Good-Bye to All That
Cover of the first edition
1958 (2nd Edition)
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Pages||368 pp (paperback ed.)|
|821/.912 B 20|
|LC Class||PR6013.R35 Z5 1990|
Good-Bye to All That, an autobiography by Robert Graves, first appeared in 1929, when the author was thirty-four. "It was my bitter leave-taking of England," he wrote in a prologue to the revised second edition of 1957, "where I had recently broken a good many conventions". The title may also point to the passing of an old order following the cataclysm of the First World War; the inadequacies of patriotism, the rise of atheism, feminism, socialism and pacifism, the changes to traditional married life, and not least the emergence of new styles of literary expression, are all treated in the work, bearing as they did directly on Graves' life. The unsentimental and frequently comic treatment of the banalities and intensities of the life of a British army officer in the First World War gave Graves fame, notoriety and financial security, but the book's subject is also his family history, childhood, schooling and, immediately following the war, early married life; all phases bearing witness to the "particular mode of living and thinking" that constitute a poetic sensibility.
A large part of the book is taken up by his experience of the First World War, in which Graves served as a lieutenant, then captain in the Royal Welch Fusiliers, alongside his equally famous comrade Siegfried Sassoon. Goodbye to All That provides a detailed description of trench warfare, including the tragic incompetence of the Battle of Loos and the bitter fighting in the first phase of the Somme Offensive.
In the Somme engagement, Graves was severely wounded while leading his men through the cemetery at Bazentin-le-petit church on 20 July 1916. The wound was so severe, in fact, that military authorities erroneously reported to his family that he had died. While mourning his death, Graves's family received word from him that he still lived, and put an announcement to that effect in the newspapers.
The book also contains a secondhand description of the killing of German prisoners of war by British troops. Although Graves had not witnessed any incidents himself and knew of no large-scale massacres, he had been told about a number of incidents in which prisoners had been killed individually or in small groups. Consequently he was prepared to believe that a proportion of Germans who surrendered never made it to prisoner-of-war camps. "Nearly every instructor in the mess" he wrote, "could quote specific instances of prisoners having been murdered on the way back. The commonest motives were, it seems, revenge for the death of friends or relatives, [and] jealousy of the prisoner's trip to a comfortable prison camp in England".
Graves was severely traumatised by his war experience. After he was wounded in the lung by a shell blast he endured a squalid five-day train journey with unchanged bandages. During the war he received an electric shock using a trench telephone which scared him so much that he did not use one again until twelve years after the event. Upon his return home, he describes being haunted by ghosts and nightmares.
Siegfried Sassoon and his friend Edmund Blunden (whose First World War service had been in a different regiment) both took umbrage at the contents of the book. Sassoon's complaints mostly related to Graves's depiction of him and his family, whereas Blunden had read the memoirs of J. C. Dunn and found them at odds with Graves in some places. The two men set about defacing Blunden's copy of Good-Bye to All That with marginal notes contradicting some of Graves's statements. The copy survives and is now held by the New York Public Library.
- Robert Graves (1960). Good-Bye to All That. London: Penguin. p. 7.
- Richard Perceval Graves, ‘Graves, Robert von Ranke (1895–1985)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, September 2004; online edn, October 2006.
- "The Other: For Good and For Ill" by Prof. Frank Kersnowski in Trickster's Way, Volume 2, Issue 2, 2003
- Hugh Cecil, "Edmund Blunden and First World War Writing 1919–36"
- Anne Garner, "Engaging the Text: Literary Marginalia in the Berg Collection", June 4, 2010. Accessed 6 November 2012.
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