Graves, Robert. Good-Bye to All That: an autobiography. New York: Jonathan Cape and Harrison Smith, Inc., 1929.
Reason read: Memorial Day is May 29th this year. Read in honor of remembering World War I veterans. Robert Graves is one to remember.
Robert Graves decided to tell his autobiography when he was a mere 34 years old. After experiencing the horrors of World War I he must have felt he had lived a lifetime by the time he was in his 30s. His descriptions of early trench-warfare and as one example, the crude, ineffective gas masks are haunting. Despite it all, Graves was able to keep some decency about him. This is evident when he was unable to shoot a German soldier who was bathing. There was something about the man’s nakedness that unnerved Graves. And yet, he had a job to do…
Authors usually don’t take the time to describe their picture in a book. Robert Graves explains why his nose is large and crooked (broken twice & operated on once) and why one shoulder dips lower (courtesy of a lung wound). He makes modest statements about how the world sees him (like how he broke two front teeth when he was thirteen) as if to offer apologies for his face. Despite these descriptions the most obvious is that World War I was not easy on Robert Graves. One look at his 1929 photograph on the frontispiece of Good-Bye to All That and one can tell he was a broken man by the time the picture was taken. His haunted staring eyes speak volumes.
But, probably the biggest surprise about Graves’s autobiography was the humor. I don’t know if he meant to be funny but if not, he succeeded without trying.
Two lines that left me dumbstruck, “My dedication is an epilogue” (dedication page) and “The objects of this autobiography, written at the age of thirty-three, are simple enough: an opportunity for a formal good-bye to you and to you and to you and to me and to all that…” (p 1).
The definition of courage: “I had a bad head for heights and trained myself deliberately and painfully to overcome it…I have worked hard on myself in defining and dispersing terrors” (p 48).
As an aside, I am currently reading another book that takes place during World War I simply called Lusitania. Graves mentions the tragic events surrounding the torpedoing of the ocean liner in Good-Bye to All That but admits, “As for the Lusitania, the Germans gave her full warning, and if it brings the States into the war, it’s all to the good” (p 247).
Author fact: I don’t know when I first read anything by Robert Graves, but I do know when I really heard him and absorbed his words for the very first time. I heard him with ears wide open when Natalie Merchant decided to put his poem “Vain and Careless” to music. Incidentally, this was the first time I heard of the game Bob Cherry, too.
Book trivia: Good-Bye to All That has trench maps which put Robert’s ordeal into perspective for me.
Nancy said: Nancy said Graves wrote about his “disillusioning experiences” (p 154).
BookLust Twist: from More Book Lust in the chapter called “Living Through War” (p 154).