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Review commentary by Jeremy Wilson on Lawrence, the Uncrowned King of Arabia by Michael Asher

(London, Viking, 1998)
Page 1 | next page 

Chapter 1: Apparent Queen Unveiled Her Peerless Light
Early Childhood 1888-96 (13 pages, pp 7-20)

7/1/4 "Chapman owned a vast estate near Devlin". No, Thomas Chapman's estate at South Hill was relatively modest. The Chapmans were wealthy, but they owned several quite small parcels of land rather than a "vast estate". They also had other investments.
7/1/6  "Sarah [TEL's mother] . . . had already overcome social barriers which many would have found insurmountable." This was much less remarkable than Asher implies, and not really her doing. She had been sent by her family to be educated by a clergyman. At that time, the career of nanny was an unremarkable choice for an intelligent and reasonably educated Scotswoman from a poor family. Scottish nannies were famed throughout the English-speaking world, and even in some European countries.
7/1/14  Sarah "was determined to leap the gulf between deprived working-class orphan and respectable, middle-class housewife. If she could not become a queen or a lady of the manor, she could at least use her power to captivate the heart of a nobleman." This speculative claim is based entirely on hindsight. We have absolutely no evidence about Sarah's motivation when she joined the Chapman household. Indeed we do not know how she was recruited, nor many reliable details about the household itself. As noted above, her choice of career was unsurprising. Many nannies remained spinsters. Many others married household servants. Had Thomas Chapman been happily married (he was not) his relationship with Sarah would probably not have developed.
7/2/4 The story that Sir Walter Raleigh was a distant Chapman cousin and had a hand in obtaining the Chapman land in Ireland appears in reference works about titled families (doubtless Lawrence's own source), but may be apocryphal.
8/1/8  Asher builds up a characterisation of Thomas Chapman (TEL's father) as ineffectual. This seems improbable. An ineffectual man would not have had the strength of character to quit his social position and wealth for the women he loved. The easy thing to do in such circumstances was to pay off the pregnant servant (or simply to abandon her, as happened in many cases). Lawrence later frequently referred to the conflict between the personalities of his parents - who had differing strengths and weaknesses. He believed that the conflict was mirrored in himself. If Thomas Chapman had been ineffectual, there would have been no conflict.
8/1/14 "very soon [Sarah] had taken over the running of the entire household". This kind of statement requires a source, and none is given. At best it can only be hearsay, and it may well be pure fiction. In a large house such as South Hill there would have been other senior staff, such as a housekeeper and butler, who would not readily have taken orders from a nanny. Next page


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