Guernica Magazine

Armistice Day in the Virtual Trenches

The First World War ended 99 years ago. Or did it? The post Armistice Day in the Virtual Trenches appeared first on Guernica.
William Orpen, Ready to Start (1917). © IWM (Art.IWM ART 2380)

Robert Graves, the poet and novelist best known for I, Claudius, wrote and published his memoir of the First World War, Good-Bye to All That, in 1929, during what he later described as a “complicated domestic crisis.” This was something of an understatement. Graves had been living with his wife, Nancy Nicholson, their four children, and the poet Laura Riding, whom he’d invited to join them from America, in a ménage à trois, first in Cairo and then in London. During that time he fell rapidly out of love with Nicholson (relegated to a boat in the river with their kids) and into it with Riding.

The trois became a quatre after Riding read and liked a poem by Geoffrey Phibbs, whom she then invited to leave his wife and join them. But Phibbs, who grew increasingly uncomfortable with the situation as time went on, eventually ran away. When Graves and Riding tracked him down and brought him back, he told Riding he didn’t love her. Riding responded by sliding out of the window of their fourth-story apartment. Graves took off down the stairs to help her before realizing the gravity of the situation: that the quatre had most likely reverted to a trois. And so, one story down, he jumped from a window himself. Phibbs excused himself and left, not bothering to check if either had survived. Nicholson called an ambulance.

Riding and Graves somehow survived their falls, and after Riding was out of the hospital they moved to Majorca on the suggestion of Gertrude Stein. (Phibbs and Nicholson, for their part, fell in love, and lived together for several years on the boat.) It was in Majorca, in the wake of all this, that Graves began work on the memoir. And so became, he wrote, “my bitter leave-taking of England where I had recently broken a good many conventions; quarreled with, or been disowned by, most of my friends; been grilled by the

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