Updated June 2012
T. E. Lawrence to F. L. Lucas
I have now read Cecile, for a first time. After I have read it again I will feel more sure of what I think about it. That is the worst of my slug-like mind. It delays its impressions far beyond most men's.
However I am pretty sure about some things - and the first is your advance as a novelist. That first book was very good: it had higher lights than this: but there is no comparison in sustained weight and momentum. This books hangs solidly together and goes forward, all in a piece.
Also your range widens. There are excellent main characters: or not perhaps excellent, but credible and vivid and diverse and likely. Yet it is in minor pages that your skill shows itself best, amongst the people brought in just for a moment, to adorn an angle and deflect your current. That picture of the King, and Vergennes and Gaston, near the end. That is magnificent. You got, there, as near to the reality of a royal audience as anyone could.
Landscape and atmosphere, sun and light and wind and cloud and rain, one takes for granted from you. After all, they have been perfectly done in your poetry. Sometimes I felt them a few lines too long. The novel is (more than you perhaps realised) a novel of action, and one grudges a little anything that delays its speed. I do not think this is a criticism. I would not take anything out. The landscapes, the arguments, the politics-and-meaning-of-the-universe-discussions, are so many whets to sharpen us in search of the next move of your people.
I fancy this is not wholly what you intended. You were trying to write a study of the inter-actions of marriage and companionship upon a group of characters: and you were more keen on their psychology than upon their doings. Well, each man to his taste. I was more interested in what these various people did - in the expressions of their moods in action, than in the moods themselves. That happens to be my make-up.
I can see, too, that in writing Cecile you were, in a sense, clearing up your own history. So far, good. I think there is a very rational balance and proportion - sanity almost - in all but Gabriel who hardly comes off. Yet I have a brother who is a saint, and so I know how baffling saints are.
The talk is one of the best things in your advance. You can now handle conversation, and keep the threads distinct. That is uncommon. I think you will write more novels. This deliberate and successful expression of yourself through the mouths of a battalion is significant. Yet I'd give all the novels in the world for 1/1000th of its poetry. What is it that makes a tiny poem seem infinite, and a great novel too short?
The dedication makes me feel quite warm all over. It was ever so good of you: for I'm a bit of a renegade in letters. Probably if I went on trying I could achieve more second-rate work: and do not think it worth while. My jobs in the R.A.F. seem more useful.
|Last revised:||31 January 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