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Obituaries

Beryl Graves, 88; Wife, Aide and Muse of British Poet and Novelist

October 31, 2003|Mary Rourke | Times Staff Writer

Beryl Graves, the wife of the late British poet and novelist Robert Graves who collaborated with him on several of his books, died Monday on the Spanish island of Majorca. She was 88, and died of complications after breaking her hip. She had lived on the island with her family for more than 50 years.

In their long, unconventional marriage, Beryl Graves, who was Graves' second and last wife, remained his resilient companion through his many love affairs with other women. He referred to each of these new lovers as the "White Goddess," a deity he invented to inspire his writing.

Beryl Graves, who was the mother of four of his eight children, remained friendly with most of her husband's former "muses" and included them in family gatherings after his death in 1985.

"We liked all the muses except for Cindy," she said in an interview with the London Guardian in 1999. "Judith, Margot, Julia were nice girls."

Robert Graves was most widely known for his novel "I, Claudius," written in the early 1930s. It was adapted into a TV miniseries that aired in the United States on public television's Masterpiece Theater in 1977. In his long career, he also wrote dozens of volumes of poetry as well as novels and nonfiction works. He also translated a variety of classical texts.

Beryl Graves collaborated with her husband on two of his translations: "The Cross and the Sword" by Manuel de Jesus Galvan and "The Infant With the Globe" by Pedro Antonio de Alarcon. After his death, she co-edited Graves' "Complete Poems," published in 1995.

At times during his life, she also was his typist. Graves prided himself on his inability to use the manual machine and wrote everything in longhand, including several dozen letters on a typical day.

Beryl Pritchard was born in London on Feb. 22, 1915. She attended Oxford University, where she studied politics, philosophy and economics. She met Graves when she was 22 and already engaged to Alan Hodge, a writer whom she married the following year. Graves, who was 20 years Pritchard's senior, was separated from his first wife, Nancy Nicholson (with whom he also had four children) and was living with his mistress, the poet Laura Riding.

The newlywed Hodges spent part of 1938 sharing a chateau in Brittany, France, with Graves and Riding. Pritchard first became Graves' muse, then divorced Hodge and had three children with Graves before she married him in 1950. Their fourth child was born in 1957.

The Graveses lived through World War II in Devon, England, and then moved to Majorca into the same house that Robert Graves had once shared with Riding.

Author Miranda Seymour, Robert Graves' official biographer, recalled meeting Beryl Graves there in 1993. Physically beautiful, with high cheekbones, gray eyes and thick, straight hair, Beryl Graves was gracious to Seymour but not forthcoming about her unusual marriage, Seymour wrote this week in an obituary of Graves for the London Independent newspaper.

Later in his life, Robert Graves developed dementia and Beryl attended to him as a nurse would. Seymour recalled how Beryl once helped her husband out of an awkward situation when his memory failed him. He was being introduced to the cast of "I, Claudius" and announced that he was 140 years old, nearly twice his actual age.

"That might well be," Beryl Graves added lightly. "At breakfast he had been 120."

Beryl Graves is survived by her four children.

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