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Youth 1888-1914

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T. E. Lawrence Studies list

Selected postings,  August 1997

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Deraa 10-13
Pre-history (contd) 14-15
Which is the 'best' Seven Pillars 16
Frivoulous question 17, 19
Thomas Chapman 18

0010) Date: Fri, 1 Aug 1997 17:14:13 -0400
From: MC, Spain
Subject: Deraa

Was there any scandal when TEL wrote about the rape that he suffered during the war? Has anybody researched this topic? (press material from that epoch).

0011) Date: Sat, 2 Aug 1997 03:39:46 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: Re: Deraa

The heap of questions is growing: just as soon as we have cleared the remaining 1922 SP volumes out of the office here (what a relief that will be) I will make a list of the queries and see if I can offer any useful comment.

Regarding the latest, from MC, Spain, I know of no early references in the press to the Deraa affair - and I worked through several of the London press-clipping libraries when I was researching my biography. Of course that doesn't prove absolutely that there were no references in the press, but there was certainly no major sensation.

Lawrence was, in fact, extremely careful about press comment on the book. He allowed D. G. Hogarth to do a piece in The Times, and there was an unauthorised printing of extracts - mostly as I recall about personalities - in one of the other papers. However, there were no review copies and the book was so rare and so expensive that it was difficult for a non-subscriber to see.

In the nature of journalism, if there was to have been a 'news story', it would have come immediately on publication. Once the book had been out for a few weeks, the risk was much smaller (there is hardly any market for old news). Also, the Deraa episode would have offended public taste unless handled very carefully. It was probably much less attractive to a newspaper than it might be today.

Nevertheless, Robert Graves wanted to include it in Lawrence and the Arabs.

Those who read the subscribers' Seven Pillars gossipped and speculated about Deraa. I have seen evidence of that in private correspondence from the period.

The question is relevant to a slightly different point. It has never seemed to me astonishing or inconceivable that the Deraa episode took place. If the press is to be believed, male rape is a fairly common occurrence and, in the extreme circumstances of war, all kinds of extraordinary things happen. What is striking is that Lawrence decided to put it in his book, whereas the huge majority of people would have kept such an event to themselves as a very private secret. Publication was even more extraordinary in the context of the 1920s when, by today's standards, people were extremely prudish. You can see from Lawrence's correspondence that the decision to include Deraa was not easy. On the other hand, it was an event that affected him deeply. Therefore, he felt that he could not honestly leave it out.

The episode may also serve a different purpose in Seven Pillars. Warfare in the front line was, on a daily basis, horrific, yet this aspect is hugely played down in Seven Pillars, as it is in many war books.

It is not, however, totally absent, and I think that the way it was handled was carefully calculated. Lawrence believed in the literary power of understatement. Instead of providing horror on every other page, dulling his readers' sensitivities (as the TV news does today), he chose to include in Seven Pillars just a few really horrific episodes. These shock more deeply because they contrast so strongly with the rest of the book. Moreover, each one illustrates a different aspect of the war. For example:

  • The execution of Hamed - an extreme moral dilemma imposed on Lawrence by war.
  • The death of Farraj (as a writer, I judge this to be one of the finest passages in Seven Pillars) - the tragic loss not just of one of his own men, but of someone who, as his personal servant, he cared about.
  • The story about the old man being thrown into a furnace (added at a late stage to the manuscript) - illustrating the cruelty of the Turkish leadership.
  • the Deraa episode - illustrating the moral corruption of Turkish government at a local level (Lawrence stresses that he was not the only victim).
  • the Tafas episode, illustrating the brutality of the Turkish rank and file.

It is interesting to compare the handling of wartime horror by Lawrence in Seven Pillars with the treatment in a book called Red Dust by Donald Black, an Australian trooper in Palestine. Black's treatment of wartime horror is routine and matter-of-fact, and it points up the extent to which Lawrence's treatment is calculated. Black comments, for example, on the fact that battlefield corpses that were not immediately buried were eaten by hyenas. Lawrence deplored it, writing: 'This latrine stuff comes from Germany' - an allusion to All Quiet on the Western Front.


0012) 03 Aug 97 04:43:31 EDT
From: St.John Armitage
Subject: Re: Deraa

Jeremy Wilson writes:

"Lawrence was, in fact, extremely careful about press comment on the book. He allowed D. G. Hogarth to do a piece in The Times."

Hogarth wrote (The Times 13 December 1926) an article under the title "Lawrence of Arabia: Story of his Book: A Lavish Edition" emphasising that it was not a review but that "some account of the history and nature of the singular original [a reference to the 1922 text] may fitly be made public.... To this course the author agreed before his departure a few days ago for a long term of service abroad." :

"A horrible chapter of Lawrence's experiences while playing the spy in Deraa precedes the last, and most truly epic, part of the book, which describes the gradual gathering of the Arab wave till it swept away all opposition, broke on Deraa, and washed into Damascus."

Philby wrote, in 1935: "Lawrence may well have shrunk from making public the lambent pain and horror of his 80th chapter [Deraa] -- one of the very best in the book -- and the 103rd chapter of self-analysis...." Of the latter chapter, Philby added: "...and few have succeeded as he in passing so harsh a verdict on himself in the court of his own conscience."

Whatever the truth of the Deraa episode such intelligent assessments of Lawrence by contemporaries of such standing display better understanding of Lawrence's inner agonies than the second - and even further - hand regurgitations of the revisionists encouraged - commissioned even - to dwell with increasing prurience on ever more stale speculation about Lawrence's sexuality .


0013) Sat, 2 Aug 1997 15:31:16 -0400
From: MC, Spain
Subject: Re: Deraa

Is there any evidence about TEL trying to kill the Turkish Bey at Deraa once his troops conquered the city, just before arriving Damascus?


PS: I think that a reference of the newest Seven Pillars edition in Spanish would be a good addition to JW's web Page (new books section). It was one of the main attractions in this year's Book Fair at Madrid (Feria del Libro).


0014) Date: Mon, 4 Aug 1997 01:44:30 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: Re: Pre-history

Quick response to a query:

The reason I published the photo of the Lawrence brothers playing in the garden at Polstead Road is that I know of no other informal photographs of them at that date (or indeed during their childhood). That particular photo, which came to me indirectly from the Chaignon family, had not been published prior to the NPG catalogue.

It is legitimate to ask why Lawrence's father did not take more photos of the children (at any rate to our knowledge). If this was indeed the case, one reason may be that he was deeply interested in church architecture, and used his camera mainly for that. Another may be that portrait photography (like painted portraits) was still regarded as a highly formal art, and the Lawrences chose not to take amateur portraits (bear in mind that photography was far more expensive than it is today). However, to the best of my knowledge few if any photos known to be by Thomas Lawrence have survived, so we don't know for sure what photographs he took. Likewise, I know of only one photograph of him, which we were allowed by the owner to show in the NPG exhibition but not to reproduce in the catalgoue. I think one or two other photos of Thomas Lawrence may exist, but I have not been able to obtain prints.

In general, of course, many photographers (like painters) have a flair or preference for life subjects or for non-life work. Lawrence's own portrait photographs - there are relatively few - show much less aptitude than his photos of buildings or objects.

One of my long-term plans for the website, if the copyright problems can be overcome, is a set of thumbnails of photos of TEL, with details of their location. I have recently cleared permission to do this for a selection of the Imperial War Museum photos and also for the National Portrait Gallery photos. That will be a reasonable start.

Jeremy Wilson

0015) Fri, 8 Aug 1997 00:27:06 -0400 (EDT)
From: DHS, USA
Subject: Re: Pre-history

I haven't seen any photos of Thomas Lawrence; in your opinion, does T.E. resemble his father?


0016) Date: Sun, 17 Aug 1997 02:34:19 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: Which is the 'best'
Seven Pillars.

[In response to a question posted to the list]

The question is more difficult than it seems.

Lawrence's 1926 final revision of Seven Pillars is the one available from Waterstones and elsewhere. Beware recent hardback reprints from Jonathan Cape, because they lack the dates in the running headlines. Look for an edition with the suppressed introductory chapter. The version published by Penguin meets both these criteria.

However, to appreciate this edition to the full you really ought to see it in the subscribers' format, because the book was conceived not merely as a text but as a physical object. Lawrence altered the text all over the place to trim paragraphs to the ends of pages, and so on. All of that is lost in later reprints. We are currently costing the options for a reprint in the subscribers' format.

In its final revision Seven Pillars has, to my mind, both strong points and problems. The revision was more successful in some things than in others. One strong point is that the wording on Lawrence's tortuous 'philosophy' is less obscure. Another is that the book is quite a bit shorter than the recently published 1922 text. Not everyone has time to read 330,000-word books, and it is difficult to print them nicely in one handy volume. On the other hand, by over-tightening individual sentences in the final revision he lost much of the flow, and flow is important, especially in a long book. Many people who own Seven Pillars have never managed to wade past the Introductory Book (which is, in all honesty, by far the least interesting part of the text to a non-specialist). Also, cuts are cuts - and some of the things that went are important and interesting.

Summary: we have to assume that Lawrence thought his final version better, and it is the final version of SP that became a 'world classic'. On the other hand, if you have plenty of time, or are seriously interested in TEL, or dislike writing that has been so revised that it can ring false, then try 1922 text.

Lawrence himself seemed uncertain as to which version was really best. The answer is that both have merits and both have faults. Lawrence made sure that both survived, by giving the 1922 MS to the Bodleian Library. I am less puzzled than I used to be about his threat to burn the surviving 1922 Oxford Times proofs. They are packed with errors and omissions, many of which he failed to spot in his corrections. Also, he regarded the printer's wholesale re-punctuation as an insult (but at any rate it made the text comprehensible!)

For readers, a practical issue at present is that 1922 is far more expensive than 1926. Patience: a cheaper edition will come, in time. The present limited edition was a necessity, like the 1921 Cape/Medici edition of Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta - to pay for the origination of this huge text. Subsequent editions will 'commercial': i.e. much less elegantly produced, and lack the notes and colour plates - but full the text will be there.

0017) Date: Wed, 27 Aug 1997 08:59:17 -0400
From: Jeremy Wilson
Subject: Frivolous question

[Extract from a longer post]

Frivolous question: Last weekend, while looking around the web for Lawrence references, I came across the site of the Pine Brook Hills Fire Service which, in its very serious page giving a checklist of Personal Equipment for wildland fires, includes a Forestry Helmet with "Lawrence of Arabia" flaps. Now, exactly what...?

The same session took me to the Social Studies School Service (of Culver, CA).

This advertises teaching aids called the International Biographies Series. The volume for 'Africa and The Middle East' includes Lawrence along with Cleopatra, Nelson Mandela, Queen Nefertiti, Julius Nyrere, Anwar Sadat, Shaka Zulu, and seven more.

According to the blurb: 'Each reproducable book offers 14 skill-driven, self-contained lessons centred round historical figures.'

I don't recall finding Lawrence in another school teaching aid.

0018) Thu, 28 Aug 1997 20:44:30 +0200 (MET DST)
From: RVH, Belgium
Subject: Thomas Chapman

I don't know if Nicholas Birnie is on this list. Anyway, I remember he told me three years ago that he had met a man who was said to have another photograph (than the NPG one) of Thomas Chapman.

It could be of interest to hear what Nicholas has to tell about it. Is there someone who can ask him?


0019) Thu, 28 Aug 1997 23:36:31 -0400 (EDT)
From: DHS, USA
Subject: Re: Frivoulous question

In a message dated 97-08-28 Jeremy Wilson writes:

"This advertises teaching aids called the International Biographies Series. The volume for 'Africa and The Middle East' includes Lawrence along with Cleopatra, Nelson Mandela, Queen Nefertiti, Julius Nyrere, Anwar Sadat, Shaka Zulu, and seven more."

I don't recall finding Lawrence in another school teaching aid, and couldn't resist ordering a copy (for just $19.95).

[Note by JW: Please keep us posted when it arrives--I'm curious to know what lessons it purports to teach...]

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