An English Heritage Blue Plaque on a building in Lauriston Road celebrates Wimbledon’s links with one of Britain’s most prominent writers.
War poet Robert Graves, who also wrote I, Claudius and Goodbye to All That, was born in Red Branch House on 24 July 1895. The first-born son to Amalie von Ranke Graves and Alfred Perceval Graves. His father was an inspector of schools, a Gaelic scholar and a writer of poetry of a conventional sort, while his German mother was related to the historian Leopold von Ranke.
Robert was one of ten children, five of them from his father’s first marriage, and at an early age was described as “a handsome little boy with wide gray eyes and black curly hair”.
He first went to school at King’s College in Wimbledon but was removed “for using inappropriate language”.
Robert, who produced more than 140 works in his life, remained greatly influenced by his parents and their love of poetry. He won a scholarship in 1913 to continue his studies at St. John’s College Oxford, but in 1914 when the First World War broke out in 1914, he enlisted as an officer in the Royal Welch Fusiliers.
Robert was badly injured in the battle of Somme. During his recovery, he published his first collection of poetry – Over the Brazier.
At the age of 22, he married Nancy Nicholson and returned to Oxford to teach at St John’s College, where he continued writing poetry.
However, they separated permanently in 1927 and in 1929 he published Goodbye to All That, an autobiography that talked about the psychological impact of his war experience.
It is said his early works were a way for him to overcome his nightmares, hallucinations, and tortured memories of death from his war experience
His writing later changed style to terse and ironic poems written on personal themes. This significant change was influenced by American poet Laura Riding.
After Robert and Laura moved to Majorca, the couple co-founded Seizin Press in 1928 and Epilogue magazine in 1935. Throughout this period, he evolved his theory of poetry as spiritually carthartic. By 1934, he achieved status as a major writer with the publication of the historical novel I, Claudius and its sequel Claudius the God and his Wife Messalina. In the 1970s, this was developed into a popular television show by the BBC.
In all, Robert Graves published 140 books including 55 collections of poetry, 15 novels, 10 translations and 40 works of nonfiction, autobiography, and literary essays. Towards the end of his life, he was a professor of poetry at Oxford. In his later years, he went back to Majorca where he lived until his death. He died at the age of 90 in 1985.
The plaque to mark the birthplace of Robert Graves was unveiled 10 years after his death in July 1995 by his daughter Lucia Graves.
Image credit: Wikipedia