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Good-bye to all that

Just finished rereading Robert Graves' Good-bye to All That, his great autobiography (today it'd be called a memoir) about how WWI sent him onwards from his school days to the life of a writer and emigré. The book reminded me of how small England is—the intelligentsia were all related in some way and ran into each other, knew each other's work, feuded and loved. His (first) wife, Nancy Nicholson, was an ardent feminist who refused to be called Mrs. Graves. In a review of Graves biography, Louis Simpson wrote that "no work on poetry has been more influential than The White Goddess, Graves's study of mythology in its connections with poetry; dozens of poets and professors have gained a reputation for originality by stealing from it."

Herewith some bits from the book:

There is a lot of love in boxing—the dual play, the reciprocity, the pain not felt as pain. We were out neither to hurt nor win, though we hit each other hard. p 47

Each woman served nearly a battalion of men every week for as long as she lasted. According to the Assistant Provost-Marshal, three weeks was the usual limit: "after which she retired on her earnings, pale but proud." p 122

A professional soldier's duty was simply to fight whomever the King ordered him to fight... The Christmas 1914 fraternization ... had had the same professional simplicity: no emotional hiatus, this, but a commonplace of military tradition—an exchange of courtesies between officers of opposing armies. p 137

As much Welsh as English was now talked in the huts... A deputation of soldiers from Harlech and the neighbourhood came to me one morning and said solemnly: "Captain Graves, Sir, we do not like our sergeant-major. He do curse, and he do swear, and he do drink, and he do smoke, and he is a man of lowly origin too." p 205

I said to my mother the other day that wars would be different if they were fought by 60-year-olds. Not surprisingly, Graves got there first:
War should be a sport for men above forty-five only, the Jesses, not the Davids. "Well, dear father, how proud I am of you serving your country as a very gallant gentleman prepared to make even the supreme sacrifice! How I wish I were your age: how willingly would I buckle on my armour and fight those unspeakable Philistines! As it is, of course, I can't be spared; I have to stay behind at the War Office and administrate for you lucky old men. What sacrifices I have made!" David would sigh, when the old boys had gone off with a draft to the front, singing "Tipperary": There's father and my Uncle Salmon, and both my grandfathers, all on active service. I must put a card in the window about it. pp 245-6

He tells the story of Lytton Strachey appearing before a military tribunal to claim CO status, even though he was unfit: And to the chairman's other stock question, which had previously never failed to embarrass the claimant: 'Tell me, Mr Strachey, what would you do if you saw a German soldier trying to violate your sister?" he replied with an air of noble virtue [in what Graves described as Strachey's "curious falsetto voice"]: 'I would try to get between them.'" p 249

A few years after the war, he winds up teaching in Egypt: The indirect proceeds of writing poems can be enormously higher than the direct ones. p 323

The best thing I saw in Egypt was the noble face of old Pharaoh Seti the Good, unwrapped of its mummy-cloths in the Cairo Museum. The funniest thing was a French bedroom farce at a native theatre played in Arabic by Syrian actors. The men and women of the cast had, for religious reasons, to keep on opposite sides of the stage; they sang French songs (in translation), varying the tunes with the quarter-tones and shrieks and trills of their own music. The audience talked all the time and ate peanuts, oranges, sunflower seeds and heads of lettuces. p 338

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