William Graves said last week that he is “both honoured and amused to receive” the MBE, unlike his father Robert, who turned down two honours.
“The first was an OBE when Macmillan was prime minister and the second was the highly coveted Order of the Companions of Honour while Thatcher was in power - although that was turned down by my mother. It came just a year before he died and was suffering from poor health. To be honest, I don’t think he knew about it.
“Quite simply, my father didn’t want to be associated with any politicians, he valued his freedom far too much. He did however accept the Queen’s Medal for Poetry,” William told the Bulletin. A geologist by profession, William has spent the past 35 years maintaining and promoting the legacy of his father, the late writer Robert Graves, who spent most of his life in Deya, where he is buried.
William said that his parents, who left England for complicated personal reasons, first went to France and it was there that Robert met Gertrude Stein; it was Stein who recommended Deya “for its weather and great, cheap fresh fish".
His departure from England is best documented in Good-Bye to All That, an autobiography by Graves which first appeared in 1929 when the author was 34 years old. “It was my bitter leave-taking of England,” he wrote in a prologue to the revised second edition of 1957, “where I had recently broken a good many conventions”.
“So, in 1929, my parents arrived in Palma. They first stayed at the Grand Hotel, now the CaixaForum, and then made their way up to Deya. The rest, as they say, is history.”
It is the wonderful literary legacy and colourful life his father left behind that he has spent over three decades preserving, promoting and sharing.
“When my father died, he did not leave an executor, so it was left to me to represent the Graves name and works - and I continue to do so today. Interest in Robert and his work is as strong as ever, perhaps even more so.
“At the Berlin Film Festival this year, a new film called The Laureate, with a first-class cast, was due to have held its premiere. The film tells the story of Robert’s somewhat racy life in England before he left. The film has been described as a biographical romantic drama which depicts the life of British poet and writer Robert Graves. However, due to the pandemic, its release has been sadly postponed, but it will eventually hit the big screen. It’s rather funny because Julian Glover plays my grandfather in the film, and I remember him coming out to see Robert in Deya.”
But the question one has to ask is - who did not come to see Robert in Mallorca?
The poet, historical novelist, critic and classicist had already made a name for himself around the world prior to his arrival in Deya and over the years he was to entertain some of the most famous, important and glamorous people from all walks of life from across the globe. Never mind all of his writings, there are some 6,000 letters to and from many of his guests, such as Ava Gardner, and they are all stored at St. John’s College, Oxford, where he won a classical exhibition but did not take it up until after the First World War.
Good-Bye to All That, with its frank condemnation of the public school system and the real conditions in the trenches, turned Robert Graves into a controversial figure, but the book was an enormous success and brought financial relief, allowing Graves to concentrate mainly on his poetry. It also allowed him to build a house outside the village, which they called Ca N’Alluny (The Faraway House) and that, thanks to years of dedicated work by William and the Robert Graves Foundation, opened as a museum some 15 years ago. Despite the pandemic, it continues to attract visitors on a near daily basis. William said that they received a number of locals last week.
And this is where William has achieved so much in bridging the gap between Mallorcan, Spanish and British cultures and the languages.
“We average some 6,000 visitors, including many schools, which is always encouraging, to the museum every year from all over the world, but I am always pleased when local residents come.
“Having grown up on the island, spending my morning at schools in Spanish and then spending the afternoons listening to the BBC on the radio at home, I guess I’ve always had feet in both camps. But I have to admit that after almost 75 years on the island I speak Mallorquín better than most!
“It’s hard work and I’m not getting any younger but, like I said, there is always something to do regarding Robert and his works. Apart from being Robert Graves’s Literary Executor, trustee of the Robert Graves Foundation and director of his house in Deya, I am also involved with the Council of Culture of the Balearic Government as well as the Tourist Board. I do anything I can to help because I love Mallorca and, to a certain extent, it was Robert who put Deya on map.
“I’d say Stein put Mallorca on the map and my father did the same for Deya, which has become a cultural magnet.”
Through the foundation, William has over the years brought thousands of international members to Palma for regular conferences and conventions about his father’s work.
“The next one is due to take place in 2022 and in the meantime we’ve been holding numerous Zoom talks and meetings as we all carry on with our various tasks involved in preserving Robert’s legacy. For example, here at home in Palma, I have 22 double volumes of his work and over 1,200 poems.”
And William himself has enjoyed success as a writer. “There had been three or four biographies written about Robert and how he got sucked into life in Mallorca but none of them actually got it right. So I wrote Wild Olives, which has sold over 10,000 copies, became a bestseller and continues to sell today. But for the majority, I guess he is most known for I, Claudius, which was adapted for a BBC series in 1976 and won numerous awards. And, apart from the pending film, we have not seen the end of Robert yet.”