T. E. Lawrence Studies 
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Review commentary by Jeremy Wilson on Lawrence, the Uncrowned King of Arabia by Michael Asher

(London, Viking, 1998)

previous page | Page 4 | next page 

 

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

page/para/line  
14/1/9  "In fact, there is little evidence of discord [between Thomas and Sarah]". Asher evidently needs to make this claim in order to bolster his thesis that Sarah was completely dominant. T. E. Lawrence reported discord between his parents. A. W. Lawrence did not comment specifically, but said that he found his mother impossible. The only people who claimed that the family was harmonious were Sarah Lawrence herself, and her son Bob, both of whom seemed to believe that public virtue (in this and other matters) was more important than truthfulness. Of course, respectable families did not air their dirty linen in public. My inclination is to believe the private remarks made by TEL.
14/1/13 "Lawrence's picture of [his father's] 'hard-riding, hard-drinking' [not a TEL quote] younger days, though, was highly idealised. Thomas was essentially a submissive man, clearly dominated by Sarah, and, subconsciously, Lawrence despised his lack of authority." Here, as elsewhere in this book, Asher works on the principle that if you repeatedly represent a piece of doubtful speculation as fact, the reader's critical faculties will go to sleep ("What I say three times is true"). In reality, this is a highly speculative set of statements in support of which Asher has offered no evidence.
   The passage is followed (line 18) by a quote from Lawrence which probably tells us more about himself - at the period in which it was written - than it does about his father. The last quote in the paragraph (a report via Celandine Kennington) also belies the facts. Thomas Lawrence had numerous interests and was the motive force behind almost all the boys' countless activities. It seems that Celandine Kennington observed, much later, that Sarah Lawrence completely dominated her son Bob, and imposed the characteristics of that mother-son relationship on the relationship she had never witnessed between Sarah and her partner Thomas. There is no logic to that and, in any case, having discussed Celandine Kennington with A. W. Lawrence and others who knew her, I feel that on the subject of Lawrence, despite her many admirable qualities, she cannot be regarded as a good historical witness.
15/2/1 The source for the statement that Lawrence regarded his father as a friend (A. W. Lawrence in a letter to me) did not add Asher's gloss "rather than a figure of authority".
15/2/11 et seq. It is not clear whether the interpretation of Evangelical belief comes from Maarten Schild (as do "several of the ideas on this page", according to note 16), but it is to say the least debatable. The notion that Sarah Lawrence "exercised a hawk-like vigilance for the appearance of . . . sensual traits, ready to nip them in the bud with a sound thrashing" is a distasteful fiction. There is no evidence whatsoever to suggest that she either thought or did such a thing.
   In introducing this topic, Asher would have done better to follow his earlier example, and look at what English society was teaching young middle-class men about sexuality. He does this in the next chapter, but in different context. (continued next page)

 



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