T. E. Lawrence Studies 
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Research & Discussion

General biography

Rejected legend

Youth 1888-1914

War service 1914-1918

Diplomacy 1918-1922

Service years 1922-1935

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

(London, Viking, 1998)

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

12/2/14 There is no evidence whatsoever to support the claim that the Lawrences heard Canon Christopher preach at Ryde on the Isle of Wight (and for that reason decided to move to Oxford). The story originated in Knightley and Simpson's Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia (London, Nelson, 1969) and seems to be journalistic speculation. To those who do not know the area, the Isle of Wight may seem close to Southampton, but at that date Ryde would have been a considerable journey from the Lawrence home near Hythe.
13/1/7 The youth organisation which Lawrence helped was not called the Boys Brigade, but the St. Aldate's Company of the Church Lads Brigade.
13/2/17et seq. Thus far, Asher's thesis about Lawrence's childhood has involved building up the influence of Sarah to the utmost possible degree. He complements the process here by trying to diminish Lawrence's father. He gives no source for the claim that anyone thought of Thomas Lawrence as "just plain barmy". The words missing from the quote in line 20 are "skilled to speak". Apparently this virtue did not fit in with the impression Asher was trying to create. The source for the anecdote "he's just Mrs Lawrence's husband" is, again, Celandine Kennington (remember always, here and elsewhere in these notes, that Celandine Kennington never met Lawrence's father, but came to know Lawrence's mother well in her later years). The word "tamed" put in quotes in line 21 is emphasis by Asher, not a word used by Lawrence under reference 11 (as the use of quotation marks might be taken to imply). Incidentally, the word "and" is omitted from the quote line 22 without ellipsis ("a sportsman and a hard-rider and drinker").
14/1/1 Lawrence's father had yachts. Presumably, Asher thinks Lawrence's punting and canoeing justifies the remark that he became, like his father, a "devoted . . . waterman". The connection is probably not that strong. Lawrence wrote long afterwards to an acquaintance "I will never be a sailor, I'm afraid: born too late, though my father had yachts and used to take me with him from my fourth year" (DG Letter No 442). Lawrence disliked journeys on passenger ships; perhaps he suffered from seasickness. In 1929, as part of his service duties, he began working as a crewman in RAF seaplane tenders and became part-owner (by gift) of a small speed-boat. He went on to help develop fast motor launches for the RAF. However, the appeal seems to have been speed and mechanics rather than water. It is noticeable that, while his letters and books contain graphic descriptions of landscapes, he very rarely commented on the beauty of the sea.
14/1/5-6 "But [Thomas Lawrence's] influence was far less profound than Sarah's". This is an extraordinary statement, since Lawrence's taste for history, architecture and archaeology, like his enthusiasm for cycling and photography, were all probably influenced by his father. Lawrence also displayed other traits, notably an aristocratic disdain for money, which almost certainly came from Thomas Chapman. Here again, Asher clearly wishes to represent the parents as unequal partners - whereas neither Lawrence himself nor A. W. Lawrence did so. To say they were very different does not necessarily mean that they were unequal, in terms of influence over their children rather than housekeeping matters. Next page

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