Mild consternation must often have afflicted browsers looking for T. E. Lawrence’s Seven Pillars of Wisdom in bookstores. Without the kind of help provided by overqualified clerks in such academic enclaves as Cambridge or Hyde Park, the aspirant reader may very well travel from the autobiography section of the store to the history section and then to the gay and lesbian section and then to the Middle East section only accidentally to see the book shelved with other memoirs. The classification problem that Lawrence’s masterpiece poses for those engaged in literature as a commercial venture and for those pursuing reading as an edifying mode of leisure is, admittedly, trivial. But for those who read to enhance or discover a mode of life—for those, in other words, who read in the great tradition Lawrence clearly appeals to throughout this book—its unusual formal structure, the problems of classification it poses, are not trivial vexations but extraordinary calls to transcendence. On its title page Lawrence christened the book “a triumph.” What would it mean to take him at his word, to think of Seven Pillars of Wisdom as not only about triumph, but to think of it as a new genre called “a triumph,” a new literary form that imaginatively instantiates, and so permanently makes known, whatever value Lawrence thought “triumph” gave to life?
KeywordsTitle Page Personal Ambition Edify Mode Commercial Venture Epic Mode
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- 1.Simon Hornblower and Anthony Spawforth, eds., The Oxford Classical Dictionary: The Ultimate Reference Work on the Classical World (Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 1996), 1554.Google Scholar
- 2.T. E. Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom (Garden City, New York: Double-day, Doran & Company, 1935), 29.Google Scholar
- 3.Ibid., 5.Google Scholar
- 4.Ibid., 5.Google Scholar
- 7.William Shakespeare, Hamlet (London and New York: Methuen, 1982), 228.Google Scholar