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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 2: Dominus Illuminatio Mea
Schooldays, 1896-1905 (10 pages)

page/para/line
Page 26 The evolution of the case that Lawrence was homosexual in his youth has been lengthy and complex. I will restrict these notes largely to Asher's presentation, although it owes a great deal to the earlier books by Lawrence James and Desmond Stewart which are, in my view, at least as questionable.
   In particular, the material in Asher's book concerning Leonard Green and his alleged homosexual circle does not stand close scrutiny in the original version by Stewart. It has not been strengthened in the successive re-tellings by James and Asher.
   Asher writes, "While still at school, he [Lawrence] made friends with an older man called Leonard Green, then an undergraduate at St. John's College, and took great pride in flouting college rules to visit him in his rooms."
   Green was three years older than Lawrence. Note the wording: "he made friends". It is thus made to appear as though Lawrence took the initiative and that a close friendship was formed. There is no mention of the fact that Green only knew TEL through TEL's elder brother Bob. Green's comment in Friends about flouting college rules might have applied to one visit, or 3, or 10,000. As there is so little evidence linking Lawrence with Green at that time, I would be inclined to favour the lower end of the range.
   Wholly untroubled by chronology, Asher then emulates Lawrence James by giving fictional substance to this schoolboy acquaintance: he transposes Green's reminiscences from 1909-10 back by a matter of years: "Together they dreamed of printing fine books, and of living together in a windmill on a headland washed by the sea. Green, an aspiring poet, belonged to a secret homosexual order called the Chaeronea and to a circle of poets, artists and novelists later known as the Uranians, whose inspiration was the 'innocence and sensuality of young boys'. A prominent member of the Chaeronea was the poet Laurence Housman, six of whose books were found in Lawrence's personal library after his death, together with three homoerotic works by F. W. Rolfe, another member of the Uranians, whom Lawrence may have known personally while at school."
   Let's pause a moment and consider this heady concoction. While Green's interest in Lawrence may have been homosexually motivated, contacts during Lawrence's schooldays were surely very limited - Green does not claim otherwise. I have found no reference anywhere else to a relationship between them at that date, although there are references to Lawrence's other friends.
   Since homosexual acts even between consenting adults were at that time a criminal offence in Britain, it is most unlikely that Green would have taken any risks in his conduct towards his friend's younger brother, then legally a minor.
   On the subject of fantasies - and going beyond the legitimate chronology of this chapter - I mistrust Green's claim, made only after Lawrence's death, that he and Lawrence planned to set up a printing press together. Green dates this to 1909-10, which seems correct because Lawrence's interest in printing began while he was an undergraduate. However, we also know that in 1909-10 Lawrence was well advanced in his plans to set up a printing press with someone else, i.e. Vyvyan Richards.
   A possible explanation is that Lawrence told Green in 1909-10 about the Richards printing scheme, and that the details became blurred in Green's mind during the quarter-century that passed between this conversation with Lawrence and the request to write-up his (otherwise very slight) recollections for Friends. Green would not be the first person to have exaggerated a friendship with Lawrence - a process that was doubtless in some cases deliberate, though in others probably subconscious.
   This interpretation is supported by a letter of 16 February 1910 (to which I will refer again, in its proper chronological place) from Lawrence to Green (DG page 83) in which Lawrence writes "I bet you will have a hunt for a publisher, until I set up." Had Lawrence really planned a printing scheme with Green, he would surely have written "until we set up." Next page


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