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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 23 | next page 

Chapter 3: Nothing Which Qualified Him to be an Ordinary Member of Society
Last year at school and first years at university, 1906-8

31 last line Whatever he knew, Bob Lawrence would not, of course, have revealed it. Predictably, he later claimed that TEL had invented the enlistment. But Bob Lawrence was utterly untrustworthy on any issue that touched the reputation of his family. He was either unscrupulous or uncritical or both. I recall reading a letter (now I think in Texas) in which he condemned Lawrence and the Arabs by Robert Graves and recommended, in its place, one of the juvenile novels by Gurney Slade! 
32 first para. The (unacknowledged) source for the Tuke history is the note in my biography. I agree broadly with Asher's conclusion.   
32 Para 2 "elaboration - the vice of amateurs": the (unstated) source is SP35 ch 103 (the "Myself" chapter). For Lawrence's "out of depth" Asher has substituted "inadequate". Today, I think "insecure" or "lacking in self-confidence" would more accurately convey what, in the original context, Lawrence was talking about. The reason for Asher's choice of words (and lack of a reference) becomes clear in the next sentence: "In a world of bigger, more athletic, more physically powerful boys, his skills of "elaboration" were a protective mechanism..."  This is a gross distortion - and obviously a deliberate one - of the Seven Pillars passage Asher is quoting. 
   Asher then spins his next great theme: Lawrence the masochistic fantasizing liar: "Though he was capable of building a sustained edifice of falsehood, as he was later to do with John Bruce, his tendency was less to fabricate than to inflate the prosaic into something of an altogether more heroic order." The underlined statement (my underline) is unsubstantiated spin. Asher never gets round to producing convincing evidence or logic to support it. 
33/2/12 Here, Asher gets carried away by his own bluff. Lawrence, he claims, invented "a tale involving elements of violence, suffering and degradation about which he fantasized. Fantasy, exaggeration, and distortion are the tools of masochism . . ." And this is a chapter about 1906-8 !!! 

Asher links "There seemed a certainty in degradation, a final safety" (also from the "Myself chapter") with the mention in the same chapter a few lines further on, of coaling in Port Said. But in Seven Pillars, what Lawrence remembers about the coaling was "the after-taste of liberty" (in the 1922 text "the after-taste of real liberty"). Most people would understand and sympathise with the appeal of that to a young man - which is probably why Asher omits it. Instead, he reverts to an earlier sentence [34/1/1] about the "animal level beneath which [man] could not fall." 
   At this point, Asher gives yet another incorrect reference: SPW, 1935, p. 581" The page number should be 564. Next page

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