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Graves, Robert

Entry updated 12 September 2022. Tagged: Author.

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(1895-1985) UK poet, critic and author, C L Graves's nephew, best known for an active poetic career which began around 1911, before his active service in World War One and the war poems which established his reputation, and lasted until about 1975; and for such novels as the nonfantastic I, Claudius (1934). His tendentious claim that he wrote fiction solely for commercial reasons does little to explain the high quality of The Shout (1929 chap), a sophisticatedly recursive Club Story assembled with other work, including the anti-Religion fantasy Satire "Autobiography of Baal", in But It Still Goes On: An Accumulation (coll 1930); it was later filmed as The Shout (1978) directed by Jerzy Skolimowski. Further stories of interest appear in ¡Catacrok!: Mostly Stories, Mostly Funny (coll 1956) and Steps: Stories Talks Essays Poems Studies in History (coll 1958). It has also become increasingly evident that – with the likely exception of his first novel, the Ruritanian extravaganza No Decency Left (1932) with Laura Riding (1901-1991), writing together as Barbara Rich – his full-length fiction is also, if varyingly, strongly felt and intensely crafted. The Golden Fleece (1944; vt Hercules, My Shipmate 1945) is an erudite fantasy of considerable power. King Jesus (1946) argumentatively euhemerizes Christ. In Homer's Daughter (1955), Graves argues that Homer was a woman.

Graves's only sf novel, the Utopian Watch the North Wind Rise (1949; vt Seven Days in New Crete 1949) complexly dramatizes some ideas concerning the nature of Poetry and its ideal relation to the world that he had earlier expounded in The White Goddess: A Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth (1948; rev 1952; further rev 1966), a nonfiction exercise in mythopoesis which has properly influenced writers, though much of its scholarship is either dubious or directly fabricated out of dreamwork. Watch the North Wind Rise is framed as a possible dream, shaped by a visionary Medieval Futurism, of its poet protagonist, who is called into a technophobic post-World War Three future by the Poet-Magicians who provide guidance to utopian New Crete. This society, initially established on the Island of Crete but now extending over much of the world, has been divided into a set of enclaves whose inhabitants represent various stages of civilization; widespread worship of the White Goddess benefits from her literal existence. But the book provides no clear-cut advocacy of any of the societies it describes, and indeed it becomes clear that the Goddess Herself has arranged for the poet's intrusion precisely so that he may – like so many visitors to utopias – unbalance what has become a sterile world. The escapist, timeless nature of New Crete, and the mediocre poetry it produces, are depicted with considerable ambivalence by Graves, who allows no "winners" in his quest for a view of the world that will appropriately balance the opposing forces of whole-witted time-fulness and half-witted utopia. His retellings of Greek mythology in The Greek Myths (coll 1955 2vols) are consistent with the neopagan philosophy underlying both The White Goddess and Watch the North Wind Rise. [JC]

see also: Anthropology; Galactic Empires; The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction; Mythology; Punch; To-day and To-morrow.

Robert Von Ranke Graves

born Wimbledon, Surrey: 24 July 1895

died Majorca: 7 December 1985

works (selected)

collections and stories


about the author

There is extensive critical literature about Graves in general. On Watch the North Wind Rise the following are useful:


previous versions of this entry

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