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


In these two pages we have Asher's case that Lawrence was a compulsive and self-glorifying liar. This is an extremely important section, and Asher may have felt that he had proved his case beyond doubt - at any rate in the minds of readers who knew little about Lawrence. For the reasons that follow, I do not think that he proved his case at all. Instead, Asher himself, as a historian and analyst, comes out of the presentation very badly.
   Asher's technique in this section is to use a selection of unrelated material taken out of context and present it as evidence for a much larger conclusion. The legitimate response is to examine each piece of the "evidence" in turn, asking whether or not it really supports Asher's case. 

His ten pieces of "evidence" are as follows: 

33/2/6-7 1. that in the post-war years Lawrence gave a fictional story to John Bruce.
33/2/11-13 2. that Lawrence turned the incident of his boy-soldier enlistment into a "darkly romantic tale"
34/1/5 et seq 3. that the quote: "reputation as a classical scholar is easily gained'" is evidence of Lawrence "honing his skills as a bluffer" 
34/1/9 et seq 4. that the quote that: "War Office people are very easily to be deceived" is similar evidence.
34/2-4 5. that in the light of the variant mule/camel-bell stories "One can only conclude that either Lawrence enjoyed misleading others, or he had a very uncommon conception of the truth." 
34/4/9 et seq 6. that he told Robert Graves "that the best way of hiding the truth was by making mystifying, contradictory or misleading statements". 
35/1/1-3 7. "Working with the Arabs during the war, he would admit that he did not tell the whole truth either to them or to his British masters, but designed a version of reality which suited himself." 
35/1/4-5 8. "He would write that he himself often could not tell where the 'leg-pulling began or ended'" 
35/1/6 9. "[He would] confess to having lied even in his official dispatches and reports"
35/1/6 10.  "[He would add] 'I must have some tendency, some aptitude, for deceit, or I would not have deceived men so well.'"
35/1/11 11. Asher quotes Ronald Storrs saying that TEL would state "as facts things which he knew nobody could or would accept." Next page

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