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This article is taken from PN Review 246, Volume 45 Number 4, March - April 2019.

on Robert Graves

Poet of War
Grevel Lindop
Jean Moorcroft Wilson, Robert Graves: From Great War Poet to Good-bye to All That, 1895–1929 (Bloomsbury), £25

JEAN MOORCROFT WILSON’s book, the first part of a two-volume biography, carries in its title a no doubt intentional ambiguity: great poet of war, or simply poet of the Great War? The question is not ultimately answered, but one valuable feature of this book is its decision to put the war poetry, so much of which Graves himself later suppressed, at the centre of the story. And that is by no means its sole achievement. Anyone reading this book will come away with a fresh, and deeper, understanding of Graves and his writing – even if they have read previous biographies; which, given that the last full accounts appeared almost a quarter of a century ago, is now perhaps unlikely.

Admittedly, on first hearing of Moorcroft Wilson’s project, I wondered what she could possibly add to the three previous, and very substantial, lives. Martin Seymour-Smith’s Robert Graves: His Life and Work (1982) was the work of an astute critic, who had lived with Graves and his family, and had witnessed not only the onset of Graves’s dementia but those moments of searing clarity when Graves, his bearings in the present lost, lamented things he had done during the war. Miranda Seymour’s Robert Graves: Life on the Edge (1995; the title seems meretricious until one sees how aptly it represents the way Graves lived much of his life) revealed far more about the poet’s personal life: the ...

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