As Edmund Blunden's biographer tells it, the poets Edmund Blunden and Siegfried Sassoon sat down together on the night of November 7, 1929 to annotate a book. That book was Robert Graves’ memoir Goodbye to All That, and their notes were anything but laudatory.
Graves had published Goodbye to All That, an account of his early years and service in the first world war, to critical acclaim earlier that year. Blunden and Sassoon, WWI veterans themselves who knew Graves and had written about the war in their own poetry and prose, weren’t drinking the Kool-Aid. The war that Graves described was not the war they knew. In fact, they disagreed so completely with Graves’ account of events that both felt an irrepressible urge to correct the record. And so, pen in hand, they did.
When they finished, there were 300 annotations in all in Blunden’s copy of the book. Initially the pair had intended to give their copy to the British Library, to memorialize their own fixed record of events. But the book was never acquired by the BL. Instead, it lives in the Henry W. and Albert A. Berg Collection of English and American Literature, here at the New York Public Library. In many instances, the two friends can’t resist taking the Graves down a notch, with hilarious results. Blunden and Sassoon mock what they perceive as self-congratulatory and dishonest in Graves’ prose, and along the way, spar with Graves as if he’s in the room with them.
To hear about more exceptional annotated copies of books in the Berg Collection, join me on Monday afternoon at 3:15 p.m. for "Engaging the Text: Literary Marginalia in the Berg Collection." Details can be found here.