"Goodbye to all that" By Robert Graves.

Essay by dave101High School, 12th grade October 2003

download word file, 10 pages 3.0

In 1929, Robert Graves published his war novel "Goodbye to all that." It is

based on his own life experiences of the Great War. This autobiography has

been involved in "The great books controversy and changing attitudes towards

the war." But in 1931, two years after this Great War book was published,

Robert Graves wrote "P. S. Goodbye to all that." In this he justifies some

of his actions and why he wrote parts of the novel the way he did. He

confesses that he wrote the novel to make "a lump of money" he also included

the "ingredients" of a popular memoir, some of them including " people like

reading about food and drink.murders.ghosts.kings and other peoples

mothers." These ingredients make a good read in a novel and it's the type of

things that people enjoy reading about. It also breaks up the novel and it

doesn't concentrate on war so much.

He also apologises to the people he

offended in the novel.

Autobiographies were a chronicle of someone's life laid down for

posterity usually at the request of family members. "Goodbye to all that"

differs by virtue of his stated purpose in writing it. But throughout the

novel there are passages that defy a lot of what he said. An example of this

great writing is in chapter 15, which shows the very "matter of fact"

attitudes. "The other day.a bomb dropped next door and killed 3 soldiers who

were billeted there, a woman and a child." This probably did happen but it

was one of the many horrors of war which soldiers experienced day in and day

out. It became part of their lives; many lost hope and resorted to

committing suicide. Robert Graves clearly states that the first person he

saw dead and the last person he saw dead before he left the war were both

suicide victims. This just goes to show the kind of impact that the war had

on people's lives. Graves talks about it as an everyday occurrence, which to

the soldiers at the front line it was. We know for a fact that the

fatalities and injuries were for real and were not inaccurate. But there are

inaccuracies that can be misleading. For example the murder of the company's

sergeant major. " Did you mistake him for a spy?" The young miner replied,

"No sir, we mistook him for our platoon sergeant" This is quite humorous but

the date of the murder was wrong. A number of things are wrong in the book

but they have all been changed to make a good story. It makes it more

interesting, and then more people want to read it. The horror of war is made

very clear in "Goodbye to all that." One section of the novel, Graves tells

us about one of their platoon members that has been killed and is laying

rigid in the trench and is blocking the pathway. Instead of one of the men

moving him, they leave him there and make fun of him every time one of them

wanted to pass; they just pushed him out of the way and made some sort of

humorous comment. This was just one of the many black humour passages in the

book and as readers it makes us laugh. It shows detachment from the war,

which makes the story a little more light hearted and more readable and

interesting to an outsider. It gives structure to the book.

There is another passage in the novel that is humorous but it couldn't

possibly be true. This passage is known as the singing guns. This was when

the Germans and the British would communicate through rifle fire and guns.

They would sing songs back and fore to each other and have conversations.

The soldiers would do this by taking out a few of the bullets, so when the

gun was fired, the blanks would go through and not make a noise. The

soldiers would figure out a pattern or tune and continuing to take out

blanks, would eventually make a song. On one occasion the message was "we

all German korporals wish you English korporals a good day and invite you to

dinner tonight with beer and cakes" This was impossible to do and this was

one of the inaccuracies that Sassoon and Blunden didn't like. Fussell and

Sassoon frowned upon these inaccuracies, but they can also be looked upon in

a very different way. As Richard Graves points out, "the fact that Goodbye

to all that is full of inaccuracies does not detract from its importance

both as a searingly honest autobiography, which tells the truth about how

Robert felt about his past in 1929, and as a record of what it was like to

be a British soldier during the First World War."

The title of the novel reflects the content Robert Graves is trying

to say goodbye to everything to do with the War and Britain. He wrote the

novel to unburden himself of the memories of the war as described by his

nephew, Richard Graves, "for the process of healing to re-integration to be

complete, only one more thing was necessary: following Riding's example, he

must cast off the whole of his "historical" existence, and what better way

to do that, for an author then to write about it?"

He's also saying goodbye to his school life. Graves behaved like a

"disaffected adolescent" all his life and the tone of "Goodbye to all that"

is reflected in his style of approach in this novel. He was criticised for

talking about school by the public school system and old boys. But by

writing, he is distancing himself from his past and he wants a new start.

But Graves found this detachment very useful in later life especially when

he was at war as we see in a letter he wrote to his auntie, "Dear auntie,

this leaves me in the pink. We are at present wading in blood up to our

necks. Send me fags and a life belt. This war is a booger." Thus because of

this detachment, he was quite happy to speak openly and discuss all the

points in his life that have brought him to today. It is the establishment

in general, manifesting itself as the war, public school system and morally

righteous parents, not just the war. After Graves wrote "Goodbye to all

that" he left the country for good to live in Majorca. He left the past

behind him to start a new life.

The memories of war differ from bitterness to happiness when he met

his first wife, a nurse in the hospital. This is the first time that he

finds himself attracted to a women. He realises that he is heterosexual.

While he was at school in Charterhouse he was very unhappy and he turned to

another boy for love but this was only because of the false surroundings of

the public school. This war had come as a solution to a moment of unease for

Graves. He was offered a place at Oxford University but he didn't go. He had

a good education and he was a good sportsman also. His religious beliefs

went into doubt, although religion was very important to the rest of his

family. Religion only became a problem for Graves after the war was over. He

realised that he had no faith anymore and didn't understand the reason for


Opinions of certain regiments also played a part in Graves' novel.

Other soldiers criticised it as not being as noble or as war like as others.

It was also described as "froth" when placed against a serious nature of the

book as it discusses war in its horror. In the 1929 version of the novel,

Graves made the mistake of writing about someone else's mother, Sassoon's

mother. He wrote in detail about how one night he stayed there and Sassoon's

mother was trying to contact her dead son. Sassoon took great offence to

this, as Graves had not asked his permission to put it in his novel. Also

Graves published some of Sassoon's poetry without permission. Just six days

before the book was being published, Sassoon decides that the information

published about his mother is too personal and demands that it is taken out.

These were more of personal criticisms rather then objective ones. Therefore

they should not be used as legitimate criticisms of the autobiography.

The reality of war is brought home to us in chapters fifteen and

twenty. Chapter 15 is based on the battle of Loos and chapter 20 is based on

the battle of the Somme. Both these battles are famous and many lives were

lost through both. Graves goes into great detail on both but chapter 15 had

an incredible impact on me as a reader. At the beginning of the chapter we

see the plan for the attack, but both the soldiers and us know that the plan

won't work. Many men realised that they wouldn't survive the battle but they

had to fight. If they didn't, then their own men would shoot them. They

couldn't go against the orders of the generals, as they were always right.

As Thomas says on page 150, " we've just got to go over and keep the enemy

busy while the folk on our right do the real work.personally, I don't give a

damn either way. We'll get killed whatever happens." It is sad that

soldiers thought like this. Many men out have rather died then go home to

their families because they knew that they couldn't understand what they had

been through. This wasn't an inaccuracy; this was real life and happened in

every platoon. Men had to go over the top knowing they wouldn't all come


The soldiers knew themselves that they had little chance of surviving. Many

men lost their faith, because they knew there was little logic in what they

were going to do, but however, they couldn't do anything about it. The

Germans were also more advanced then the British and French. They had better

plans, modern tactics and advanced artillery. In the Battle of Loos the

Germans were using, "five-point-nines" another example of things going wrong

was in the same battle. The men were ordered to "discharge accessories at

all costs" but this proved a big mistake, as the wind had changed direction

and instead of the gas going across no mans land and into the German trench,

it went into no means land and then floated back into the British trench,

gassing their own men. The Germans knew of the attack and "immediately put

on their gas-helmets: semi rigid ones, better then ours" It wasn't only

battles that added realism to the novel: the stories that Graves tells about

people in his novel, the black humour, the depersonalisation and the

detachment all added to this great war book. One example of black humour was

when they were advancing on no mans land. The platoon had all gone "over the

top." He saw the platoon on his left flopping down so he whistled the

advance again, but nobody seemed to hear. He jumped up from his shell-hole,

waved and signalled "forward". Nobody stirred, he shouted, "you bloody

cowards, are you leaving me to go on alone?" His platoon sergeant, groaning

with a broken shoulder gasped, "Not cowards, sir. Willing enough. But

they're all f- dead"

The black humour in actual fact covers up the reality of war.

Many men went to war to show patriotism, many didn't realise what

they were letting themselves in for. Bravery became another main theme in

the novel. The description of Samson is also hard hitting to readers. We

feel sympathy and pity towards him. Samson, after going over the top, got

hit badly and was laying, groaning about 20 yards beyond the front trenches.

He was unable to move. As he was hit, he screamed uncontrollably, but to

stop himself, he thrust his own fist into his mouth to stop the screams.

While he was stranded, many attempts were made to rescue him, but three men

were killed, tow officers and two men injured also. In the end, someone did

manage to get out to him, but he waved him back because he said, "he was

riddled through and not worth rescuing." This was sad, not only for the

readers, but it would have been unimaginable to be there and to know that

one of your men is out there, alive but dying on no mans land, and there is

nothing that u can do. Many men forgot about the dead, simply because it was

easier for them to carry on fighting and to forget, otherwise it would have

drove them mad, just like it did Sassoon in "Regeneration"

Detachment played a huge part in their lives. They had to forget that

they were in the situation and carry on with their duties, "Every night, we

went out to fetch in the dead of the other battalions" The language that

Graves uses shows that the men treated death in a very matter of fact way.

It was the only way for them to deal with it. I would imagine that many

people after reading the book found some understanding of how people

typically thought about these events, humorous or not, at the time and

afterwards. Propaganda played a huge part in the war, mainly for the people

back home, which didn't really understand what the soldiers were going

through at the front line. They didn't want to know most of the time; they

turned a blind eye and carried on with their own lives. They thought that

just because the war hadn't hit Britain just yet, they thought that it had

nothing to do with them. Many men, who fought in the war, came home to find

that they had changed beyond recognition and couldn't go back to the lives

they led before going to war.

Graves also went through this after fighting in the Great War. This

is why he left the country after writing the novel. He went to live in

Majorca. Graves confesses himself that he wrote the book to make "a lump of

money." Also as Richard Percival Graves reminds us, it was "an opportunity

for a formal goodbye to you and to you and to you and to me and all that

forgetfulness because once all has been settled in my mind and written down

it need never be thought about again."

The 1957 prologue had huge success in selling around twenty thousand

copies in just five days. People wanted to know what war was like from

someone who had first hand experiences of war. The continuing popularity

cannot be because of the errors or falsities as suggested by Sassoon and

Blunden but the quality of writing by Graves. The Daily Herald put "Goodbye

to all that" on the front page of the news. It has been praised as "the most

startling war book written yet." But on the other hand there are many

critics who were deeply offended by Graves' frankness and honesty when

describing his experiences. One critic called it "ungentlemanly and a whole

collection of unmitigated tripe"

The black humour and humour also make the experiences realistic. "It

began with confirmation.I was looking forward to the ceremony as a spiritual

climax. When it came and the Holy Ghost didn't decend in the form of a dove

and I did not find myself gifted with tongues and nothing spectacular

happened, except that the boy whom the bishop of Zululand was blessing at

the same time as me slipped off the narrow foot stool on which we were both

kneeling on." This is humorous and you could imagine this happening.

After reading this great novel, I disagree with Sassoon, Blunden and

Fussell. I don't believe it is a book, "full of inaccuracies and caricature

scenes" I think the book is coherent and an excellent read. People wanted to

read about the war and "the ingredients" also helped to sell the book. This

is why the book was and still is so popular to today. I agree with J.M.

Cohen when speaking about the novel as "harshly accurate, it is a direct and

factual autobiography." "Goodbye to all that" is a personal account of

Robert Graves' experiences of World War 1. It gives us a great insight into

the war and I believe "it is a serious and important war memoir" as

described by Richard Graves.


1. "Goodbye to all that" Robert Graves

2. "The Great War in modern memory" Fussell

3. "Essay on Robert Graves novel" R.P Graves

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