Research and discussion
Page updated May 2012
T. E. Lawrence as Writer
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Lawrence's writings fall into two categories, each almost equally important. The first consists of his books and minor essays (prefaces, articles in periodicals, etc). The second consists of his enormous correspondence.
The correspondence is fascinating, first, because of the range of his friends and acquaintances, and secondly because the letters are often interesting and give many insights into his personality and interests.
The two categories are outlined below, with links to pages containing more detailed information.
Lawrence's writings online
In 2006 a large number of Lawrence's works and letters went out of UK copyright. We are putting them online in the Writings section of this website. If you would like to know more about Lawrence, this is well worth a visit.
Lawrence wrote two major works, each very different. Both have achieved widespread recognition.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom describes Lawrence's experiences while serving as a British liaison officer during the Arab Revolt of 1916-18. The book exists in two texts. The earlier, completed in 1922, runs to 334,500 words. Sometimes called the 'Oxford' text, it remained unpublished until 1997.
From this 1922 text Lawrence made a revised abridgement, cutting the length to 250,500 words. This he issued in a private edition for subscribers in 1926. After his death in 1935, it was published for general circulation.
The subscribers' abridgement has since become a world classic. It was the principal source for David Lean's film Lawrence of Arabia (1962). Well over a million copies have been sold and the book has been translated into many languages.
For a more detailed history of the Seven Pillars texts see Seven Pillars of Wisdom - triumph and tragedy
1926 subscribers' abridgement online>>
Lawrence also made a further abridgement, called Revolt in the Desert. This was published in 1927 in order to pay off debts that he had incurred producing his lavishly illustrated subscribers' Seven Pillars. Revolt was a best-seller, but was superseded after his death when the whole subscribers' text was published for general circulation. There have, nevertheless, been a number of recent editions of Revolt.
Revolt in the Desert online>>
The Mint, a much shorter book than Seven Pillars, is in three parts. The first two describe Lawrence's experiences as an enlisted recruit in the RAF in 1922. The third part describes a later period of his service life, when he was serving at the RAF Cadet College, Cranwell, in 1925 and 1926. This book too has been translated into several languages.
The Mint online>>
In addition to these original works, Lawrence completed two translations for publishers:
The Forest Giant, commissioned by Jonathan Cape and published in 1924. It is a translation of a prize-winning novel by Adrien Le Corbeau called Le Gigantesque. The novel is an allegory based on the life of a giant sequoia. Lawrence's free translation is better-written than the original.
The Forest Giant online>>
Preface to The Forest Giant (2004)>>
The Odyssey of Homer, commissioned by the American book designer Bruce Rogers, was published in 1932. It was an immediate success. Although there have been several more recent translations, it has been continuously in print ever since.
T.E.Lawrence and the translating of the Odyssey>>
Checklist of editions of collected minor writings>>
Editions of Lawrence's works and letters in print>>
T. E. Lawrence's correspondence is the most important biographical source for his life. The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, a general selection edited by David Garnett, was published in 1938 and is widely available second-hand. A further selection, edited by Malcolm Brown, was published in 1988. There have also been editions of Lawrence's letters to particular correspondents. These are listed in the Checklist of editions of Lawrence's letters
Lawrence corresponded with a great many people, including writers such as John Buchan, E. M. Forster, David Garnett, Robert Graves, Siegfried Sassoon, and Bernard Shaw; artists such as Augustus John, Eric Kennington, and William Rothenstein; archaeologists and travellers such as Gertrude Bell, C. M. Doughty, D. G. Hogarth, and E. T. Leeds, and public figures such as Nancy Astor, Winston Churchill, and Lord Trenchard.
New definitive edition
In 2000, Castle Hill Press began publishing a scholarly subscription edition of Lawrence's correspondence. This fine-press edition is likely to remain the major scholarly source.The aim is to publish all of Lawrence's worthwhile correspondence, accompanied by detailed editorial notes on matters referred to. There is further information about the series on the main Castle Hill Press website.
Cumulative listing and index
Lists of the correspondence published in the T. E. Lawrence Letters series are linked below. For a fuller listing of Lawrence's published correspondence see the chronological and alphabetical contents lists in the Writings section
T.E. Lawrence 1888-1935
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset