Authors: T. E. Lawrence

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

English soldier and memoirist

Author Works

Nonfiction:

Seven Pillars of Wisdom, 1922, revised 1926, 1935

Revolt in the Desert, 1927 (abridgment of Seven Pillars of Wisdom)

Crusader Castles, 1936 (2 volumes)

The Mint, 1936, revised 1955, 1973 (social criticism)

The Diary of T. E. Lawrence, MCMXI, 1937

The Letters of T. E. Lawrence, 1938

Oriental Assembly, 1939

Translation:

The Odyssey of Homer, 1932.

Biography

The biographical details of Thomas Edward Lawrence, adventurer, soldier, archaeologist, and writer, are common knowledge, though it is sometimes difficult to separate fact from fancy. Born at Tremadoc, North Wales, on August 16, 1888, he lived an unsettled childhood, as his parents–who were not married to each other–moved about between England and France. In 1896 they settled in Oxford, England. There Lawrence attended Oxford High School, where he excelled in English. Interested in local archaeology as a boy, Lawrence continued in that field of study during his undergraduate years at Jesus College, Oxford, from 1907 to 1910. During 1909 he traveled in the Near East, gathering material for his undergraduate thesis, Crusader Castles. From this time until 1914 he served in many capacities on explorations of Syria, northern Mesopotamia, and Egypt. Here he developed the knowledge and abilities that led to his legendary exploits in Arabia.{$I[AN]9810000283}{$I[A]Lawrence, T. E.}{$I[geo]ENGLAND;Lawrence, T. E.}{$I[geo]WALES;Lawrence, T. E.}{$I[tim]1888;Lawrence, T. E.}

T. E. Lawrence

(Library of Congress)

With the outbreak of war in 1914, the British Intelligence Department in Egypt appointed Lawrence staff captain, and he served in this capacity through 1916. At his own request he was then granted a leave of absence in Arabia, where he immediately began the unification of the Arab leaders in a revolt against the Ottoman (Turkish) Empire. Lawrence successfully organized border raids, attacks on caravans, and destruction of transportation and communication lines; he himself led many victorious missions. At one point, however, he was apparently captured by the Turks and raped, an incident that he treated with great ambiguity.

Many consider Lawrence’s account of the campaign, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the best adventure book of our time, perhaps of all time. The book had a curious history. From extensive notes Lawrence completed the first draft, only to lose almost the entire manuscript. He then rewrote a second draft from memory, his notes also having been destroyed. A third draft followed. The book, printed first in a limited edition in 1926, did not reach a general audience until 1935, the popular edition before that date being an abridgment entitled Revolt in the Desert.

Along with his successful resistance to the Turks, Lawrence brought his army into collaboration with the British in Syria and again aided in opening the way to Damascus. These exploits won for him top military honors, most of which he refused, and a chance to represent the Arabs at the peace conference. He retired from the army with the rank of colonel. He continued writing and rewriting his great work until 1921, when he became a political adviser on Near Eastern affairs for the Colonial Office.

Lawrence’s abhorrence of publicity, distrust of politics, and general antipathy toward society eventually forced him into a number of disguises. In 1922 he enlisted in the Royal Air Force as John Hume Ross, only to receive a discharge after his identity was discovered. As Private T. E. Shaw, he served in the Royal Tank Corps and later rejoined the Royal Air Force under the same name. After honorable service in England and India, he received a discharge a few months before his death, the result of a motorcycle accident, on May 19, 1935.

In the years since his death, Lawrence has attracted more attention, if that is possible, than he did in his lifetime. Of his boyhood and youth the record is now nearly complete, a fascinating revelation of a mercurial and universal mind that could grasp language, science, literature, and history, and still allow its owner to travel, fight, converse, and write in a whirlpool of energy and activity. Many questions surround his exploits in Arabia, however, and these and his subsequent flight from fame may never be fully understood.

BibliographyJames, Lawrence. The Golden Warrior: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia. Rev. ed. New York: Paragon, 1994. Many aspects of Lawrence’s life remain in dispute, and they are highlighted here.Lawrence, T. E. T. E. Lawrence: Selected Letters. New York: Norton, 1989.Mack, John. A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T. E. Lawrence. Reprint. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998. The most penetrating psychological study.O’Brien, Philip. T. E. Lawrence: A Bibliography. 2d rev. ed. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press, 2000. A guide to writings by and about Lawrence.Stang, Charles M., ed. The Waking Dream of T. E. Lawrence: Essays on His Life, Literature, and Legacy. London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2002. A wide-ranging collection of essays that explore aspects of Lawrence usually overlooked in the shadow of his legend.Stewart, Desmond. T. E. Lawrence. London: Hamish Hamilton, 1977. A well-researched critical study which has some interesting observations on British intelligence work during World War I. On certain issues, the author has gone beyond British records and consulted German documents as well as some Arabic materials. On some points, Stewart contests Lawrence’s veracity in a most severe fashion.Tabachnick, Stephen Ely. T. E. Lawrence. Rev. ed. New York: Twayne, 1997. A good survey for the general reader.Wilson, Jeremy. Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T. E. Lawrence. London: Heinemann, 1989.Yardley, Michael. T. E. Lawrence: A Biography. London: Harrap, 1985. This sprightly work is based in part upon newspaper accounts from the period as well as British military and diplomatic archives. The author concludes with an assessment of past writing on his subject and a discussion of the numerous means, including film and drama, through which Lawrence’s exploits have been made a continuing source of fascination for many.
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