T. E. Lawrence and the Shaws
On July 22, 1922, T. E. Lawrence wrote to George Bernard Shaw asking him to read a long book he had printed but not published: Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Lawrence’s ambivalent attitude towards his work—he realized its importance but was disgusted by it—comes out in the letter. Lawrence claims “I am not a writer, and successfully passed the age of 30 without having wanted to write anything” (4). But he portrays himself as feeling compelled to have written the book: “I was brought up as a professional historian, which means the worship of original documents. To my astonishment, after peace came I found I was myself the sole person who knew what had happened in Arabia during the war: and the only literate person in the Arab Army. So it became a professional duty to record what happened” (4).1 To some extent, I think it is right to take these words at face value. He did feel, at times, as if his writing were more of a duty than an opportunity. In his correspondence with the Shaws, in his dealings with publishers, and in his choice to turn his back on a fellowship at All Soul’s, Oxford, for a life as an enlisted soldier, Lawrence repeatedly chose a route that was not opportunistic, comfortable, easy, or profitable.
KeywordsPrime Minister Great Book English Letter Tomato Sauce Rare Book
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- 1.T. E. Lawrence, Jeremy and Nicole Wilson, eds., Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw 1922–1926 (Fordingbridge: Castle Hill Press, 2000); unless otherwise noted, page numbers in this essay refer to this edition.Google Scholar
- 2.See Jeremy Wilson, Lawrence of Arabia: The Authorised Biography of T.E. Lawrence (London: Heinemann, 1989), 637–38.Google Scholar