Today, around one in four of the residents of Mallorca is a foreigner. Such a figure would have horrified the island’s best known 20th-century expat, the writer and poet Robert Graves.
When Graves first arrived on the island in 1929 it was already known as a desirable and unspoiled holiday spot in certain rarified artistic and moneyed circles, but few foreigners chose to actually live on Mallorca.
Graves, though, was after more than a break in the sun. He already had a reputation for his poetry, and his fiery, engaging personality and popular but intelligent writing made him famous at an early age. In 1929 he published Goodbye To All That, a sharply observed and lucidly written autobiography covering the period before, during and immediately after WW I. It was hailed as a classic. Yet Graves’s life at the time was a mess: he was unhappily married, broke and suffering shell shock.
The idea of leaving England for Mallorca was suggested to him by Gertrude Stein (who described it as ‘Paradise, if you can stand it’). He followed her advice, abandoned his wife and his four children, and with his lover, the American writer Laura Riding, he came to live in Deià. And Mallorca he found the peace and inspiration he needed to write, producing more than 120 books in his 90 years, including the historical novels I, Claudius and Claudius the God.
He also became famed as a literary exile, attracting a stream of celebrity visitors – Ava Gardner, Alec Guinness, Peter Ustinov, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Kingsley Amis among them. Graves charmed them all and played wild practical jokes at the parties he hosted.
Graves was very much the Brit abroad – he liked the fact the Mallorca wasn’t far from the Greenwich meridian, was hot and cheap. But there is no doubt that the rural Mediterranean lifestyle suited him – he began to think of Laura Riding as an ancient Mediterranean moon goddess, until she left him for another writer in 1939. By then Graves was back in the UK, having left Mallorca in 1936, when Palma became a Francoist base for fighting during the Spanish Civil War.
Ten years later he returned to the island for good, this time taking Beryl Pritchard, who was to be his partner until his death. Mallorca’s influence on the Graves opus is oblique. The island’s climate, colors and the topography of its fig and citrus trees no doubt fed his imagination for the Roman works he wrote in Deià. Graves influence on Deià, however, is still huge.
A more personal legacy is the continuing presence of his family in the village – Beryl and three of their sons still live here. Every year on July 24th (Graves’s birthday), locals gather at Deià’s amphitheatre across the road for the Canellun to hear Graves’s family and friends read selection of his poetry, under the direction of the ‘keeper of the flame’, his daughter Lucia.
* the above was from my TimeOut book Mallorca and Menorca – pg 108 “Local Heroes Robert Graves”
I have been wanting to visit the grave of Robert Graves for a long time now in Deià. Finally this weekend I hiked up to the churchyard at the top of the village to view it. And even with sweat streaming down my face, my back and pretty much everywhere else, I was thrilled to view the grave. A simple headstone which states: Robert Graves, Poeta, 1895 – 1985, EPD. EPD = En Paz Descanse ~ Rest In Peace.