Adjusting the Mechanism

Colin Burrow

  • Robert Graves: From a Great War Poet to ‘Goodbye to All That’, 1895-1929 by Jean Moorcroft Wilson
    Bloomsbury, 461 pp, £25.00, August 2018, ISBN 978 1 4729 2914 3
  • The Reader over Your Shoulder: A Handbook for Writers of English Prose by Robert Graves and Alan Hodge
    Seven Stories, 613 pp, £30.00, September 2017, ISBN 978 1 60980 733 7

Virginia Woolf could be cruelly accurate in her assessments of people. On 24 April 1925 Robert Graves visited her unexpectedly and stayed too long. She described him as ‘a nice ingenuous rattle headed young man’, and declared ‘the poor boy is all emphasis protestation and pose.’ By 1925 Graves had good reason to be ‘rattle headed’. He had survived Charterhouse school, which he hated. He got through by learning to box, by falling in love with a boy he referred to as ‘Dick’ (actually called George Harcourt Vanden-Bempde-Johnstone, later 3rd Baron Derwent), and by joining a poetry society run by some charismatic masters. He said in his autobiography, Goodbye to All That, written in 1929 when he was only 34, that by the end of his time at Charterhouse ‘poetry and Dick were now the only two things that really mattered.’

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