Robert Graves in Deià
In 1929, Robert Graves and Laura Riding settled in Deià on the advice of Gertrude Stein, whom they had met in Haute-Savoie. With her usual irony, Gertrude Stein assured them: "Mallorca is a paradise, providing you can stick it." They did more than just stick it. They came to form part of it.
After the traumatic experience of the First World War, Graves went to live in Oxford with his first wife, Nancy Nicholson, and his four children, but he found the university atmosphere claustrophobic. One of his few close friends was T.E. Lawrence, 'Lawrence of Arabia'. He also found it very hard to overcome the psychological effects of the war and his financial situation was very unstable. In 1925, he met Laura Riding, an American writer who came to live with the family, first in Islip and then in Cairo, where Robert Graves had been hired to work as a lecturer in English literature at the university. Marital problems between Graves and his wife worsened and they decided to split up. Robert and Laura travelled abroad and made a decision not to return to Britain. Robert Graves explains why in his autobiography Goodbye to All That, an impressive description of his wartime experiences and his rejection of British society's hypocrisy.
Right from the very first, Robert Graves and Laura Riding were fascinated with Deià. In 1932, they built a house called Ca n'Alluny on the outskirts of the village, which is today a museum and the headquarters of the Robert Graves Foundation. That first period in Deià was very fruitful. Graves set up a printing press in his house, publishing some of the novels that were most influential in making him famous under the 'The Seizen Press' imprint: that is, I, Claudius, Claudius the God and Count Belisarius, together with several books of poetry.
During the Spanish Civil War and Second World War, Robert Graves was forced to leave Mallorca, but he returned when the European conflict was over, this time accompanied by his new wife Beryl Pritchard. Graves lived in Deià until his death in 1985. His grave can be found in the village's small cemetery.
Ca n'Alluny was a meeting point for numerous writer and artist friends of Robert Graves, who stayed there at different times
Ca n'Alluny was a meeting point for numerous writer and artist friends of Robert Graves, who stayed there at different times. Visitors included novelists Kingsley Amis, Allan Stillitoe and Gabriel García Márquez, actors Alec Guinness and Peter Ustinov - the last of whom came to live in Mallorca, in the municipality of Calvià - and even a 10-year-old Stephen Hawking, accompanied by his mother who had been to university with Graves' wife, Beryl. One visitor of particular note was Ava Gardner, and the actress became a family friend, spending periods in Deià. Graves, who was in his 60s, apparently found the stunning actress' presence particularly stimulating and yet disturbing, and he dedicated the poem 'Not to Sleep' to her, where he explains the joyful insomnia that affected him during her visits. According to Ava Gardner's memoirs, there was never any physical relationship between them, but there was a certain contained excitement and infatuation that was mutual.
Adored by Deià's villagers, Robert Graves managed to transform this marvellous corner of the Serra de Tramuntana into a place known to all, merely through his presence in the village. Deià was visited, particularly as from the 1960s and 70s during the hippy period, by numerous artists and musicians, including painter Mati Klarwein (known for his illustrations for Santana's first albums), Kevin Ayers, and Mike Oldfield. Some came to live in Deià on a permanent basis and others just spent a certain period of time there. Evidently, without Robert Graves, Deià's subsequent legendary fame would not have reached such heights, despite its spectacular scenery.
Most critical analyses and studies of Robert Graves' life and work are in English. A large part of them can be found on the website <www.robertgraves.org>, dedicated to Graves by St. John's College Oxford, where the authors' manuscripts and first editions can be found, bequeathed by his widow Beryl. The website www.lacasaderobertgraves.com - about the writer's Deià home, now the headquarters of his foundation - contains details of his life and work.
Did you know that...
Robert Graves took part in Mallorcan cultural life, although he maintained a respectful yet distant attitude to local writers, as is typical of a foreigner, (or at least this is the impression you get when you read or hear testimonials by those who knew him). José Carlos Llop comments on Graves' presence in Palma's streets in his recently published book En la ciudad sumergida.
Graves was invited to literary get-togethers organized each year at Son Galceran rural estate, owned by Joan March Cencillo, which he attended on some occasions. The estate formed part of Ramon Llull's Miramar and, centuries later, it was bought by Archduke Ludwig Salvator. The social columns of newspapers in 1990 comment on a tribute dedicated to Robert Graves' memory that same year at Son Galceran, where a speech was given by his daughter, writer Lucía Graves.
The best way to get to know an author as prolific as Robert Graves is to read his work. Numerous translations of his most famous work can be found in Spanish and Catalan. I, Claudius stands out for its popularity, together with selections of his poetry. The collection of 160 poems translated into Catalan by Josep M. Jaumà and published by Edicions del Salobre is well worth reading. His best-known biographies, Goodbye to All That and Mallorca Observed, have also been translated into Spanish as Adiós a todo eso (RBA) and Por qué vivo en Mallorca (Olañeta).