Papers of Robert Graves

Scope and Content

The collection contains those of Robert Graves's papers which were left in his home, Canelluñ, in Deyá, Majorca, at the time of the death of his widow, Beryl Graves, in 2003. It consists of drafts of Graves's work, diaries, correspondence, press cuttings and pamphlets. Although earlier material is far from absent, the collection begins to accumulate from the date of Graves arrival in Britain from America in 1939 and goes on to substantially document his life and work upon his return to Majorca in 1946, until his death in 1985. The literary material mainly represents Graves's post-war oeuvre and exists both as substantial and multiple drafts of works and also mere fragments. Graves made many sales of his literary manuscripts during the post-war years, two principle collections being held at the State University of New York at Buffalo and the University of Victoria, British Columbia. The material which remained at Canelluñ tended to be either later works such as 'The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam', or works which had not reached fruition such as the musical 'Song of Songs' or the unpublished novella 'Lollia'. There are also numerous stray fragments: Graves, with a frugal spirit cultivated in wartime, considered his drafts to be 'waste paper' and reused the versos for drafts of subsequent works, a practice which inevitably led to their fragmentation.

Another feature of Graves's working methods was the multiple revision of drafts, many of which exhibit the surefooted editing of Karl Gay, Graves's secretary in Deyá from 1947 until 1965. In addition to the literary manuscripts, the collection also contains extensive evidence of Graves's successful later parallel career in the public sphere: his Oxford poetry professorship lectures, forewords, broadcasts and journalism. Many of these works were subsequently published in anthologies of Graves's critical prose.

The correspondence held in the collection is extensive: there are over one thousand series of named correspondents and twenty-nine series of subject correspondence. These are largely, but far from exclusively, from the post-war years and cover a wide range of personal and professional relationships, projects and exchanges of ideas. The breadth of Graves's network of correspondents is substantial, but notable series include: correspondence from Graves's family; correspondence from the time of the breakdown of his marriage to Nancy Nicholson and departure for Majorca with Laura Riding in 1929; and extended correspondence with friends such as John Aldridge, Alston Anderson, Norman Cameron, Alan Hodge, Tom Matthews, Eva Meyerowitz, Alistair Reid, Lynette Roberts, Idries Shah, Alan Sillitoe and Gordon Wasson.

Other correspondence encompasses the expatriate world of Deyá and its visitors, friends in Britain, America and elsewhere, aspiring poets and writers seeking advice and encouragement, and enthusiasts and experts responding to all aspects of Graves's work, from poetry to mushrooms, witchcraft, mythology and religion. There is also correspondence generated in the course of collaborative projects: the world of Hollywood touched Graves when he and Alistair Reid sought to make a film of 'The White Goddess', and again in the attempts to make films from Graves's translation of a novel by Carlos Reyles, from his screenplay 'The World's Delight' based on the story of Aladdin, and from the novel 'I, Claudius'; the world of Broadway was invoked when Graves and his daughter, Jenny Nicholson, wrote 'Song of Songs', a musical based on the story of Solomon and Sheba. Other collaborators include Joshua Podro on 'The Nazarene Gospel Restored', Raphael Patai on 'The Hebrew Myths', and Omar Ali-Shah on 'The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam'. Graves's work is discussed in correspondence from publishers and his long-time agent AP Watt, and in correspondence from readers responding to specific works, including 'Goodbye to All That', 'The White Goddess', 'King Jesus', 'The Greek Myths' and 'The Rubaiyyat of Omar Khayaam'. The collection also contains a substantial set of press cuttings about Graves and his work, and a number of pamphlets and offprints either accumulated by Graves as part of his research or sent unsolicited. Graves's working library formed part of Beryl Graves's bequest and has been catalogued separately.

Administrative / Biographical History

Robert von Ranke Graves was born on 24 July 1895 in Wimbledon, London, the son of Alfred Perceval Graves (1846-1931), an Irish-born schools inspector and minor poet and lyricist, and Amelie (Amy) Graves née von Ranke (1857-1951). German-born Amy Graves was Alfred Graves's second wife, and on her marriage in 1891 became step-mother to his five children by Jane Cooper (d 1886) - Philip (1870-1953), Mary (Molly) (1877-1949), Richard (1890-1960), Perceval (1881-1979) and Susan (1885-1956) - before giving birth to her own five children, Clarissa (1892-1976), Rosaleen (1894-1989), Robert, Charles (1899-1971) and John (1903-1980).

The Graves's second home, Erinfa in Harlech, Wales, was an important part of family life, alongside literature, their Celtic heritage, and strict adherence to a protestant Christianity. Graves attended Charterhouse school (1909-1914), where he began to write poetry, and obtained a classical exhibition at St John's College, Oxford in 1914. The outbreak of war seemed to offer a brief interruption to the path of straitened parental expectations and study and Graves almost immediately enlisted with the Royal Welch Fusiliers. He remained in uniform until 1919 and his experiences of trench warfare, which left him with serious injuries and severe shell-shock, are brilliantly documented in his memoir 'Goodbye to All That' (1929). In 1919 Graves married Nancy Nicholson (1899-1977), daughter of the artist William Nicholson (1872-1949). The marriage produced four children, Jenny (1919-1964), David (1920-1943), Catherine (1922-2009) and Samuel (b 1924). Graves and his young family lived first on Boar's Hill, Oxford, where Graves read English at St John's College, and later in Islip, Oxfordshire where Graves attempted to earn a living through his poetry and critical writing. Financial pressures led him to take up the post of professor of English literature at the University of Cairo in 1926, where the family was accompanied by the young American poet Laura Riding (1901-1991) as Graves's literary collaborator.

Returning to London in July 1926 tensions in the relationships between Graves, Nancy Nicholson and Laura Riding were brought to a head when Geoffrey Phibbs, a young Irish poet, entered their circle. In April 1929 Riding appeared to attempt suicide by jumping from a fourth-floor window; later that year Graves and Riding left England. They settled in Deyá, Majorca, eventually building a house, Canelluñ, and forming the nucleus of a small, fluctuating and geographically fluid community that included at various times John Aldridge, Jacob Bronowski, George and Mary Ellidge, Gordon Glover, Karl Goldschmidt (later Gay), Alan Hodge, Ward Hutchinson, Harry Kemp, Len Lye, Tom Matthews, James Reeves, Eirlys Roberts, Montague and Dorothy Simmons and Honor Wyatt. Although Graves always considered himself to be a poet, it was here that he wrote his best selling novels of historical fiction, 'I, Claudius' (1934) and 'Claudius the God' (1935). With the outbreak of the Spanish Civil War, Graves and Riding left Majorca in 1936. Their relationship finally came to an end in1939 in Pennsylvania at the farm of Schuyler Jackson, an admirer of Riding's poetry: Riding and Jackson married in 1941 and Graves returned to England in 1939 having fallen in love with Beryl Hodge (née Pritchard) (1915-2003), the wife of Alan Hodge. Graves and Beryl first went to stay in Great Bardfield with the painter John Aldridge, later moving to Galmpton, Devon for the remainder of the war years. These were productive years for Graves: his poetry from this period is often singled out for admiration; he also published 'Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth' (1940), 'Proceed Sergeant Lamb' (1941), 'Wife to Mr Milton' (1943) and 'The Golden Fleece' (1944); 'The Long Weekend' (1940) and 'The Reader Over Your Shoulder' (1943) with Alan Hodge; and although 'King Jesus' (1946) and 'The White Goddess' (1948) were published later the war years saw much of the writing and research for these two works. 'The White Goddess' - subtitled 'a historical grammar of poetic myth' is an extraordinary study of poetic inspiration.

Three of his four children with Beryl were born during the war - William (b1940) Lucia (b1943) and Juan (b1944); their fourth child was Tomas (b 1953). In 1946 Graves returned with his new family to Deyá where he lived until his death in 1985. In addition to poetry, which he continued writing until the 1970s when ill health incapacitated him, Graves worked on a wide range of subjects and genres. He published the novels 'Seven Days in New Crete' (1949), 'The Islands of Unwisdom' (1949) 'Homer's Daughter' (1955), 'They Hanged My Saintly Billy' (1957) and numerous short stories. His continued engagement with the classical world was reflected in his translations of Apuleius's 'The Golden Ass' (1950), Lucan's 'Pharsalia' (1956), Suetonius's 'The Twelve Caesars' (1957), Homer's 'Iliad' as 'The Anger of Achilles' (1959) and 'The Comedies of Terence' (1962), and his compendium of 'The Greek Myths' (1955).

The Bible and Judaism were another continuing strand of his work: his controversial reworking of the gospels in 'The Nazarene Gospel Restored' (1953) was produced with Joshua Podro, as was 'Jesus in Rome' (1957); 'The Hebrew Myths' (1964) was a collaboration with Raphael Patai. Graves also translated 'The Cross and the Sword' by Manuel de Jesus Galván (1954) and 'Winter in Majorca' by George Sand (1956), adapted his work for film, radio and ballet, wrote a screenplay called 'The World's Delight' drawing on the tales of the Arabian nights, and with his daughter Jenny Nicholson wrote a musical, 'Song of Songs' based on the story of Solomon and Sheba. He also wrote extensively on a wide range of subjects for periodical publication. With the Clark lectures at the University of Cambridge in 1954 and the lectures of his tenure of the professorship of poetry at the University of Oxford (1961-1966) Graves produced a body of idiosyncratic and iconoclastic works of literary criticism. Graves also went on several lucrative lecture tours in America from 1957 and gave occasional later lectures in eastern Europe.

Graves's personal life showed the influence of the ideas he had set out in 'The White Goddess' as, consciously or otherwise, Graves sought out muses to inspire his poetry. Judith Bledsoe (b 1934) filled this role from 1950 to 1952, Margot Callas (b 1934) from 1960 to 1963, Cindy Lee (Aemilia Laraçuen) (1926-2007) from 1963 to 1966, and Juli Simon (b 1949) from 1966 onwards. Despite this turbulence, the marriage to Beryl endured. Following a decade of severe memory loss and dependency, Graves died at his home on 7 December 1985.

Biographies: 'Robert Graves: His Life and Work' Martin Seymour-Smith (Hutchinson, 1983); 'Robert Graves: Life on the Edge' Miranda Seymour (Doubleday, 1995); 'Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic, 1895-1926', 'Robert Graves: The Years with Laura Riding, 1926-1940', 'Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940-1985' Richard Perceval Graves (Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1986, 1990, 1995). Bibliographies: 'A Bibliography of the Writings of Robert Graves' (2nd ed.) F.H. Higginson and William P. Williams (St Paul's Bibliographies, 1987).


Whilst in Canelluñ the papers had clearly undergone arrangement by Beryl Graves and others. Drafts of Graves's work were placed together within general sequences sorted by genre; the principle of this arrangement has been maintained with some clarification of the genre of works, and reconcilation of stray material. The bulk of the correspondence was sorted either by author or by subject and this distinction has been maintained. However, the individual series of correspondence that had been sorted by author were placed in several general sequences - of major and minor correspondents, and correspondence arranged by decade - that led to some inconsistency and duplication of series. As a result it was decided to place these series within a single sub-fonds. William Graves assigned reference numbers which refer to the original sequence: these have been recorded and his documentation retained for consultation.

The description on the Archives Hub has been split into the following sections:

Access Information

Contact the Librarian, St John's College, Oxford.

Custodial History

These papers were bequeathed by Beryl Graves (1915-2003), the widow of Robert Graves, to the St John's College Robert Graves Trust. A detailed listing was created by their son William Graves, his father's literary executor, and the papers were shipped from Graves's home, Canelluñ in March 2008.


No further accruals are expected.