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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 18 | next page 

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

page/para/line
27/2/1 "Though Lawrence despised women in their sexual role". This glib statement, reinforcing Asher's homosexuality theme, is not an accurate description of Lawrence's attitude at any time. It is apparently based on a comment made to Charlotte Shaw years later, that sexual intercourse "must seem an unbearable humiliation to the woman" (10.6.1924, Letters Vol. 1, p. 78). In this letter he goes on to say: "However here I'm trenching dangerous ground, with my own ache coming to life again." In other words, he recognised that his view of the female role in intercourse was coloured by his personal experience as a victim of male-rape. 
   In this instance Asher is again playing his "what I say three times is true" trick. I have researched Lawrence's life far more deeply than Asher, and have found no basis whatsoever for the suggestion that Lawrence's attitude towards women, prior to the Deraa incident, was anything other than normal in the period.
27/2/4 Reference 13 is simply to "RG", i.e. T. E. Lawrence to his Biographer Robert Graves. Readers might well assume that the quote is based on a remark by Lawrence, but the lack of a page-reference makes it difficult to check. In reality it is a posthumous comment by Robert Graves (B:RG page 13). As such, given the general tenor of Graves's pronouncements on the subject of Lawrence and women, it has no biographical value.
27/2/4-5 Asher is entirely wrong about the relationship between Clare Sydney Smith and Lawrence. I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say that Clare S.S. was infatuated with him. Biffy Borton, who knew both Lawrence and the Smiths, once commented to Arabella Rivington (who reported the conversation to me soon afterwards) that Lawrence's skilful handling of the situation had saved the Smiths' marriage. Prior to the release of the T. E. Lawrence papers in the Bodleian, biographers who were aware of this (myself included) refrained from public comment in order to spare the late "Squeak" Smith, Clare's daughter, needless embarrassment. In the light of this, Asher's comments in this paragraph merit a wry smile.
27/2/14 et seq: "Lawrence's great struggle in childhood was to extricate himself from his mother's smothering clutches, and afterwards he remained frigid towards women . . ." This  nonsensical oversimplification is yet another repeat of Asher's theory.
27/2/ last three lines. The quote, for which no reference is given, is from a note by Lawrence cited in John E. Mack's A Prince of Our Disorder. It dates from after the First World War and the Deraa experience, and reflects Lawrence's view at that time. The comment "I have never thought twice or even once of the shape of a woman" (my emphasis) may or may not take the pre-war period consciously into account. Given his traumatic experience of male sexuality, it would be unsurprising if, during the post-war period, Lawrence sought to deny to himself that he had ever felt sexually attracted to anyone. The implication Asher seeks to draw is strongly belied by contemporary records of Lawrence's attitude towards women in the pre-war period, of which more anon.
27/3/last line:  "He became fascinated by the medieval world as a boy, and this interest quickly became his passion and eclipsed his school work." A possible source for this comment is: "the long school hours and the plague of homework cut into the pursuit of archaeology that was already the child's passion" (B:LH page 79). That, however, does not say quite what Asher is saying. Also, I suspect that a retrospective remark of this kind, written many years later, may well distort the balance of activity and effort during Lawrence's schooldays. Lawrence's examination results in his Junior and Senior Locals show a broad range of achievement (I published his exam marks in Lawrence of Arabia, the Authorised Biography). Like many other children, he may not have greatly enjoyed school; but he did pretty well there. Next page


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