read this as an audio book downloaded from Audible. Martin Jarvis did a good job narrating the book. I recommend this book as a must read for the WWI 100th anniversary.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 2 books2,948 followers
March 17, 2018
I'm so glad I read this book. Graves's descriptions of his experience during the war and moving, educational and brilliantly written. His experience in the post-war literary circles, his detailed exploration of trench life and his choice of anecdotes throughout overall made this a fascinating, if difficult, read.
Profile Image for ALLEN.
553 reviews121 followers
March 11, 2019
As Paul Fussell so well points out in THE GREAT WAR AND MODERN MEMORY, young Britons of all classes rushed to support King and Country in World War I. Those ideals were dashed and this book, originally published in 1929, helps explain how. I would not say it is the best book in terms of style, but I will say that the episodes in this book, mostly taking place in the British military during World War One, are more than memorable and usually funny or bitterly funny in a way that supports one ongoing theme: "One class gets the sugar and the other [here, enlisted men] gets the shit." Years later, Graves admitted that he wrote GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT for nakedly commercial reasons: people liked reading about food, so he included a couple of banquets; people liked reading about ghosts, so there's a ghost or two in this book too.

And it worked -- so many copies were sold that Graves could live abroad for most of his life, avoiding the foul weather, industrial pollution and class conflict of "Blighty," and concentrating on more involved writing, of which the I, CLAUDIUS series is the best known. Readable, humorous, bitter and compelling for all that, GOOD-BYE TO ALL THAT is essential to understand the experience of those who actually fought World War One, not the historians who were commissioned and well paid to make it look as glamorous and phony as possible. Must reading for those interested in Robert Graves, the "Great War," or even postwar conditions in "Blighty." While Graves's position on military life is decidedly jaundiced, several generations of failed wars and a more cynical populace on both sides of the Atlantic will not find this book as shocking as it appeared in 1929. It is quite entertaining, though.

Photo: Graves in later life:
Image result for robert graves
Profile Image for Steve.
379 reviews1 follower
April 11, 2020
I enjoyed Robert Graves’ work. While he was, for the most part, forthright and candid with his thoughts and exploits, I did also feel he held back in his post-war experiences, perhaps for commercial reasons. He appeared to have much more to share with us.

Something about World War I I’ll never apparently understand, what was the allure of the trench to so many soldiers? Why did so many feel the urge to return, even when freed from the horrors? And why, when there, did so many willingly follow the whistle up and over into what must have then felt a near certain death? Was it simply understanding the difference between a near certain death before a German machine gun versus certain death from a firing squad? I’ll never really know for myself and that is very much a good thing.
Profile Image for Adam Nevill.
Author 70 books3,815 followers
November 7, 2018
That complete immersion in a book when you're held fast by a writer's voice, for hours, doesn't happen for me as a reader as much as it did when I was younger. But it still happens. This week Robert Graves's enduringly relevant memoir 'Goodbye to All That' transfixed me. It seems to contain everything that matters and makes it matter.

For a time, he lived and wrote close to our home, which was my motivation for reading the book (the timing of reading this book during the Week of Remembrance and Armistice events, though, is my second strange Graves coincidence since the summer).

The great majority of the text concerns his participation in The Great War, aged 19 to 21; a period in which he went to the front three times, receiving a terrible shrapnel wound in one lung the second time out. After this near fatal chest wound, received at The Somme, he was placed amongst the fatal cases at the side of the field hospital and left to die with others whose wounds were deemed fatal.

His family were even notified of his death by wounds by the war office and his commanding officer. An aunt was the first to realise he was alive after happening across his name on a rosta in a military hospital ward, as she visited someone else (when he then realises that his belongings were stolen when wounded, I could have wept). The narrative of his being on a stretcher in a crowded hospital train while having his lungs drained of blood, made me feel shaky. By then, he was 21 and what he'd seen and experienced in three years would defy what most artists could even imagine of an actual hell.

This is one of war poems that gripped me as an undergraduate when I first came across it (he somehow wrote and published three volumes of poems during the war, this one edited by his dear friend Siegfried Sassoon).


To you who’d read my songs of War

And only hear of blood and fame,

I’ll say (you’ve heard it said before)

”War’s Hell!” and if you doubt the same,

Today I found in Mametz Wood

A certain cure for lust of blood:

Where, propped against a shattered trunk,

In a great mess of things unclean,

Sat a dead Boche; he scowled and stunk

With clothes and face a sodden green,

Big-bellied, spectacled, crop-haired,

Dribbling black blood from nose and beard.

The experience inspiring this poem is explored at greater length in the memoir and takes on a supernormal quality, set in the most wretched landscape, as Graves tries to find blankets for his troops (who would "have followed him into hell", and did). The prose in that section is a marvel, a pinnacle of horror.

And yet, despite his and Sassoon's incredible bravery as officers and frontline soldiers, their loathing of the war and the patriotic public - particularly Sassoon who risked everything by taking a public stand and throwing his military cross into the sea - to me seems to reach the very height of personal courage. I was left feeling that if they were representative of their generation, what mankind lost at the front remains incalculable.

Graves lived an extraordinary life but even by 1929 he counted amongst his friends, T. E. Lawrence (aka Lawrence of Arabia), Thomas Hardy, T. S Eliot, Walter de la Mare, Siegfried Sassoon, Wilfred Owen, George Mallory (with whom he climbed), Vaughan Williams, Lytton Strachey, Arnold Bennet, John Galsworthy, Edith Sitwell, Edmund Gosse, John Masefield - and had met H.G. Wells (who spoke but didn't listen). They're all in the book.

Incidentally, his experiences with ghosts are some of the best encounters that I've read. There are three in the memoir - he came to think of one haunting as an "event" caused by the instability of time - but his discourse on the supernatural is terrific.

Anyway, I'll sign off with this quote about how he and Sassoon's views about the war had changed: "We no longer saw the war as one between trade rivals: its continuance seemed merely a sacrifice of the idealistic younger generation to the stupidity and self-protective alarm of the elder".

I love the phrase "self-protective alarm", a quote surely ripe for re-use in our times.

Ultimately, for me, the poets won, because whenever the Great War is remembered, I tend to think of them and I imagine the war through their senses.
Profile Image for Sebastien.
252 reviews291 followers
June 14, 2020
The opening about his school years was surprisingly interesting and would have loved for that to have been explored in more depth. Graves was bullied and had issues concerning identity (having a multinational background/ancestry). He was a nerd (ie true scholar!), he gets bullied by the richer kids who can coast on connections and money and find scholarship tedious (reminds of Kvothe in Name of the Wind when he goes to magic school). Graves goes full Karate Kid, takes up boxing and lays waste to his childhood enemies (well, sort of).

The rest of the text concerning WWI is good, but Graves has a rather dry, clinical approach - a choice of style that often makes him seem disassociated from the events themselves. There are some funny moments, especially the depictions of the gallows humor typical in such barbaric endeavors. And it was amazing how many of his generations most important figures he formed relationships with, including people like Siegfried Sassoon and Bertrand Russell.

The acerbic commentary on the political and military leaders is sprinkled throughout the text, and from the WWI memoirs I’ve read seems to have been a common sentiment among a lot of the front-line ranks. Hard not to get pissed off when you see a captain/generals bounding around town in Rolls-Royces, all the while castigating the frontline guys for some minor bullshit. Not to mention paying lipservice to the frontline soldiers’ sacrifices while staying safely far behind the lines enjoying caviar and champagne.

Even if the clinical style of writing is somewhat underwhelming, it is well-executed. And I love these memoirs on WWI, very important reminder of the capacity for arrogance and idiocy that political and military leadership can have - which can lead to grand operatic tragedies at the largest scales. A good reminder to always be leery of those who are in charge, and if possible have to try and keep them accountable if and whenever possible. Ambition and arrogance (and nationalism) run amok is a frightening thing, a toxic blinding stew.
Profile Image for Abby.
1,449 reviews178 followers
February 26, 2015
Smoothly written and often darkly humorous memoir about the complications of upper crust British boyhood and young adulthood. The memoir focuses on Graves’s time in the trenches during WWI, and it’s a stirring personal report on the devastation and stress of war (with some moments of wit and humor to lift the mood, such as his account of how he was declared officially dead while he was convalescing). Particularly interesting: his long friendship with Siegfried Sassoon, his (swiftly disintegrating) marriage to vociferous feminist Nancy Nicholson, and run-ins with so many famous UK writers (Lytton Strachey, Bertrand Russell, Wilfred Owen, Thomas Hardy, T.E. Lawrence, etc.). It ends very abruptly, and so I appreciated his 1957 “epilogue” to the book (which was written in 1929, when he was 33).

“What else can I say, unless that my best friend is still the waste-paper basket?”
Profile Image for Helen.
708 reviews94 followers
November 9, 2021
This is the renowned poet Robert Graves' autobiography up until 1929 (revised in 1957) and is truly extraordinary, and worth reading - both for insights into the author's life, and what the stale-mated Great War in France was actually like, since it's described in all its horror, the mindless slaughter continuing alongside the surreal clinging to class divisions despite the carnage. It's strange to think that 1957 was only 40 years post-WWI - yet in 1957 we all thought we were in a shiny new age of modernity, prosperity and convenience. The grimy past of horse-drawn vehicles, wood fires, an existence not mediated by the mass market, seemed ages ago - ridiculously remote. But only 40 years had elapsed in 1957 since WWI.

Graves describes the challenges of his education - including the hideous sadistic bullying he suffered; he eventually hit upon the idea of taking up boxing as a way to defend himself and build up popularity in school (since he was a good boxer). The social stratification of life in England continued in the English Army in France but he could adjust to it as he had become an officer and thus enjoyed the same privileges of the upper class he was born into in England. Basically, the rigidity of class structures in England permeated Army life: Whether it led to improved or worsened morale among the troops is anyone's guess. Graves made a point of not "lording it" over the men under his command - and he had many lucky breaks until he suffered his final serious wound that ended his days at the front. He realized all at once that he no longer wanted to be part of the Army and his final day in the Army is as unforgettable and thrilling as an escape novel - he managed to elude/trick the brass into leaving the Army. This was a key turning point in his life, when he accepted the reality that he no longer believed in the rituals or command/obedience of the Army, and wanted out.

This book is essential reading for anyone interested in the Great War, as it gives a wealth of detail on what passed for warfare during the static endless trench warfare on the Western Front - sniping back and forth, random soldiers getting killed on both sides, punctuated by futile "shows" as organized mass attacks were called by the British. Neither side had much to show for their efforts - unsurprisingly the war led to uprisings, revolutions, etc. Not only did the death of millions of soldiers not lead to any real resolution of the issues that had led to the war, but it set the stage for the even greater horror of the Second World War around 20 years later. Given the historical record of unending warfare in Europe since time immemorial (it seems) the past 75 years of peace in Europe (except for the post Yugoslavia conflicts and the war in Ukraine) at least the absence of a new world war, is nothing short of miraculous. Did the great powers of Europe finally learn their lesson and drop their rivalries for good? Time will tell.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

"[From the Introduction by Paul Fussell:] ...many [British readers of "Good-bye to All That"] were furious at his levities and what they considered his disrespect to those fallen in a noble cause."

"[From "Good-bye to All That:] ...no possible remedy could be found, because tradition was so strong that, to break it, one would have to dismiss the whole school and staff, and start all over again. However, even this would not be enough, the school buildings being so impregnated with what passed as the public school spirit, but what we felt as fundamental evil, that they would have to be demolished and the [Charterhouse] school rebuilt elsewhere under a difference name."

"Businessmen's sons, at this time, used to discuss hotly the threat, and even the necessity, of a trade war with the Reich. 'German' meant 'dirty German.' It meant: 'cheap, shoddy goods competing with our sterling industries.' It also meant military menace, Prussian-ism, useless philosophy, tedious scholarship, music-loving and saber-rattling."

"More casualties came from our own shots and blow-backs than from German shells. Much of the ammunition that our batteries were using was made in the United States and contained a high percentage of duds..."

"Pallas [the sister of a Greek student of Graves in Egypt] told me that in another twenty years the women of Egypt would be in control of everything. The feminist movement had just started, and since the women were by far the most active and intelligent part of the population, great changes might be expected."
Profile Image for Szplug.
467 reviews1,257 followers
September 9, 2010
Robert Graves, an English poet, writer, and proponent of the White Goddess mythology of muses - all done with considerable talent - penned his autobiography in 1927, while still in his early thirties; even at such a relatively young age, he burned with the need to set to paper the traumatic and disillusioning experiences that seared him during his military service in World War One. Graves, a product of the British class system, forthrightly details his formative years amongst the upper echelon attending Copthorne and King's College - a schooling replete with all of the snobbery, cruelty, slights, scholasticism, romantic homoeroticism, obsession with sports and gentlemanly rules and King and Country that all served to produce generations of fit and ready young men to serve the growing needs of Empire.

With the same simple honesty, Graves segues into his enthusiastic enlistment in the army, one of hundreds of thousands of eager young recruits ready to show the Kaiser a thing or two about British indomitability. It is important to keep in mind, in this modern day of hyperinformation, how uniquely fresh and disturbing were Grave's descriptions of his subsequent spiral into despair and disillusionment under the twin bludgeons of the carnage and horror of trench warfare and the utter incompetence of the Upper Class general staff. Graves suffered wounds serious enough that, as his shattered body was being carted away, his own CO wrote a letter to his parents offering his condolences on the death of their brave son. For the majority of the remainder of the war Graves was a recuperating invalid, telling of his burgeoning (and sexually charged) friendship with fellow open-eyed poet Siegfried Sassoon, the propaganda-stoked war fever of the stay-at-home populace, and his conflicted struggle between duty and terror about getting back to the front lines. An encapsulation of his years after the war, chiefly amidst the quiet, hauntingly beautiful countryside of a victoriously shattered post-war England and Wales, includes brief details of his marriage to Nancy Nicholson, the first of the three wives who would be the principal cast-members in the tumultuous theatre of Graves' personal relationships.

My edition of Goodbye to All That contained the revisions - extensive in certain areas - that Graves made in 1958, when the cooling waters of time, and a pair of acrimonious divorces, combined to convince the author to expurgate his autobiography of certain strident and matrimonial passages that, written in the white heat of an angry, bitter young man, needed to be tempered by the wisdom of future maturity (and a third wife). I have always kept an eye out for the original edit of the book when I browse my city's second-hand bookstores, as I would much enjoy reading the blistering accusations unleashed by the fiery post-war Graves now that I've partaken of the edge-smoothing polish that supposedly covers up many of their traces in all the available editions of the book I've come across. Graves cool prose, at times appropriately caustic and contemptuous, is nigh-perfect in that icy elegance that stems from the school system he describes. The Graves of Goodbye to All That is an honest and brave young man, if not particularly likeable, and curiously distant even when immersed in the tortured landscapes of hell.
Profile Image for Roberto.
627 reviews1 follower
June 29, 2017

Un monito contro la guerra

Robert Graves, poeta e romanziere, scrisse questa autobiografia a 34 anni, quando decise di dire addio alla sua patria, l'Inghilterra, alla sua famiglia e alla carriera. Perché questo addio?

La sua vita fino a quel momento era stata punteggiata da violenza psicologica e fisica. In Inghilterra la vita famigliare dei ragazzi terminava a otto anni, visto che a quell'età entravano a scuola e non tornavano più se non per le vacanze. L'educazione scolastica molto rigida gli lasciò il segno:

"L’educazione religiosa sviluppò in me una grande capacità di provare paura, una coscienza superstiziosa e un imbarazzo nei confronti del sesso dal quale ho fatto molta fatica a liberarmi."

A scuola la separazione dei sessi era totale, il sesso femminile era considerato osceno (e scarseggiava) e questo faceva sì che i rapporti omossessuali fosse quasi generalizzati.

"Per uno che nasce omosessuale, ci sono almeno dieci pseudo-omosessuali permanenti creati dal sistema delle scuole private"

L'obiettivo della scuola sarebbe dovuto essere l'insegnamento dei principi fondamentali per formare individui migliori; in realtà la ferrea disciplina, il cameratismo, lo spirito di corpo, la cultura imperialistica, l'ambizione personale determinavano le condizioni per ottenere individui che, in nome di un concetto superiore di Patria e onore, diventassero soldati.

Robert si arruola e va in guerra, come ufficiale nel prestigioso reggimento dei Royal Welch Fusiliers. E tra massacri, bombe, cancrene, assalti inutili e sanguinosi si distingue in battaglia in Francia fino ad essere gravemente ferito e dato per morto.

Nel frattempo descrive tutto ciò che vede. Cosa rende queste descrizioni di guerra così interessanti? Innanzitutto le immagini sono vivide, reali, crude. Ma questa osservazione è vista con un umorismo "British" che incredibilmente la rende più fruibile ma anche contemporaneamente terribile.

Dalle descrizioni si evince l'assurdità della guerra di trincea, le condizioni igieniche, la convivenza con i topi, i pidocchi, il fango, i cadaveri, il lamento dei feriti, le diserzioni, le fucilazioni, gli stupri, le atrocità commesse nei confronti del nemico, l'incompetenza di generali che nemmeno avevano mai visto una trincea, l'assurdità di alcune tecniche militari (una per tutte l'uso dei gas), il massacro di tante giovani vite non giustificato se non dall'ambizione di comandanti incapaci.

"L’importante era mantenere a tutti i costi la necessaria fornitura di eroi"

Tutto è insopportabile per Graves alla fine. Si può tornare da una guerra e continuare a vivere normalmente? Forse no, forse tutto risulta fasullo, inutile e insignificante. Forse nulla ha più molto senso. Decide quindi di rifiutare tutto e di andarsene, dedicandosi all'insegnamento e alla poesia.

Ovviamente questa è una autobiografia, dove come si sa viene trascritta solo la parte della verità che fa più comodo all'autore.

Ma ciò che maggiormente ci interessa secondo me non è tanto la conoscenza dell'uomo Graves, quanto il monito contro la guerra che il suo libro, molto interessante, ci ha lasciato.

E' servito a qualcosa? Ahimè, no. Gli errori si ripetono, sempre.
Profile Image for Jonfaith.
1,887 reviews1,413 followers
May 27, 2018
As Hartley noted the past is a foreign land and Graves treads lightly. I wrote a university friend last night I had not seen in 27 years. He and the woman I loved had started a relationship and the riptide of life pushed us far apart. He's now a minister. We shall see.

Graves takes the reader by the hand from childhood through the public school and immediately t the Western Front. Each step is harrowing. Pained. Then Armistice and marriage and family. No gap years for Graves. The friendship with Sassoon appears fascinating. I will pursue that elsewhere. Graves met Ezra Pound in Oxford at the home of T.E. Lawrence who pronounced: you will dislike each other. Even more intriguing is the revenue scheme that the Graves family (Nancy Nicholson never took Graves' name for feminist reasons) started their own corner store in the lawn of a neighbor. Somehow that is more I Love Lucy than the author of The White Goddess. There's also a great encounter with Thomas Hardy. Despite these twinkling frames there's a brooding character to the overall narrative. Somehow there are subterranean vibrations of some emotional fissuring.

Most folks attend to the book because of its Great War account. The attention is deserved, though early section about the tradition of his unit is rather tedious. There is a recognition throughout the book of class--and how such favored his claim from the football pitch to teaching in Cairo in the 1920s. I had entertained thoughts of devoting this next month to Graves but the impulse has been diminished.
Profile Image for Don Incognito.
297 reviews10 followers
July 8, 2017
The strength of Robert Graves' autobiography is that it provides sharp and illuminating observations on: the culture of the British school system and students in the early twentieth century; the behavior and attitudes of British regular military officers (as opposed to both enlistees and reservists) near the frontline during World War I; and, especially, trench warfare. The book is an excellent resource for understanding what life in the trenches--during attacks and between attacks--was like. Trench warfare is fascinating, if miserable.

The weakness: Graves's writing is very, very emotionally restrained. At no time does he let the reader have a glimpse of his soul. It's hard not to conclude that Graves was simply a cool, distant intellectual.

The reader can figure out early on that Graves had no special sympathy for either England or Germany in the war, and the most likely reason is obvious. Graves had one German parent and many German relatives, and spent substantial time in Germany in his youth. This, in addition to his joining the British Army for self-interested reasons, prevented strong nationalistic feelings in him toward either country.

Except for its extensive descriptions of trench warfare life, I consider this book ultimately a failure, due to two problems. One is Graves's emotional restraint. He eventually makes it clear that he has been psychologically damaged by the trench warfare, using the word "neurasthenia" frequently to describe his mental condition during leave and relating that he suffered from shell shock for years after the war. Therefore, the restraint must be excused, I guess; Graves did what he could do. Nevertheless, the reader can't see much of Graves's soul at any time.

The other problem is inexcusable. If you read reviews of this book or read other biographical information on Graves, you will know he left England circa 1929 and moved to Spain permanently, feeling very bitter toward England. We can figure out that the bitterness must have been due to the stupidity of the entire war, the stupidity and arrogance of the English military leaders, and the naivete and ignorance of patriotic English civilians; but apparently there was something else that made Graves angry and bitter. Unfortunately, Graves does not explain what that was, does not even give enough clues for us to guess. The only reason at all that we know his angry departure was due to anything other than World War I is the first paragraph of the prologue (written in 1957), which says:
I partly wrote, partly dictated, this book twenty-eight years ago during a complicated domestic crisis, and with very little time for revision. It was my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broke a good many conventions; quarreled with, or been disowned by, most of my friends; been grilled by the police on suspicion of attempted murder; and ceased to care what anyone thought of me.

That's honestly all he says about whatever drove him out of England, as though it couldn't be important or interesting. He says absolutely nothing about his later career as an important classicist writer, either. I suppose he wanted to relate only the history of his youth and his career as a soldier during World War I. This book should be called a "memoir," because it's much too incomplete to be an "autobiography."

This is the autobiography of a man badly damaged during the war and not at all recovered when he wrote the book over a decade later.
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