Goodbye To All That

Graves, Robert, Bangers, & Mash
Type of WorkExcerpts from a memorial

Oh, Claudius!

Posted by Bangers and Mash on 2006-September-27

Excerpts from Robert Graves' memoir "Goodbye To All That" published in 1929:

"G.H.Rendall, the then Headmaster at Charterhouse, is reported to have innocently said at a Headmasters' Conference: 'My boys are amorous, but seldom erotic.' Few cases of eroticism, indeed, came to his notice; I remember no more than five or six big rows during my time at Charterhouse, and expulsions were rare. The housemasters knew little about what went on in their houses, their living quarters being removed from the boys'.

Yet I agree with Rendall's distinction between 'amorous' (by which he meant a sentimental falling in love with younger boys) and eroticism, or adolescent lust. The intimacy that frequently took place was very seldom between an older boy and the object of his affection - that would have spoiled the romantic illusion - but almost always between boys of the same age who were not in love, and used each other as convenient sex-instruments. So the atmosphere was always heavy with romance of a conventional early-Victorian type, complicated by cynicism and foulness." (p.39)

"In English preparatory and public schools romance is necessarily homosexual. The opposite sex is despised and treated as something obscene. Many boys never recover from this perversion. For every one born homosexual, at least ten permanent pseudo-homosexuals are made by the public school system: nine of these ten as honourably chaste and sentimental as I was." (p.23)

"The school consisted of about six hundred boys, whose chief interests were games [sports] and romantic friendships." (p.37)

"...[I]n my fourth year [at age 15 or 16] I fell in love with a boy three years younger than myself, who was exceptionally intelligent and fine-spirited .... I had recently joined the school choir and so had he, which gave me opportunities for speaking to him occasionally after choir practice. I was unconscious of any sexual desire for him, and our conversations were always unpersonal.

This illicit acquaintance did not escape comment, and one of the masters, who sang in the choir, warned me to end it. I replied that I would not have my friendships in any way limited ....

Finally the headmaster took me to task for it. I lectured him loftily on the advantage of friendship between elder and younger boys, citing Plato, the Greek poets, Shakespeare, Michelangelo, and others, who had felt as I did. He let me go without taking any action." (pp.45-46)

"Poetry and Dick were still almost all that really mattered .... I puzzled [the headmaster] by the frankness with which I [at age 19] confessed my love for Dick, when he re-opened the question. I refused to be ashamed, and heard afterwards that he had described this as one of the rare friendships between boys of unequal ages which, he felt, was essentially moral.

A week or two later I went through one of the worst quarters of an hour of my life on Dick' account. When the master who sang in the choir warned me about exchanging glances with Dick in chapel I had been infuriated. But when one of the choir-boys told me he had seen the master surreptitiously kissing Dick once, on a choir-treat, I went quite mad without asking for any details or confirmation.

I went to the master and told him that unless he resigned, I would report the matter to the headmaster - he already had a reputation in the school for this sort of thing and kissing boys was a criminal offence. No doubt my sense of moral outrage concealed a murderous jealousy. When he vigorously denied the charge, I could not guess what would happen next. But I said:

  • 'Well, come to the headmaster and deny it in his presence.'
  • He asked: 'Did the boy tell you this himself?'
  • 'No.'
  • 'Well, then I'll send for his, and he'll tell us the truth.'

"Dick was sent for, and arrived looking very scared. The master said menacingly:

  • 'Graves tells me that I once kissed you. Is that true?'
  • Dick answered: 'Yes, it is!'

So Dick was dismissed, the master collapsed, and I felt thoroughly miserable. He undertook to resign at the end of term, which was quite close, on grounds of ill-health. He even thanked me for speaking directly to him and not going to the headmaster.

This was the summer of 1914; he went into the army and was killed the following year. Dick told me later that he had not been kissed at all, but he saw I was in a jam - it must have been some other member of the choir!" (pp.52-53)

"[Two poems] came out in The Carthusian [the school student publication], and soon everyone began pointing and giggling; because both poems, signed with pseudonyms, were acrostics, the initial letters spelling out ... a formal coupling of two boys' names, with the name of the elder boy first ....

[N]othing much would have come of it, had not another of the sixth-form members of the Poetry Society been idealistically in love with one of the smaller boys whose name appeared in the acrostics. In rage and jealousy he went to the headmaster....

"The headmaster took a very serious view of the matter. The two poets lost their monitorial privileges; the editor of The Carthusian ... lost his editorship and his position as Head of School. The informer, who happened to be next in school order, succeeded him in both capacities; he had not expected this development, which made him most unpopular. His consolation was a real one: that he had done it all for love, to avenge the public insult done his young friend." (p.50)