Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Best Word Forward

Magazine article Phi Kappa Phi Forum

Best Word Forward

Article excerpt

Growing up in the 1970s, I thought of Robert Graves as the man behind a TV show I wasn't supposed to watch. /, Claudius, his novel about imperial Rome, had been adapted as a television series that was the Game of Thrones of its day, touched by the violence and depravity of court life in a faraway kingdom.

This obviously wasn't PG-rated stuff, and the show's opening credits, which included a nod to Graves, were my signal to change the channel or risk my mother's wrath. For years, even a passing mention of Graves quickly evoked for me a sense of the illicit.

Only much later did 1 discover that Graves was famous for something else - namely, a memoir of his World War I years, Goodbye to All That, still celebrated as a classic chronicle of youthful disillusionment. In recent months, I've connected with yet a third legacy of Graves, an Englishman who died in 1985 at age 90.

In 1940, just after the fall of France to the Nazis and the evacuation of Allied warriors at Dunkirk, Graves and co-author Alan Hodge began work on a writing guide called U)e Reader Over Your Shoulder. It appeared in 1943, while much of the world was in flames. Readers might have naturally wondered, given the global conflagration, why anyone would be worrying about the best way to craft sentences.

That reality wasn't lost on Graves and Hodge, who suggested that precisely because of what civilization faced, there was no better time to affirm the value of clear prose.

"With a new war to be wor.," Patricia T. O'Conner writes in her introduction to the most recent edition, "the kingdom couldn't afford careless, sloppy English. …

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