Sergeant Lamb novels

Last updated
First editions (publ. Methuen) SergeantLambNovels.jpg
First editions (publ. Methuen)

Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth (released in America as Sergeant Lamb’s America) and Proceed, Sergeant Lamb are two historical novels by Robert Graves, published in 1940 and 1941 respectively. They relate the experiences of Roger Lamb as a British soldier in the American Revolutionary War, and are based on the actual Roger Lamb's autobiographical works.



Roger Lamb, a young Dublin scapegrace, joins the 9th Regiment of Foot and quickly rises to the rank of sergeant. He falls for a local girl, Kate, but she marries another soldier, "Gentleman" Richard Harlowe, who is thereafter an enemy of Lamb's. His regiment is posted to America soon after the outbreak of hostilities with the colonists. There follows a survey of the causes of the American war. Landing at Quebec, Lamb and his regiment move upcountry, and are soon engaging the American expeditionary force in Canada. He witnesses the naval engagements on Lake Champlain, then is chosen, with one comrade, to accompany the Mohawk chief Thayendanegea on a three-month hunting expedition. He learns much about life among the Six Nations, and encounters Kate Harlowe, who has left her husband and joined the Ottawa tribe. Lamb and Kate are married in Indian fashion, but when Lamb returns to Montreal Kate remains with the Ottawa. Rejoining his regiment he takes part in the siege of Ticonderoga. Some time later, near Fort Edward, Lamb is charged with a lone mission to return through the forest to Ticonderoga, there to organize the transport of military stores. This he does, but on the way again chances on Kate, who is giving birth to their child. Kate leaves the baby to be looked after by a Quaker settler. Lamb takes part in a battle at Bemis Heights, in the course of which he learns by another accidental encounter that "Gentleman" Harlowe had long ago married and deserted another wife. Hostilities at Saratoga end with the surrender of Lamb's regiment. They are marched to Cambridge, Mass., in expectation of being shipped back to Britain.

As Proceed, Sergeant Lamb opens Lamb and his comrades learn that they are not to be returned home, as stipulated by the terms of surrender, but kept prisoner indefinitely. Months pass and conditions become more unbearable, provoking desertions. Finally they are ordered to march to Virginia. Lamb makes an escape bid along with two of his comrades, "Smutchy" Steel and "Gentleman" Harlowe. Helped by a series of Loyalists they meet along the way they reach British-held New York. Lamb and Steel transfer to the Royal Welch Fusiliers, while Harlowe is bought out of the army. Lamb now sails to South Carolina with his new regiment. There he takes part in the siege of Charleston, and carries his regiment's colours at the battle of Camden. Lamb's narrative then details a series of defeats for the British side, from the failure of Benedict Arnold to hand over West Point to the defeat at Cowpens. His half-starved regiment wins a costly victory at the battle of Guildford Court House, in the course of which Lamb encounters his old adversary Harlowe, now an American officer, and shoots him dead. They march to Wilmington, where many, Lamb among them, are trained up as cavalrymen, then ride far into Virginia, where Lamb takes part in an attempt to capture Jefferson at Monticello. The regiment is sent to Yorktown, where, as they prepare for the French attack, he discovers that the mysterious mistress of his general Lord Cornwallis is Lamb's own Kate. She promises to eventually marry Lamb, but is killed in the first bombardment by the French. Cornwallis surrenders, and Lamb goes on the run rather than endure another imprisonment. Making for New York he gets as far as Frederick Town before being recaptured. He again escapes, and gets as far as York, Pennsylvania, where he rejoins his first regiment, the Ninth, who are still in captivity. Once more he breaks out, this time with seven other soldiers. They separate into two parties of four to attract less attention. After losing one of their number, and the British deserter who acted as their guide, Lamb's party makes it to New York. Briefly relating the remaining events of his life, Lamb tells us of the final British surrender, his voyage to England, his departure from the service and return to Ireland, his marriage and career as a schoolteacher, and his long-lost American daughter’s rediscovery of him in Dublin.


Graves began work on Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth in the autumn of 1939. Newly returned from an extended visit to America, he was mainly concerned to make a little money with which to support his girlfriend Beryl Hodge (later his second wife), and also his various needy friends who could be employed for secretarial and research work. [1] [2] It has been suggested that another motive was the urge to interpret his turbulent love-life. He had lost a struggle with the American farmer-poet Schuyler Jackson over the affections of Graves's former lover Laura Riding, and his account of the American Revolutionary War might be seen as a recasting of his own story on the national scale. The recurring minor character of John Martin, a Satanic figure, closely resembles an earlier love-rival, Geoffrey Taylor (né Phibbs). [3] [1] Another motive lies in Graves's strong disagreement with the sympathetic, Whiggish view of the American revolutionary cause held by, for example, Trevelyan, which he felt impelled to correct. [4] He may well also have felt driven to immerse himself in a war of the past out of frustration at being too old to take an active part in hostilities as the Second World War broke out, the fact that it involved his own former regiment, the Royal Welch Fusiliers, making the subject all the more attractive. [5]

It was suggested to Graves that he write a novel based on the American Revolutionary War by Methuen, who had recently taken over the role of publishers of his I, Claudius and Claudius the God after the failure of the firm of Arthur Barker. [6] [7] The book was originally to form one novel, but as the manuscript expanded it was split into two novels in accordance with wartime library requirements, the second one being provisionally titled Sergeant Lamb of the Twenty-Third. [3] [8] The intention was to use real characters and events, and stick closely to historical sources, only making them more readable. [6] His most important sources were Roger Lamb's own Journal (1809) and Memoirs (1811), but Graves drew on many others, there being, as he himself said "too much, rather than too little, material to draw upon". [9] When he turned to composition it proceeded quickly, at one point at the rate of two chapters a week. [4] Graves was so engrossed in Lamb's story that Beryl often saw him absent-mindedly lay a place for the sergeant at dinner. [3]


Methuen published Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth on 12 September 1940, and Proceed, Sergeant Lamb on 13 February 1941; they were reprinted in 1945 and 1947 respectively. Random House published the first novel, retitled Sergeant Lamb's America, on 1 November 1940, and the second on 15 October 1941. [10] Penguin Books brought out a paperback edition of Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth in 1950, and it has since been reissued in the Penguin Modern Classics series. [11] [12] Other editions of the two novels have been produced by May Fair Books, Vintage Books, and Hutchinson. [13] [14] Both works were edited by Caroline Zilboorg as part of Carcanet's complete edition of Graves's works in 1999. [15]

Critical reception

Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth appeared to generally good reviews. Dorothy Canfield assured the Book of the Month Club that it was "finely worth reading", [16] and the New York Times ranked it alongside George Bernard Shaw's The Devil's Disciple , a play with the same historical setting. [17] The Times Literary Supplement found it "has a very taking period flavour and makes good reading", though it also thought the story rather shapeless. [18] George Orwell, writing in the New Statesman , praised the accurate historical detail and convincingly 18th-century prose, and felt that "the book is really a pendant to Good-bye to All That , an act of devotion towards the regiment with which he still feels a tie". [19] Some thought he had not sufficiently digested his historical research, [20] the New Yorker , for instance, calling it "lively reading, with perhaps too much history and not enough novel". [21] But the caveats disappeared with the publication of Proceed, Sergeant Lamb. "[I] have never had so many bouquets plugged at me", Graves exulted, and found an explanation for the difference in tone: "the first volume was a slightly new taste for people and after a time they decided that they liked it, so this one was easy money". [22] Reviewers especially praised the style, comparing it to William Cobbett and Daniel Defoe. [23]

Modern judgements have been more diverse. The journalist Neil Powell and Martin Seymour-Smith, a friend of Graves, agreed in considering the novels potboilers, though adroitly done. [1] [4] Graves's nephew Richard Perceval Graves found them rambling and the central character thinly drawn, but the portrait of 18th-century America wholly convincing. [24] His biographer Miranda Seymour thought the novels deserved their good reviews, [25] and the academic Anthony Quinton believed that the Sergeant Lamb books would continue to be read for as long as anything Graves had written. [26]


  1. 1 2 3 Powell 1999, p. 19.
  2. Graves 1998, p. 319.
  3. 1 2 3 Seymour 1996, p. 284.
  4. 1 2 3 Seymour-Smith 1983, p. 378.
  5. Seymour 1996, pp. 284, 299.
  6. 1 2 Graves 1991, p. 319.
  7. Seymour-Smith 1983, p. 358.
  8. Graves 1998, p. 11.
  9. Graves 1941, p. v.
  10. Higginson 1966, pp. 83–84, 88–89.
  11. Higginson 1966, p. 84.
  12. "Sergeant Lamb of the Ninth". Penguin Classics UK. Penguin Books. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  13. Higginson 1966, pp. 84–85, 90.
  14. "Poet in exile: Robert Graves". British Book News: 386. 1985. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  15. Ketsin, Mary, ed. (2004). Irish Literature:Background and Guide to Books. New York: Nova. p. 56. ISBN   1590335902 . Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  16. Graves 1941, p. 324.
  17. "Graves, Robert, Sergeant Lamb's America". The Book Review Digest. 36: 372. 1941. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  18. "Graves, Robert, Sergeant Lamb's America". The Book Review Digest. 36: 372. 1941. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  19. Davison, Peter, ed. (1998). The Complete Works of George Orwell. Volume 12: A Patriot After All, 1940–1941. London: Secker & Warburg. p. 266. ISBN   0436203626 . Retrieved 29 August 2015.
  20. Benét, Stephen Vincent (1940). "[Book review]". Saturday Review of Literature: xxii. Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  21. "Graves, Robert, Sergeant Lamb's America". The Book Review Digest. 36: 372. 1941. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  22. O'Prey, Paul, ed. (1982). In Broken Images. London: Hutchinson. p. 298. ISBN   0091477204 . Retrieved 12 August 2015.
  23. Graves 1998, p. 28.
  24. Graves 1998, p. 18.
  25. Seymour 1996, pp. 284–285.
  26. Quinton, Anthony. "Intensely English bard of the White Goddess". The Times (27 May 1982): 11. Retrieved 9 August 2015.

Related Research Articles

Robert Graves English poet and novelist

Robert von Ranke Graves was a British poet, historical novelist, critic, and classicist. His father was Alfred Perceval Graves, a celebrated Irish poet and figure in the Gaelic revival; they were both Celticists and students of Irish mythology. Graves produced more than 140 works in his lifetime. His poems, his translations and innovative analysis of the Greek myths, his memoir of his early life—including his role in World War I—Good-Bye to All That, and his speculative study of poetic inspiration, The White Goddess, have never been out of print.

<i>From Here to Eternity</i> 1953 drama film based on the novel of the same name directed by Fred Zinnemann

From Here to Eternity is a 1953 American drama romance war film directed by Fred Zinnemann, and written by Daniel Taradash, based on the 1951 novel of the same name by James Jones. The picture deals with the tribulations of three U.S. Army soldiers, played by Burt Lancaster, Montgomery Clift, and Frank Sinatra, stationed on Hawaii in the months leading up to the attack on Pearl Harbor. Deborah Kerr and Donna Reed portray the women in their lives, and the supporting cast includes Ernest Borgnine, Philip Ober, Jack Warden, Mickey Shaughnessy, Claude Akins, and George Reeves.

<i>The White Goddess</i>

The White Goddess: a Historical Grammar of Poetic Myth is a book-length essay on the nature of poetic myth-making by author and poet Robert Graves. First published in 1948, the book is based on earlier articles published in Wales magazine, corrected, revised and enlarged editions appeared in 1948, 1952 and 1961. The White Goddess represents an approach to the study of mythology from a decidedly creative and idiosyncratic perspective. Graves proposes the existence of a European deity, the "White Goddess of Birth, Love and Death", much similar to the Mother Goddess, inspired and represented by the phases of the moon, who lies behind the faces of the diverse goddesses of various European and pagan mythologies.

Chester Morris Actor

John Chester Brooks Morris was an American stage, film, television, and radio actor. He had some prestigious film roles early in his career, and was nominated for an Academy Award. Chester Morris is best remembered today for portraying Boston Blackie, a criminal-turned-detective, in the modestly budgeted Boston Blackie film series of the 1940s.

A. J. Cronin

Archibald Joseph Cronin was a Scottish physician and novelist. His best-known novel The Citadel (1937) tells of a Scottish doctor in a Welsh mining village, who shoots up the career ladder in London. Cronin had seen the venues as a medical inspector of mines and later as a doctor in Harley Street. The book promoted still controversial ideas on medical ethics and helped to inspire the National Health Service. Another popular mining novel of his, set in the North East of England, is The Stars Look Down. Both have been filmed, as have Hatter's Castle, The Keys of the Kingdom and The Green Years. His novella Country Doctor instigated a long-running BBC radio and TV series, Dr. Finlay's Casebook, which was revived many years later.

Alvin York United States Army Medal of Honor recipient

Alvin Cullum York, also known as Sergeant York, was one of the most decorated United States Army soldiers of World War I. He received the Medal of Honor for leading an attack on a German machine gun nest, taking at least one machine gun, killing at least 25 enemy soldiers and capturing 132. York's Medal of Honor action occurred during the United States-led portion of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive in France, which was intended to breach the Hindenburg line and force the Germans to surrender. He earned decorations from several allied countries during WWI, including France, Italy and Montenegro.

Alfred Perceval Graves Irish poet

Alfred Perceval Graves, was an Irish poet, songwriter and folklorist. He was the father of British poet and critic Robert Graves.

Martin Roger Seymour-Smith was a British poet, literary critic, biographer and astrologer.

Matt Baker (artist)

Clarence Matthew Baker was an American comic book artist and illustrator, best known for drawing early comics heroines such as the costumed crimefighter Phantom Lady, and romance comics. Active in the 1940s and 1950s Golden Age of comic books, he is the first known African-American artist to find success in the comic-book industry. He also penciled St. John Publications' digest-sized "picture novel" It Rhymes with Lust (1950).

<i>Clarissa</i> 18th century epistolary novel by Samuel Richardson

Clarissa; or, The History of a Young Lady is an epistolary novel by English writer Samuel Richardson, published in 1748. It tells the tragic story of a young woman, Clarissa Harlowe, whose quest for virtue is continually thwarted by her family. The Harlowes are a recently wealthy family whose preoccupation with increasing their standing in society leads to obsessive control of their daughter, Clarissa. It is considered one of the longest novels in the English language. It is generally regarded as Richardson's masterpiece.

John de Burgh Perceval AO was a well-known Australian artist. Perceval was the last surviving member of a group known as the Angry Penguins who redefined Australian art in the 1940s. Other members included John Reed, Joy Hester, Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd and Albert Tucker. He was also an Antipodean and contributed to the Antipodeans exhibition of 1959.

Robert Buckner was an American film screenwriter, producer and short story writer.

Huw Higginson is an English actor, best known for playing PC George Garfield in The Bill from 1989 to 1999.

<i>The Four Feathers</i> (1978 film)

The Four Feathers is a 1978 British television film adaptation of the classic 1902 novel The Four Feathers by novelist A. E. W. Mason. Directed by Don Sharp, this version starred Beau Bridges, Robert Powell, Simon Ward and Jane Seymour, and was nominated for a Primetime Emmy Award. It follows the novel almost exactly, and response to the film was very positive.

Charles Graves (bishop) Irish bishop of Limerick and mathematician

Charles Graves was an Irish mathematician, academic, and clergyman. He was Erasmus Smith's Professor of Mathematics at Trinity College Dublin (1843–1862), and was president of the Royal Irish Academy (1861–1866). He served as dean of the Chapel Royal at Dublin Castle, and later as Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe. He was the brother of both the jurist and mathematician John Graves, and the writer and clergyman Robert Perceval Graves.

Andro Linklater was a Scottish non-fiction writer and historian.

<i>Stonehearst Asylum</i>

Stonehearst Asylum, previously known as Eliza Graves, is an American Gothic film directed by Brad Anderson and written by Joseph Gangemi. It is loosely based on the 1845 short story "The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether" by Edgar Allan Poe. The film, starring Kate Beckinsale, Jim Sturgess, Michael Caine, Ben Kingsley, and David Thewlis, was released on October 24, 2014. The movie has been remade into a malayalam language movie Athiran in 2019.

Lee "Lasses" White American actor (1888-1949)

Leroy Robert White, better known as Lee "Lasses" White or Leroy"Lasses" White, was an American vaudeville pianist, songwriter and entertainer who became an actor of the stage, screen and radio. He became famous doing minstrel shows during the early part of the 1900s, and wrote one of the first copyrighted twelve-bar blues, "Nigger Blues". After spending some time on radio, White entered the film industry in the late 1930s. During his eleven-year career he appeared in over 70 films.

Alan Hodge was an English historian and journalist. He was a member of the circle of writers and artists that centred on Laura Riding and Robert Graves in the late 1930s, and later collaborated with Graves on The Long Week-End, a social history of Britain between the wars, and The Reader Over Your Shoulder, a guide to writing English prose. After the Second World War he worked as the general editor of Hamish Hamilton's Novel Library, as an editorial assistant on Winston Churchill's History of the English-Speaking Peoples, and as a founding co-editor of the successful magazine History Today.