Biography of Robert Graves

Robert Graves was born on July 24, 1895 in Wimbledon, England into a highly-literary and upper-class family. He was educated in the British preparatory school system and first began to write poetry during his days at school. Despite his dislike of his teachers and the other students, Graves excelled in his studies and was eventually awarded a scholarship to St. Johns College of Oxford University in 1914. When World War I began later that year, however, Graves decided to forgo his scholarship to college and instead enlisted as an officer with the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. In May 1915, Graves traveled to France as a captain and became close friends with the poet Siegfried Sassoon, who was also a member of the Royal Welsh Fusiliers.

While fighting in the Battle of the Somme in 1916, Graves was badly wounded by shellfire and given up for dead. After a long period of convalescence, Graves eventually recovered from his wounds and published three volumes of war poetry: Over the Brazier (1916), Fairies and Fusiliers (1917) and Goliath and David (1917). Although he was exempt for active service because of his injuries, Graves felt guilty abandoning the rest of his regiment and attempted to return the trenches. He only returned to England after the company surgeon saw him in the front lines and threatened to court-martial him if he did not leave.

In 1918, Graves married Nancy Nicholson, the daughter of painter William Nicholson and assumed his former position at St. John’s College. The couple had four children: Jenny, David, Catherine, and Sam. At first, the marriage was a happy one, but financial difficulties and Graves’ shell-shock caused a great deal of strain on the relationship. In 1926, Graves met Laura Riding, an American poet who accentuated his marital problems with Nicholson.

 

In 1927, after a dramatic suicide attempt by Riding, Graves left his family in England and moved to Majorca, Spain with Riding. Together they founded a small literary press and wrote two academic books: A Survey of Modernist Poetry (1927) and A Pamphlet Against Anthologies (1928). During his time in Majorca with Riding, Graves also published Lawrence of the Arabs (1927), Goodbye to All That (1929), I, Claudius (1934), and Claudius the God (1934).

In an effort to avoid the Spanish Civil War, Graves and Riding moved to Pennsylvania in 1939. Shortly after their move, Riding left Graves for Schuyler Jackson, a writer who had reviewed Riding’s poetry in Time Magazine, and Graves returned to England. He began a relationship with Beryl Hodge, the wife of Alan Hodge, his collaborator on The Long Weekend (1941) and eventually married her. The couple had an additional four children. Although Graves was able to achieve a certain emotional peace with Beryl, the tragedies of World War II and the death of his son in action were deeply distressing to his psyche. When the war ended, Graves swiftly arranged for his family to move back to Majorca, Spain, where he would spend the rest of his life.

He continued to write avidly, producing everything from historical novels and poetry to classical studies and science fiction to translations of religious texts and short stories. During this time, he published numerous works, including: King Jesus (1948), The White Goddess (1948), Seven Days in New Crete (1949), The Nazarene Gospel Restored with Joshua Podro (1953), The Greek Myths (1955), and Catacrok! Mostly Stories, Mostly Funny (1956), and The Hebrew Myths (1964).

Graves’ fame continued to grow as the years passed. In 1961, he was elected Professor of Poetry by Oxford University and, in 1968, Queen Elizabeth awarded him a Gold Medal for Poetry. He stopped writing soon after his 80th birthday due to gradual physical and mental degeneration. He died on December 7, 1985 and is buried in Deia, Majorca.


Study Guides on Works by Robert Graves

Graves wrote the novel “I, Claudius” in 1934. The book is presented as a secret autobiography of Tiberius Claudius Drusus Nero Germanicus (or Claudius) who was the Emperor of the Roman Empire from 44 to 51 AD. In order the maintain this concept,...