Modern Library Top 100 Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century (41)
To call a book the greatest memoir of WWI, seems to me to be a matter of damning with faint praise. I don't doubt that this is the best of the lot, but its weaknesses are those of the war it recalls. First of all, one of the central myths of the war is that a reluctant but decent generation of European youth was destroyed by the war, indeed Europe was destroyed by the war. Graves spends the early portion of the book lusting after a boarding school catamite. This homosexuality, or at least a sadomasochistic homoeroticism, is a consistent feature of the educational system of England's elites at the time and amply demonstrates that rot had already beset British society. Then he heads off to the war, despite his personal opposition to it, indicative of the fact that these were not young men who were dragooned into the Service, by and large they were enthusiastic about the War.
The middle section of the book is taken up with the senselessness of the war itself and of life in the trenches. But there is something intrinsically tedious to reading about tedium. And the attempt to indict the stupidity of the officers who were running the war falls flat in light of John Keegan's superb explication of their actions in his recent book The First World War (see review).
The final section of the book deals with his marriage to a socialist, feminist, nutcase and his halting attempts to complete a degree and get started in business. Finally, with all of these burdens piling up, he shucks it and heads off to Egypt and then Majorca, wishing "Good-bye to all that".
I like Robert Graves' historical fiction very much, but I did not like this book. I should note that this is a rewritten version of the book. Graves apparently took most of the edge off of the original when he rewrote it extensively in 1957. It is possible that the original warrants this Top 100 ranking. The extant version does not.
See also:Robert Graves (3 books reviewed)
Modern Library Top 100 Non-Fiction Books of the 20th Century
-EXCERPTS: Goodbye To All That by Robert Graves
-BOOK CLUB: Good-bye to All That (Jonathan Yardley, Washington Post Book World)
-Robert Graves Trust, Archive and Society
-Focus on Robert Graves and His Contemporaries
-etext of FAIRIES AND FUSILIERS (1918) by ROBERT GRAVES
-ESSAY: Denis Donoghue: The Myths of Robert Graves (NY Review of Books)
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