This is the first volume of a projected three-volume 'definitive' biography of Robert Graves by his nephew, Richard Perceval Graves. It takes over where the author's father, Robert's younger brother John Graves, left off. John, who died in 1980, had been described by Robert as a 'typically good pupil of a typically good school' (to which he returned as teacher); he had for long contemplated the composition of a book called My Brother Robert. The outstanding virtue of his son's first volume - which almost exhausts the private information he holds, mainly derived from the diary of the poet's father Alfred Perceval Graves - is that it is a worthy completion of the task John Graves set himself. He would not have gone beyond 1931 and the death of Alfred Perceval. As Richard Perceval Graves remarks, John was 'a devout Christian, a loving father, and a most honourable, unselfish man'. The difficulties begin here. This author, who has written accounts of the lives of T.E. Lawrence, Housman and the Powys brothers, closely resembles his father. But Robert Graves did not at all closely resemble his 'typically good' brother; nor does he resemble his 'typically good' son - who, although he has 'known' and 'loved' his uncle 'since childhood', did not know him very well at all, and was never the recipient of his confidences. Nor, for that matter, was Robert capable of speaking in the moralistic terms employed by Richard Perceval. But his family for the most part (there are exceptions) was - and is. This gives The Assault Heroic an unexpected dimension.
LRB 9 October 1986 | PDF Download