In this autobiography, first published in 1929, poet Robert Graves traces the monumental and universal loss of innocence that occurred on account of the First World War. Written after the war and as he used to be leaving his birthplace, he thought, perpetually, Good-Bye to All That bids farewell not only to England and his English friends and family, but also to a lifestyle. Tracing his upbringing from his solidly middle-class Victorian childhood through his entry into the war at age twenty-one as a patriotic captain in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers, this dramatic, poignant, continuously wry autobiography goes on to depict the horrors and disillusionment of the Great War, from life in the trenches and the loss of dear friends, to the stupidity of government bureaucracy and the absurdity of English class stratification. Paul Fussell has hailed it as “”the most efficient memoir of the First World War”” and has written the introduction to this new edition that marks the eightieth anniversary of the end of the war. An enormous success when it used to be first issued, it continues to find new readers in the thousands each year and has earned its designation as a true classic.
The quintessential memoir of the generation of Englishmen who suffered in World War I is likely one of 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 your whole bridges at 34 (his age when Good-Bye to All That used to be 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 referred to 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