T. E. Lawrence Studies 
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General biography

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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)

previous page | Page 6 | next page 

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

page/para/line  
17/2/3 Mack (Asher's source) did not say it was Bruce who disclosed that Lawrence experienced orgasm during the beatings. In fact, this was reported by a third-party who Mack did not name.
17/2/5  "It is possible that this behaviour might have been initiated by horrific experiences during the war. On the other hand, there are clear traces of masochism in his early interest in self-punishment and self-denial."
   This claim deserves far more attention than Asher gives it when he quietly drops it into this early chapter. Because I am familiar with current debate about Lawrence, I know that the claim is central to the arguments put forward by those who seek to represent Lawrence as a life-long homosexual. Their object is to suggest that homosexual masochism was already present in Lawrence's youth. In reality, I know of no behaviour in Lawrence's pre-war life that cannot be explained more credibly in other ways.
   On this question of Lawrence's alleged early masochism, I think Asher is being less than frank with his readers. Essentially, he argues in this chapter that Lawrence's trials of physical strength and endurance display masochism. There is, however, a clear counter-argument which Asher does not even mention here, still less attempt to dismiss.
   The first element in the counter-argument is the historical context for Lawrence's youth. At that time, young middle-class Englishmen were encouraged to aspire to the highest standards of physical accomplishment. This was considered an important aspect of their preparation for a role in the future administration of the British Empire. Therefore, it was commonplace that young men should seek to prove their physical excellence. Asher is well aware of this, as he shows in the following chapter (pp. 24-5) where it suits him to introduce the argument in a different context.
   Secondly, while there was nothing unusual in Lawrence's quest for achievement, he had a real problem. Unlike his brothers, who were much taller, he stopped growing at 5 ft 5½ inches. That left him below average height, and he was very conscious of it. Naturally, short stature was a handicap to him in the kind of competitive sport generally played in British schools. He had little chance of demonstrating physical superiority if matched against well-built schoolboy and college sports-stars. 
   Instead, he chose solitary sports such as cycling, and drove himself to achieve spectacular feats in them. By far the most probable motive for the voluntary tests of endurance cited by his contemporaries was a need to compensate for his small stature. Additional evidence would be needed -- and there is none -- to suggest that they were driven by a masochistic urge. I remember a gymnastics teacher at school who used to say "I may be small but I'm tough, damn tough." That was Lawrence's boast too: "a pocket Hercules". (continued next page)


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