I stood beneath the wall
And there defied them all.
—Robert Graves in “The Assault Heroic”
At the time of his death in December 1985, at the age of ninety, on the island of Majorca, Robert Graves had long been a legendary figure in the literary world. This was due in part to his immense production: nineteen novels and short-story collections, sixty-three books of nonfiction (including translations), and fifty-six volumes of poetry. Because of this extraordinary productivity, Graves is the only serious writer of our time whose career was on a scale we associate more with the previous century than with our own.
Yet there is another and more important reason why Robert Graves became a figure of legend in the literary world of his time. This was his reputation as a rebel. Graves’s fame as a cranky individualist derives, first of all, from his...