I’m alternating my reading of the Regeneration trilogy with books by some of Pat Barker’s real-life protagonists. Robert Graves shows up in Regeneration, getting Siegfried Sassoon before a medical board and then to Craiglockhart War Hospital after Sassoon published his declaration against the war. Both were officers in the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Goodbye to All That is Graves’ account of events – his childhood and prep school days, his war experiences, his early career and first marriage in the few years afterwards. Well … one version of his account of events. First published in 1929, Graves made extensive revisions for the 1957 re-publication. And yes, memories can change with circumstances. More about that later.
Graves describes the war with all his senses. His observations are witty and critical. With horror and humour, sentiment and sangfroid, he conveys its futility. Looking for insights about the reputations and cultures of different battalions? How Allied officers with German lineage assuaged their dual loyalties? The class manifestations of neurasthenia (shell shock)? Start here.
False reports of his own death are a comedy of errors. Deaths of friends and acquaintances are reported with matter-of-fact detachment:
Yet in 1917 … I rode over to his billets one afternoon … and felt as close to him as ever. He got killed at Cambrai soon after. (p 45)
O’Brien was killed, early in the war, while bombing Bruges. (p 54)
William Bumford, collier, for instance, who gave his age as 18, was really only 15. … Bumford grew old enough by 1917 to be sent back to the battalion, and was killed that summer …” (p 81)
They thought it sacrilegious for Jenkins to be taking the glass away. One of them warned him: ‘Shouldn’t take that, sir; it will bring you no luck.’ (Jenkins got killed not long after.) (p 100)
Only six company officers survived in the Royal Welch. Next morning we were only five. Thomas was killed by a sniper while despondently watching through field-glasses the return of the New Army troops on the right. (p 135)
Tony was killed in September. I went on mechanically at my cadet-battalion work. (p 228)
And yet, news of the Armistice “sent me out walking alone … cursing and sobbing and thinking about the dead.” (p 228)
Sassoon took issue with Goodbye to All That, particularly with the account of his actions of protest against the war. (Sassoon’s copy, complete with scathing annotations, is at Yale. Edmund Blunden’s copy, which both he and Sassoon annotated, is at the New York Public Library.)
Graves wrote about Nancy Nicholson as his marriage to her ended. I kept wondering about her account of events. In the 1957 prologue, Graves notes dramatic changes in the text originally written during a “complicated domestic crisis.” His then mistress, American poet Laura Riding, had motivated him to write the original book. But all references to her are expunged from the 1957 rewrite, when their relationship had ended. I kept wondering about her account of events.
The joy of autobiography is that one gets to paint oneself in the best of lights.
Welcome to more new followers. I hope you enjoy the journey.