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Good-Bye to All That: An Autobiography Paperback – Large Print, February 1, 1958
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The quintessential memoir of the generation of Englishmen who suffered in World War I is among the bitterest autobiographies ever written. Robert Graves's stripped-to-the-bone prose seethes with contempt for his class, his country, his military superiors, and the civilians who mindlessly cheered the carnage from the safety of home. His portrait of the stupidity and petty cruelties endemic in England's elite schools is almost as scathing as his depiction of trench warfare. Nothing could equal Graves's bone-chilling litany of meaningless death, horrific encounters with gruesomely decaying corpses, and even more appalling confrontations with the callousness and arrogance of the military command. Yet this scarifying book is consistently enthralling. Graves is a superb storyteller, and there's clearly something liberating about burning all your bridges at 34 (his age when Good-Bye to All That was first published in 1929). He conveys that feeling of exhilaration to his readers in a pell-mell rush of words that remains supremely lucid. Better known as a poet, historical novelist, and critic, Graves in this one work seems more like an English Hemingway, paring his prose to the minimum and eschewing all editorializing because it would bring him down to the level of the phrase- and war-mongers he despises. --Wendy Smith
Autobiography by Robert Graves, published in 1929 and revised in 1957. It is considered a classic of the disillusioned postwar generation. Divided into anecdotal scenes and satiric episodes, Good-Bye to All That is infused with a dark humor. It chronicles the author's experiences as a student at Charterhouse School in London and as a teenaged soldier in France during World War I, where he sustained severe wounds in combat. His memoir continues after the war with descriptions of his life in Wales, at Oxford University, and in Egypt. -- The Merriam-Webster Encyclopedia of Literature
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First of all, Graves knows how to write--this memoir is just as entertaining and fun to read as any of his novels. His literacy and narrative ability immediately set him apart from many of the other World War I memoirists--whose books are often clunky and poorly written--as do his wit and his eye for the significant detail. The book is very funny in many places and deeply moving in others. His descriptions of trench life are suitably depressing, as are his tales of the randomness of World War I violence and even the suicidal tendencies of some of the soldiers.
The only things I disliked about Good-bye to All That were Graves's obvious bitterness and the lackluster final third. Graves, of course, is entitled to be bitter about the war--it was a terrible experience for thousands of people--but his view of the war as expressed here is imbalanced. His narrative is significantly skewed and rather self-pitying in places. Also, the strength of his narrative peters out near the end, when he spends some time teaching in Cairo. The last few chapters read more like notable miscellany than a coherent memoir.
Those two misgivings aside, I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book. Not only was it a good memoir, it was a remarkably good source (I read this for a graduate seminar in World War I) for the attitudes and ideals of the "sensitive artistic types" following World War I. If you're interested in comparing this memoir with a vastly different perspective, I recommend reading it along with Ernst Jünger's Storm of Steel.
Some of my school years were spent tracing this good fellow's bee obsession, which somehow never involved reading this one; I had thus high expectations of for a bee-based theory of the war, or some terrifying bee event in his early youth, but if it was there I missed it.
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his writing at times reminds me of Shakespeare funny at times, then sad