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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