Robert Graves

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Robert von Ranke Graves (1895-1985) was a poet, novelist and writer of other prose, including biography, social history and accounts of myths.


He was born on 24 July 1895 into a family with literary and Celtic-Germanic background. On the brink of entering university, he joined the Royal Welch Fusiliers at the outbreak of the First World War, and had poems published while still serving. He was twice invalided away from the Front, the second time permanently. He married Nancy Nicholson in 1918.

For most of his life after discharge from the army, he made his living as a writer, though at first the need for money put him to various shifts, and in 1926 he briefly took an academic post in Cairo. His first real commercial success was with Lawrence and the Arabs, arising from his friendship with T E Lawrence, but he achieved real fame with his autobiography Goodbye To All That, written in 1929. In the same year, having left Nancy and his first family of two sons and two daughters, he moved to Mallorca with the American poet, Laura Riding, who collaborated with him in various literary undertakings. Graves's bestsellers, I, Claudius and Claudius the God, were written in Mallorca, but in 1936 the Spanish Civil War caused him and Laura to return to Britain. During a trip to America in 1939 she separated from him, and he, returning to Britain, soon took up with Beryl, the wife of one of his collaborators, Alan Hodge. He later married Beryl, while remaining on good terms with Alan, with whom he wrote The Long Weekend, an account of British life between the wars.

After the Second World War he returned to Mallorca, while still working on his book The White Goddess, expressing his belief in the primacy of goddess-worship. This was published in 1948. He remained in Mallorca for the rest of his life, with occasional trips abroad, mostly to give lectures, and raised a second family of four children. His second marriage endured, despite his having a series of relationships with young women whom he regarded as successive temporary incarnations of the Goddess. Having been supported by the generosity of family and friends when young, he was able to be generous himself to a wide circle of friends in later life. He died on 7 December 1985.


Robert Graves regarded himself as primarily a poet, undertaking other writing in order to make a living. He started as a war poet, but later played down that early writing, omitting it from collections. His output was mainly lyrical. When he translated the Iliad as The Anger of Achilles he wrote the bulk of it in prose, though his professed purpose was to restore something of its value as mixed entertainment.. He thought poorly of Virgil and Milton, both writers of epics, which he described as works of almost superhuman eloquence (thus dismissing them from the realm of poetry). Most of his poems can be appreciated without an understanding of his personal mythology.


The bestsellers, I, Claudius and Claudius the God, were straightforward imaginative historical novels based on classical scholarship. Some of his fiction, on the other hand, was used deliberately to convey his own particular beliefs. Wife to Mr Milton expressed his hostility to John Milton. Homer's Daughter attributed the authorship of the Odyssey to a woman. The SF novel Seven Days in New Crete, set in the future, gave life to his faith in the White Goddess., while King Jesus, written at the same time as The White Goddess, expressed ideas about goddess-worship in the past. In a slightly different vein, the Sergeant Lamb novels were based partly on his respect for his old regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers.

Other prose

Note on sources