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Robert Graves volumes

Robert Graves

Robert Graves’s papers and working library from his house in Deyá, Majorca, were bequeathed to the St John’s College Robert Graves Trust by his widow, Beryl, in 2003.

Finding Aids: Papers & Archives via the Archives Hub | Graves Library via SOLO

Background

Robert Graves (1895-1985) was an alumnus of St John's and is probably best known as a writer of prose. Goodbye to All That (1929) is his classic memoir of army service during the first world war; his two novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God (both 1934) probably did as much to shape perceptions of ancient Rome as Shakespeare’s Roman plays did. Yet Graves averred that these were written merely for money; poetry was his true vocation.

Graves’s poetic oeuvre published during his lifetime spans the years from 1916 to 1974, and is judged by some to be the finest lyric poetry in English of the twentieth century. A polymath, Graves developed his interests in myth and religion: The White Goddess (1948), subtitled ‘a historical grammar of poetic myth’, was an immense work that challenged conventional views about poetry; Graves also continued his controversial research into the mythic and historic aspects of the life of Jesus, translated classical authors and produced a compendium of the Greek myths.

Graves's Papers and Correspondence

The archive which has come to St John’s contains tens of thousands of items – letters, manuscripts and ephemera – mostly accumulated since 1946 when Graves returned to Majorca. Although Graves sold many of his papers, particularly his manuscripts, during his lifetime, what remained in Deyá with him and Beryl forms an immensely rich collection reflecting the diversity of his interests and correspondents. These latter include John Aldridge, Norman Cameron, Tom Matthews, Alastair Reid, Lynette Roberts and Alan Sillitoe amongst many others equally well-known.

A full catalogue of the collection is now on the Archives Hub.

Graves's Working Library

Graves’s working library comprises c1500 editions reflecting his interest in English, Greek and Latin literature, comparative religion, mythology and anthropology, as well as first editions of his own works, school prizes and books received from friends. The collection also contains publications of the Seizin Press, an imprint founded and operated by Graves and the American poet Laura Riding during the years they spent together in London and Majorca before the second world war.

Graves was not a collector, however. He kept books primarily for their content, rarely for their association with a former owner or donor. He would compile "working collections" when writing about a particular subject, discarding them upon completion of the project. A group of books about Tonga and Wesleyan missionaries, for example, may represent the research for an unfinished project. The "working library" contains the books Graves found indispensable; many, indeed, are heavily annotated.

Robert Graves's working library has been catalogued on SOLO and its original order of shelving has been preserved. For a quick overview, we recommend a shortlist of the working library provided on the website of the Robert Graves Society.

The collection is available for consultation upon application to the Librarian. Robert Graves’s home Ca n’Alluny in Deyá opened as a museum in 2006 and his personal library and some manuscripts remain on exhibition there.

Contact details

St John's College
St. Giles, Oxford OX1 3JP
Work Tel: 01865 277300
Fax: 01865 277435
University of Oxford