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Updated June 2012

T. E. Lawrence to Bernard Shaw


Dear Mr. Shaw

Your letter reached me on Christmas day, and has interested me immensely - especially one phrase. No doubt it was used to help me with Constable's (gratitude etc.) and it's immodest of me to refer to it - but you say that it's a great book. Physically, yes: in subject, yes: an outsider seeing the inside of a national movement is given an enormous subject: but is it good in treatment? I care very much for this, as it's been my ambition all my life to write something intrinsically good. I can't believe that I've done it, for it's the hardest thing in the world, and I've had such success in other lines that it's greedy to expect goodness in so technical a matter. However your phrase makes me hope a bit: will you let me know your honest opinion as to whether it is well done or not? When I was actually writing it I got worked up and wrote hardly: but in the between-spells the whole performance seemed miserable, and when I finished it I nearly burned the whole thing for the third time. The contrast between what I meant and felt I could do, and the truth of what my weakness had let me do was so pitiful. You see, there's that feeling at the back of my mind that if I really tried, sat down and wrung my mind out, the result would be on an altogether higher plane. I funk this extreme effort, for I half-killed myself as it was, doing the present draft: and I'd willingly dodge out of it. Isn't it treated wrongly? I mean, shouldn't it be objective, without the first-person-singular? And is there any style in my writing at all? Anything recognisably individual?

Apologies for bothering your eminence with 'prentice questions: but I'm mad-keen to know, even if it's to know the worst. About business. Curtis Brown - or rather Savage, his manager, served with me in the war, and is doing my money-worries on the usual 10% terms. I hate business, and would be child's play for any publisher. I believe Cape, a new publisher of the respectable sort (he runs that divine book of extracts from yourself) is first in the running for my thing: but I've told Savage that I want £300 a year, to live on, and have left it at that, with only two conditions, a. that I have the last word as to type, paper and format. b. that it be a royalty, not an out and out sale. It’s good of you to have worked up Meredith to the point of offering, and I'll tell Savage about it: but Garnett reads for Cape, and liked parts of the book: so that Cape has a special wish for it. I fancy film and serial rights are worth more than royalties: and my only motive in publishing a scrap of the book is money: so that I'm as bad as [name of publisher omitted] in the matter.

So far from getting £20,000 from Parliament I had the utmost difficulty in getting a gratuity of £110 from the War Office when they demobilised me. I'm not such a figure as you think.

You ask for details of what I'm doing in the R.A.F. Today I scrubbed the kitchen out in the morning, and loafed all the afternoon, and spent the evening writing to G.B.S. Yesterday I washed up the dishes in the sergeants' mess in the morning (messy feeders, sergeants: plates were all butter and tomato sauce, and the washing water was cold) and rode to Oxford in the afternoon on my motor-bike, and called on Hogarth to discuss the abridgement of the Arabian book. It being Christmas we do fatigues in the morning, and holiday in the afternoon. Normally I'm an 'aerial photographer, under training': it doesn't mean flying, but developing the officers' negatives after they land: and the 'under-training' part means that I'm a recruit, and therefore liable to all sorts of mis-employment. For three weeks I was an errand-boy. I've also been dustman, and clerk, and pig-stye-cleaner, and housemaid, and scullion, and camp-cinema-attendant. Anything does for airmen-recruits: but the life isn't so bad, when the first crudeness works off. We have a bed each, and suffer all sorts of penalties unless they are 25 inches apart: twelve of us in a room. Life is very common, besides being daily. Much good humour, very little wit, but a great friendliness. They treat my past as a joke, and forgive it me lightly. The officers fight shy of me: but I behave demurely, and give no trouble.

Yours sincerely

T. E. Lawrence

Source: DG 390-91
Checked: jw/
Last revised: 1 January 2006

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