T. E. Lawrence to E. M. Forster
You get my first letter this week: anyway. Nearly I gave you my last letter of last week: but I had dysentery, and the flesh, being weak, suspected that the head was weak also. So I gave it a few days to settle down. All is very well now.
Your booklet (such a little one!) on The Novel is superb. No other word fits it, because there's a complete lack of superbity about the manner and matter of it. So that the total effect is superb shows that the novel really belongs to you. It's like sitting at the feet of Adam, while he lectures to a University Extension Society about the growth and development of gardens. As soon as it came I rolled it out flat, and galloped through it: the names of some of the books and people I liked or disliked were in it, all right. Two days later I galloped across it again, seeing more of them: and this week, if my stretching and shrinking eyes will hold themselves to a page for an hour - this week I'm going to begin to digest it. There's a curious difference in tone, between you and Lubbock. One treats the novel rather like the glazed unapproachable pictures in a public gallery. The other talks of novels as though they were things one writes. I expect you will find it one of the best-selling of your works.
However more of this later. I have really been ill, and sick men do not make good judges. Perhaps it isn't so enthralling as my imprisoned senses make it. [12 lines omitted]
Your portrait-purchase I find very subtle of you. Now Frederic Manning always spells it 'subtile'. Do you know F.M.? Scenes and Portraits is all of him I know: though also he wrote a life of Sir Wm. White: and a picture of life seen through the eye of an organ-grinder's ape. Scenes and Portraits was good. That first picture of the court of the King of Uruk, and of Adam and Eve in the water-melon field, sticks in my very inaccurate memory. Also the picture of Macchiavelli: and the long sermon which Paul preached.
By the way you called your novel-book a saucerful of last week's grapenuts'. And I called The Seven Pillars a 'builders' yard'. We do well in decrying our goods. Only you have the inestimable sauce of wit to make your seriousness tasty. The other day someone (disappointed) sent me a Revolt in the Desert to autograph. Before returning it I read some of it. Punk, of course: but better, so far as form and unity and speed and compactness went, than The Seven Pillars. Should I have mightily abridged The Seven Pillars before issuing it to subscribers? Say to a half? However I trust much to your collation. Robert Graves says he likes the Oxford text better. Its faults make it less chilly than the S.P., to his diaphragm.
I'm sorry your short story isn't publishable. As you said, the other one wouldn't do for general circulation. Not that there was a wrong thing in it: but the wrong people would run about enlarging their mouths over you. It is a pity such creatures must exist. The Royal Geographical Journal, and Journal of the Central Asian Society, two learned societies, both found Revolt in the Desert indecent. It seems almost incredible.
I wanted to read your long novel, and was afraid to. It was like your last keep, I felt: and if I read it I had you: and supposing I hadn't liked it? I'm so funnily made up, sensually. At present you are in all respects right, in my eyes: that's because you reserve so very much, as I do. If you knew all about me (perhaps you do: your subtlety is very great: shall I put it 'if I knew that you knew...'?) you'd think very little of me. And I wouldn't like to feel that I was on the way to being able to know about you. However perhaps the unpublished novel isn't all that. You may have kept ever so much out of it. Everywhere else you write far within your strength.
I've been lending your books a good deal, lately, in camp. I can't get them to like The Omnibus, nor The Longest Journey. Howards End is handed on with commendations from one to another. I have not had it on the shelf more than a day or two for the last six weeks. Passage goes out, and comes back, the returning airman being usually puzzled and slightly resentful. 'He doesn't clear things up much', they say: not seeing that you have, at least, cleared a mist of reality from their eyes. Yes, I'd like to see Virginia Woolf's effort: and I'll read your new collection of old stories: and if you dedicate anything to me I'll wear the first page of it as an identity disc. So that when I die the chaplains will know what sort of burial service to give the body. I suppose the new stories date from The Omnibus and Journey period. If so they will be very helpful. There is a charm, technically, between The Journey and the other books. The deaths in The Journey all happen in a half-line, off-stage, looking back over your shoulder, as you write. Nothing of the sort anywhere else in your writings.
|Last revised:||10 February 2006|
T. E. Lawrence chronology
1888 16 August: born at Tremadoc, Wales
1896-1907: City of Oxford High School for Boys
1907-9: Jesus College, Oxford, B.A., 1st Class Hons, 1909
1910-14: Magdalen College, Oxford (Senior Demy), while working at the British Museum's excavations at Carchemish
1915-16: Military Intelligence Dept, Cairo
1916-18: Liaison Officer with the Arab Revolt
1919: Attended the Paris Peace Conference
1919-22: wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1921-2: Adviser on Arab Affairs to Winston Churchill at the Colonial Office
1922 August: Enlisted in the Ranks of the RAF
1923 January: discharged from the RAF
1923 March: enlisted in the Tank Corps
1923: translated a French novel, The Forest Giant
1924-6: prepared the subscribers' abridgement of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
1927-8: stationed at Karachi, then Miranshah
1927 March: Revolt in the Desert, an abridgement of Seven Pillars, published
1928: completed The Mint, began translating Homer's Odyssey
1929-33: stationed at Plymouth
1931: started working on RAF boats
1932: his translation of the Odyssey published
1933-5: attached to MAEE, Felixstowe
1935 February: retired from the RAF
1935 19 May: died from injuries received in a motor-cycle crash on 13 May
1935 21 May: buried at Moreton, Dorset