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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 9 | Chapter 2 

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

19/2/ twelve lines from bottom.  By this time Asher expects readers to be completely convinced by his masochism theory. This permits him to assert that the "exaggerated form of attention-seeking" (mainly reported by contemporaries after Lawrence's death) "was the shadow side of Lawrence's aloofness, and the social aspect of his masochism." Once again, Asher is using the "three-times" technique, the quiet advance from "possibly" via "probably" to "certainly" - without ever producing a shred of evidence. From here on, readers also have to put up with his clumsily expressed concept of "reverse exhibitionism".
   At this point it is worth noting that Asher took a degree in English, not in history or psychology, at a period when many English faculties were plunging recklessly into Freudian psychology in order to enrich literary criticism. In principle, that procedure appears to be valid and interesting; but it was often carried out in such an amateurish manner that it brought literary criticism into disrepute. Anyone who imagines that it leads to a single unambiguous conclusion should read The Pooh Perplex.
   My own conclusion is that Asher is a very amateur psychologist who is easily tempted by theories which, being based on highly selected evidence, do not stand up to serious examination. At best, his theorising and interpretation might provide material for discussion. Only too often, it is plain nonsense.
20/1  More of the same. Asher is now leading the reader into a theory that Lawrence was a habitual fantasist - a conclusion that is simply not borne out by Lawrence's thousands of letters and wartime reports. Yes, like most if not all people, Lawrence occasionally concealed the truth or told trivial lies. In such cases one can usually see a specific motive for doing so.
   Beyond that, there is no evidence for the theory that Asher asks us to swallow here. A central problem of the book - which I will reach in due course - is Asher's inability to substantiate this theory.
A concluding comment on this chapter:
   It is of course true that there is not very much reliable first-hand evidence on which to base a chapter about Lawrence's first eight years. Asher's solution is to spend little of the chapter talking about that period. Instead, he has used these pages to develop massive theories about the roots of Lawrence's adult personality. In the process, he selectively invokes evidence from much later periods as well as testimony whose worth, for one reason or another, is doubtful. Overall, far, far too much rests on entirely unsupported speculation, generally put forward as though it were established fact.
   An uncritical reader with no extensive knowledge of Lawrence's biography or of Asher's sources would almost certainly emerge from the chapter with absurd ideas about Lawrence's personality. Next page


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