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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


9. "[He would] confess to having lied even in his official dispatches and reports"

This is a specific instance of (7) above, not really a separate point; but it merits the comment that Lawrence down-played his own role in some of his reports, as we know from independent evidence. Verdict: this is, if anything, a case against Asher's argument. 

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.'"  

Here again the reference is incorrect, which may be significant. The remark comes from one of the bitterest paragraphs in Seven Pillars, at the end of Chapter 100. Lawrence is talking about the fraudulence of his role and his sense of guilt. Here, he is accusing himself bitterly of having the immoral merit of fulfilling his orders successfully, as was required, by persuasive lying. Verdict: Asher's use of the quote outside its context strikes me as appalling. In reality it does not support his argument. Question: why does Asher give an incorrect source-reference?

35/1/11 11. Asher quotes Ronald Storrs saying that TEL would state "as facts things which he knew nobody could or would accept."

First, the source reference that Asher gives for this is wrong. He cites "Ronald Storrs, Daily Telegraph" (apparently a press-cutting seen in the Bodleian, because he gives an MS Res location). In reality, the quotation is from the BBC radio review by Storrs of Richard Aldington's Lawrence of Arabia. This was published in The Listener on 3 February 1955. As both the format and the typography of The Listener and the Daily Telegraph were unlike one another, it is hard to excuse the misleading reference.
   The quote is correct in wording but has been entirely re-punctuated. The italics in Asher's version are not in the original. More serious, the quote is badly out of context, and the context is significant. Storrs was obviously somewhat rattled by Aldington's "proofs" of Lawrence's untruthfulness - and unable, from the sources at his disposal, to know to what extent Aldington was correct. Like many of Lawrence's friends, Storrs was distressed that those who knew Lawrence had been represented by Aldington as dupes, taken in by Lawrence's deception. There is therefore a measure of self-defence in these lines. He wrote: "Many, though by no means all, of [Aldington's] accusations and insinuations can no longer be proved or disproved...", but went on to rebut from his personal knowledge two specific errors. He continued: "Lawrence's defects were recognised by most of us and discounted as not ultimately significant. We knew that he could be reckless in speech, irresponsible, misleading; tiresome, exasperating - maddening: stating as facts things which he knew nobody could or would accept - a street Arab as well as an Arab of Arabia." His review nevertheless concluded: "My chief remembrance of Lawrence is that, despite the unhappiness in his eyes, he knew the best in life, and knew it for the best. I found him a touchstone and a standard of reality. I never left his company without feeling the better for it, and I shall always hold his memory in affection and in honour." That could hardly be the statement of someone who believed that Lawrence was a self-promoting liar.
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