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Robert Graves by Jean Moorcroft Wilson review – from war poet to Goodbye to All That

This sober biography includes convincing readings of his poetry, but it takes Graves’s charismatic lover to set the narrative alight

Miranda Seymour opened her 1995 biography of Robert Graves, the last to be published until the present volume, with a word about his standing: in 20th-century poetry, “Robert Graves is to love what Philip Larkin is to mortality”. More than 20 years later, that comparison feels a bit incongruous. Graves’s reputation as a poet has faded considerably, to the extent that he’s now better known as the author of The White Goddess, a “grammar” of the poetic spirit that influenced writers from Ted Hughes to BS Johnson, and a pair of bestselling and critically acclaimed novels about the Emperor Claudius, which were turned into the hit BBC TV series I, Claudius.

If few contemporary readers would place Graves alongside Larkin in the pantheon of 20th-century poets, though, fewer still would name him among the major poets of the first world war. To the extent that he’s associated with that conflict at all, it’s for another prose work, his lively and revealing memoir, Goodbye to All That. So it’s with no small ambition that Jean Moorcroft Wilson – the author of well-received biographies of Siegfried Sassoon, Charles Hamilton Sorley and Edward Thomas – sets out to reassert both the importance of Graves’s poetry and the centrality of the trenches to his life and work.

The examples she provides of his 'cavalier attitude towards the facts' are never very damning

Related: Edward Thomas: from Adlestrop to Arras review – the man behind the poet

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