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Robert Graves Diary Project


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The Manuscript: Literary Importance

Because the period 1935-1939 was one of the most productive and creative in Robert Graves' long career, his Diary has proved of particular interest to literary scholars and biographers. In addition to the considerable attention this manuscript has received from twentieth-century historians and biographers of Graves, Laura Riding, and other significant cultural figures associated with the Graves-Riding circle, it is of increasing interest to cultural historians and critics investigating literary collaboration(s) and attribution(s), diasporic and expatriate culture(s), and literary modernism.

Recent scholarly interest in cultural and historical assessments of Modernism has thrown into relief Graves' agency and experience as a participant, critic, and writer in literary Modernism, not least his collaboration with the American poet Laura Riding, as well as his engagement with international and political issues of the 1930s, and his location as an expatriate writer, all of which are central preoccupations of the Diary from 1935-1939. According to Charles Mundye and Patrick McGuinness the relationship and working partnership developed by Robert Graves and Laura Riding was one of the most productive literary collaborations in twentieth-century poetry. They were among the earliest to use the term "modernista" as a literary and classificatory term, and during the years covered by this Diary, they were to engage in many collaborative projects, most notably the co-founding of the Seizin Press (1927-39), which published, amongst others, Gertrude Stein; the Focus epistolary project, and the creation of the Epilogue periodical (1935-1938). According to Mundye and McGuiness, these works emerge from a particularly intensive period of their professional and personal relationship; one during which the paths of their different longer-term preoccupations intersected (Mundye 2002). Some dynamics of this contested collaborative relationship emerge from Graves' biographical narrative in the Diary entries and from the associated contemporary commentary, but these dynamics are equally reflected in the complex role of Riding as the intended reader of the Diary.

The period of the diary is also noteworthy for its broader context, including Graves' forced return to Britain from voluntary exile in Majorca as a result of the Spanish Civil War, and his (and his circle's) responses to the increasingly ominous European political scene prior to the outbreak of World War II. Although that response focused in large part on efforts to cultivate thought processes that would resist and even prevent the onslaught of war (R.P. Graves 1990)--as outlined in Riding's Covenant of Literal Morality, for example--Graves also took an active role, by arranging an interview with Churchill to persuade him of the need for British intervention in the Spanish Civil War, and by his efforts on behalf of his personal secretary Karl Goldschmidt, who as a German Jew was in considerable danger until Graves was able to secure his passage to Britain.

In the years following their return to Britain in 1936, the diary records Graves' and Riding's working environment in detail as they move from England to Switzerland and back again, and thence to France. Moves abroad prompted by English tax laws add variety and interest to Graves' descriptions of local life and surroundings--but they also underscore the writer's commitment to his work as they trace the disciplined rhythm of his days. The vision of artistic and intellectual collaboration among "inside people" is another thread of continuity, although its form changes. Graves consistently accepts Riding's guidance on many work projects, and supports the campaign to reify her concept of truth. Yet Riding's central role did not conflict with the flow of Graves' own writing, as is evident in his poetry and prose from this period. The voyage to America in April 1939, though undertaken with optimism for continued development of their writers' community, actually preceded its disintegration. The diary ends with a poem of disenchantment, entitled "The Moon Ends in Nightmare." Although Graves emerges from the dramatic breakup of his partnership with Riding to continue his creative work, his subsequent preoccupation with the Muse figure may well have taken root during the diary period.