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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)

page/para/line  
15/2/11 et seq., contd. The claim that Sarah Lawrence did not wish any of her sons to marry rests on second-hand hearsay (again, via Celandine Kennington) and is belied by other reminiscences. However, like many mothers Sarah had strong views about suitability. It is true that she did not approve of the woman that A. W. Lawrence chose to marry.
15/3/4  According to Asher, Victoria Ocampo said Sarah Lawrence was "a woman seething with violent passions kept tight in the straitjacket of her unbending determination." Asher's source is the long footnote on pp. 29-33 of Ocampo's 338171 T.E.: Lawrence of Arabia (London, Gollancz, 1963), where Ocampo speaks of the conflict between Sarah's puritanism and her sexuality. As one would expect from an intellectual of Ocampo's calibre, the passage is written in level-headed language. It contains nothing that justifies Asher's hyped-up paraphrase. By thus distorting the words of a world-rank writer and intellectual, Asher demonstrates that he is neither a scholar nor objective. Readers should regard this as a warning. I have found an unacceptable number of cases in this book where Asher has used paraphrase to alter the sense of a citation, for which he then does not give a source. This has led me to check his paraphrase wherever I recognise or can identify the source.
16/2/3  Asher's references frequently (though not always) give page-references for printed books; but in reference 18 and indeed throughout, he provides no information that allows easy identification of the source of unpublished material that he quotes. For practical purposes, his manuscript-references are almost useless. In this instance, for example, we are told neither the date of the letter he is quoting [18.8.27], nor the manuscript folio. Instead, we get the library shelfmark of a large volume of letters in the British Library.
   This very serious failing occurs throughout, and of course it makes it nearly impossible for an independent reader to assess whether or not Asher's use of quotations from unpublished material is fair. For this, in my opinion, both Asher and his publishers deserve the strongest possible condemnation. I am disappointed that Viking's copy-editor allowed such inadequate references in an overtly contentious book that was to be promoted as a "major new biography".
16, five lines from bottom Lawrence's "will would eventually suffocate his creative power". What can Asher mean? The writing and rewriting of Seven Pillars, The Mint, and the Odyssey translation were creative projects that all, in various ways, required huge amounts of willpower. Lawrence's quest for perfection was driven by will. It would have been far easier to aim lower. To say that his creative power was eventually "suffocated" is to say that Lawrence ceased to be creative. When was that? His later work helping to develop and perfect RAF speed-boats was highly creative. He had creative projects right up to his death in 1935: in the weeks before his fatal accident he was preparing to fulfil a life-time's ambition to set up and run his own private press. In the immediately preceding years he had re-modelled Clouds Hill - another creative project. Asher's statement here is simply wrong.
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