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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Edward Garnett


[Postmarked Farnborough]

12. XI. 22.

I've got on to Akaba with the cutting-up process, for Farnborough gives me more leisure (and less leave) than Uxbridge did. There is a good deal coming out of the Akaba history: I feel a horrible satisfaction when I'm able to cut a piece out of myself, and draw the edges neatly together. By the way, I think all excisions will have to be marked by an asterisk.

The book comes fresher to me. There is an old-maidish neatness and fastidiousness about the style, and that pleases me, even where it passes over the edge into priggery: but it's a perverse work. I shy off all the 'popular' moments. For instance one night I went down to destroy a bridge, and found it occupied by a working party. We had the nearest shaves: I leave them to be inferred. Creeping back I stepped (bare-foot) on a snake. The fact is mentioned, in one line: and the next four lines give a precise and elaborate description (done with the finicky perfection of an armchair sitter) of the reflection of star-light on rocky ground. That's what I mean by perversity: the shying off the obvious and personal, and the stressing detached points, which a one-eyed man (or a man with his heart in the job) would not have seen. It makes the book unearthly in feel: but I like parts of it. The feast in the Howeitat tents, for a set-piece, is well done: and after all set-pieces are legitimate, though less breath-catching than sky-rockets. By the way there aren't any sky-rockets in The Seven Pillars.

Barracks forbid the leisurely consideration of style-niceties. So I'm not making those tiny improvements which would mean so much in the general flavour of the work. It all sounds, doesn't it, as if I meant to publish the abridgement: and I shall very much despise myself if I do. Only to face thirty-five years of poverty hurts even more than to smash my self-respect. Honestly I hate this dirty living: and yet by the decency of the other fellows, the full dirtiness of it has not met me fairly. Isn't it a sign of feebleness in me, to cry out so against barrack-life? It means that I'm afraid (physically afraid) of other men: their animal spirits seem to me the most terrible companions to haunt a man: and I hate their noise. Noise seems to me horrible. And yet I'm a man, not different from them; certainly not better. What is it that makes me so damnably sensitive and so ready to cry out, and yet so ready to incur more pain? I wouldn't leave the R.A.F. tomorrow, for any job I was offered.

The Uxbridge notes you have misunderstood. They aren't third degree: or like my lost Arabian notes: but photographs, snap-shots rather, of the places we lived in, and the people we were, and the things we did. I haven't dared to read them: they are about 15000 words, and were scribbled at night, between last post and lights out, in bed. In a sort of artistic shorthand. There was the makings of a big book on Uxbridge: but an iron, rectangular, abhorrent book, one which no man would willingly read.

I withdraw my words about Lady into Fox: but it's the line of thought which couldn't ever cut my track - the fantastic. Everything of mine is dry.

Next time I come up (Saturdays will be possible from here when the authorities permit us London. At present they say that smallpox there makes it dangerous for us). I'll bring my box of moral éclairs with me, and we shall lick them together. You'll find enough sugar in that anthology to make six people sick: but my stomach is that of seven men. Boasting again.

E.L.

Source: DG 379-81
Checked: mv/
Last revised: 18 February 2006


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