ROBERT GRAVES by Richard Perceval Graves
Kirkus Star


The Years With Laura, 1926-40
Age Range: 1895 - 1926
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The bright bolt of Robert Graves's thralldom to The White Goddess in the figure of Laura Riding--a long, rich, butchering madness; middle volume in Richard Graves's life of his uncle Robert, begun with Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic, 1895-1926 (1987). Richard Graves opens with Robert's return from the trenches in France, where he'd been shot through the lung and left for dead. Now suffering bouts of shell shock and deep insecurity, Robert feels his marriage to Nancy Nicholson splintering, with financial hardship magnified by four children. Enter American poet Laura Riding into the Graves household, as collaborator with admired fellow-poet Graves on a book about modern poetry. At first Nancy and Laura dress alike, almost as sisters, and get along well as the family moves to Cairo. Soon, however, a menage á trois is born that shocks their friends and all of Graves's family. But the trio hangs tight, moves into a houseboat on the Thames. Riding proves herself a towering genius (and supreme egoist), corrects all of Robert's poems and novels. Nancy is not Robert's intellectual equal. Only Laura gives him a focus that raises him above shell shock and the horror of the trenches. In a fit of jealousy, she jumps out a fourth-story window onto concrete--and Robert jumps right after her!--but from the third floor. Both survive but now Robert is Laura's, body and soul; he departs his family miseries and despairs, sets forth with Laura to Majorca. However, now that Robert is her servant, Laura can no longer allow him her body since--no longer her equal--he's unworthy of her. Laura, no beauty, looks like a small Hittite princess, with large nose, receding chin, and she always wears a tiara lettered LAURA. While guiding him through his acclaimed autobiography Goodbye to All That and his historical best-sellers, including I, Claudius (whose success she despised), her influence takes over Graves completely--and she becomes The White Goddess. They stay together for 16 years until Laura discards the broken Robert in favor of an intellectually dominating replacement she can have sex with. A poet spellbound by truth, inspiration, and horror. Gripping.
Pub Date: Oct. 15th, 1990
ISBN: 0333432258
Page count: 380pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15th, 1990


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