T. E. Lawrence Studies 
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Youth 1888-1914

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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)

18/2/1  I am not sure that 'psychically' is the correct word for Sarah Lawrence's attempts to understand TEL.
18/2/seven lines from bottom.  Asher is so carried away by his psychic-citadel theory that he puts the cart before the horse, claiming that Lawrence's interest in Crusader castles led to his university thesis. In fact, Lawrence studied Crusader castles in the Middle East specifically for his thesis, at the suggestion of C. F. Bell.
19/1/3  'So it was that the pattern forged in the dark recesses of his childhood struggle [against his mother's dominance] would one day spill out into the light as the strategy he would wield to brilliant success in the Arab Revolt.' This piece of amateur psychology sounds grand, but if you give it a moment's thought, it is clearly nonsense. Huge numbers of boys, the world over, are passionately interested in toy soldiers, cowboys and Indians, the armed forces of every type and epoch, and indeed in purely imaginary war games. Is Asher suggesting that all these boys have problems with their mothers? Has he heard of male aggressivity?
19/2/1  Asher then invokes Nietzsche as an excuse for further amateur psychiatry, which turns out to be nothing more than glamorising some fairly mundane thoughts. Lawrence's adolescent problems were commonplace, particularly in a young man who wished he was taller. Since Asher has still not mentioned Lawrence's short stature, he does not admit to any link between it and the craving for attention.
   Most people would like to be famous. Few would admire themselves for that. Much of the self-analysis in the "Myself" chapter of Seven Pillars is pretty commonplace if you look behind the grandiose language. One of Lawrence's real faults is that he took himself desperately seriously, without any great sense of proportion. Of course, that fault may have contributed in some way to his achievements.
19/2/9  John Bruce sold a long document about his friendship with Lawrence to the London Sunday Times, and swore on oath that it was true. However, it contains some huge and obvious inventions, for example that Bruce and Lawrence had spied together in Afghanistan. Therefore, one can only risk believing Bruce where his testimony is confirmed by facts or third parties. On that basis we know that he did indeed administer occasional beatings in the post-war years - but we can't be sure about much else.
   Therefore, I do not think it reasonable to cite Bruce as a witness in other matters, as Asher does here. In this case, the illustration is particularly weak because, given Lawrence's extraordinary relationship with Bruce and the fictional tales involved, he may well have said things to Bruce which were insincere. Overall, Bruce's gullibility, together with his conduct during and after Lawrence's lifetime, lead me to suppose that Lawrence selected Bruce because Bruce was extremely unintelligent. Others who had contacts with Bruce reached the same conclusion - but of course it was difficult to say that in Bruce's lifetime. Next page


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