Did Robert Graves Steal “The White Goddess”?

Poet and author Robert Graves is perhaps one of Britain’s most famous creative voices. His 1948 work “The White Goddess”, a meditation on poetic myth, has been seen by scholars and historians as a direct influence on the modern Paganism movement that emerged in Britain in the 1950s. Now, a researcher at Nottingham Trent University is claiming that Graves may have stolen the idea for “The White Goddess” from his former mistress Laura Riding Jackson.

Laura Riding Jackson

“Dr Jacobs said Jackson accuses Graves of “robbing” her of key ideas which he appropriated as his own for his seminal study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, published in 1948. He claimed that the inspiration for the work, which equates God with women, related to an early essay Jackson wrote in the 1930s called The Idea of God and her book, The Word Woman, which preceded Graves’s magnum opus. The couple moved from Britain to Spain, where Jackson left her manuscript for The Word Woman when the pair fled the country on the outbreak of the civil war in 1936. Dr Jacobs claims it was this manuscript – which Jackson had asked Graves to burn – that the poet used as the basis for The White Goddess. “Between 1926 and 1939, he was learning from her what she was doing and thinking,” Dr Javcobs said. ‘He was taking her ideas, her research, he was simply shovelling it in to his own books…. She left her manuscript in Majorca. She later wrote to him [Graves] and told him to burn the manuscript. We now know that he didn’t. It all appeared in dribble form in The White Goddess. He used it for his own ends without mentioning it to her. She only found out in the 1950s.'”

The researcher, Dr Mark Jacobs, is currently writing a book about the relationship between Graves and Jackson, and the charges of intellectual theft. Naturally, The Robert Graves Society isn’t taking these accusations lying down.

“Professor Dunstan Ward, president of the Robert Graves Society, said there was a host of textual evidence proving that Graves was developing his theory for the White Goddess even before he met Jackson and that a poem called A History, written before the two met, contains ‘clear references’…”

Did Graves “steal” ideas from Laura Riding Jackson for “The White Goddess”? Possibly. But one could make the argument that the notion of Goddess religion reborn (or rediscovered) was an idea that had been percolating in British and European culture for some time. Certainly works by Leland, Frazer, Murray, Sharp, Yeats, and several others helped pave the way that “The White Goddess” would eventually tread. I anxiously await the publication of Jacobs’ book for further insight into claims that Graves appropriated ideas for one of his most famous works.