Do YOU personally have any opinion on the accuracy of the film's portrayal of Lawrence? :)

Asked by Anonymous

I appreciate the film in a way that is separate from my appreciation of T.E. Lawrence. When I watch the film, I don’t see T.E. in O’Toole’s portrayal of him. We’re talking about a tall, incredibly handsome actor playing a guy who was only 5’5” tall, introverted, probably awkward and unconventional. Despite the inaccuracies and despite the fact I see so little of the historical Lawrence in O’Toole’s big screen portrayal, I still love the film.

Also, you know, I feel profoundly dejected over it all. It reads to me inferior to nearly every book which I have found patience to read… and that is many. If it is the best I can do with a pen, then it’s better for me to hump a rifle or spade about; and I fear it’s the best I can write. It went through four versions in the four years I struggled with it, and I gave it all my nights and days till I was nearly blind and mad. The failure of it was mainly what broke my nerves, and sent me into the R.A.F… .where I found six months of full contentment. The Army is a sad substitute.

T.E. Lawrence to E.M. Forster, February 1924. Here Lawrence is describing the perceived failure of his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

“About 1917 Lawrence had a canteen set made in Jidda to his own design. It included the plate, bowl, and spoon which he carried and used throughout the desert campaigns.”

About 1917 Lawrence had a canteen set made in Jidda to his own design. It included the plate, bowl, and spoon which he carried and used throughout the desert campaigns.”

He made a great drawing of it: it’s a very splendid work of art: better so than as portrait: because he’s turned you from flesh into metal, & made you so fierce and warlike that my blood runs cold to see it. It’s uncannily like, & yet so much harder. Perhaps it’s the being drawn which drew you so much together: or else it’s family cares. Any way time will make your face like that, & will leave the hair only a regretted memory. Who brushed it?
[…] It’s hard for a youngster to be so great an artist, & to know it, & to be unable to sell anything. However his head of you marks a step in advance of anything he’s done to date. It ought to go to the Tate Gallery. I suppose you don’t mind it’s bearing your name if shown? I took it to Kennington, who wondered at it. I’ll get Roberts to do two or three others: because by itself it would look too pointedly excellent.
Do you hate it? and did Mrs. N? Some day I’ll have prints of it for you.
-T.E. Lawrence to Colonel S.F. Newcombe, August 1922. Lawrence is referring to the above drawing, which he commissioned from war artist William Roberts for his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

He made a great drawing of it: it’s a very splendid work of art: better so than as portrait: because he’s turned you from flesh into metal, & made you so fierce and warlike that my blood runs cold to see it. It’s uncannily like, & yet so much harder. Perhaps it’s the being drawn which drew you so much together: or else it’s family cares. Any way time will make your face like that, & will leave the hair only a regretted memory. Who brushed it?

[…] It’s hard for a youngster to be so great an artist, & to know it, & to be unable to sell anything. However his head of you marks a step in advance of anything he’s done to date. It ought to go to the Tate Gallery. I suppose you don’t mind it’s bearing your name if shown? I took it to Kennington, who wondered at it. I’ll get Roberts to do two or three others: because by itself it would look too pointedly excellent.


Do you hate it? and did Mrs. N? Some day I’ll have prints of it for you.

-T.E. Lawrence to Colonel S.F. Newcombe, August 1922. Lawrence is referring to the above drawing, which he commissioned from war artist William Roberts for his book Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Folio Society’s edition of T.E. Lawrence’s Crusader Castles. 
Before he became famous throughout the world as Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his undergraduate thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’. Lawrence’s brilliant observations have since been confirmed by modern research. Moreover, the thesis and correspondence that make up Crusader Castles give us an insight into both Lawrence’s fascination with the Crusades and his origins as an adventurer.
After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence crossed Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.
Source: http://www.foliosociety.com/book/CCT/crusader-castles

Folio Society’s edition of T.E. Lawrence’s Crusader Castles.

Before he became famous throughout the world as Lawrence of Arabia, T. E. Lawrence travelled through Britain, France, Syria and Palestine to research his undergraduate thesis on ‘The Influence of the Crusades on European Military Architecture to the End of the Twelfth Century’. Lawrence’s brilliant observations have since been confirmed by modern research. Moreover, the thesis and correspondence that make up Crusader Castles give us an insight into both Lawrence’s fascination with the Crusades and his origins as an adventurer.

After visiting the major sites in England and Wales, Lawrence crossed Ottoman-controlled Syria on foot and by bicycle. He wanted to prove that, contrary to the received wisdom of the time, the castles built by the Normans during their campaigns were not influenced by Byzantine architecture, but conformed to a purely Western model. In 1909, Syria and the Holy Land were remote and dangerous destinations, and few historians had actually seen a crusader castle. His 1,100-mile journey was arduous in the extreme, but Lawrence succeeded in seeing 36 of the 50 castles on his itinerary, and acquired a taste for adventure. Letters home express his thrill at travelling incognito and immersing himself in Arabic culture. ‘I will have such difficulty in becoming English again: here I am Arab in habits, and slip in talking from English to French and Arabic unnoticing.


Source: http://www.foliosociety.com/book/CCT/crusader-castles

Miss Gertrude Bell called last Sunday, & we showed her all of our finds, and she told us all hers. We parted with mutual expressions of esteem: but she told Thompson his ideas of digging were prehistoric: and so we had to squash her with a display of erudition. She was taken (in 5 minutes) over Byzantine, Crusader, Roman, Hittite, & French architecture (my part) and over Greek folk-lore, Assyrian architecture, & Mesopotamian Ethnology (by Thompson); Prehistoric pottery & telephoto lenses, Bronze Age metal technique, Meredith, Anatole France, and the Octobrists (by me): the Young Turk movement, the construct state in Arabic, the price of riding camels, Assyrian burial-customs, and German methods of excavation with the Baghdad railway (by Thompson). This was a kind of hors d’oeuvre: and when it was over (she was getting more respectful) we settled down each to seven or eight subjects & questioned her upon them. She was quite glad to have tea after an hour and a half, & on going told Thompson that he had done wonders in his digging in the time, and that she thought we had got everything out of the place that could possibly have been got: she particularly admired the completeness of our note-books.

So we did for her. She was really too captious at first, coming straight from the German diggings at Kala’at Shirgat, where they lay down gravel paths wherever they want to prove an ancient floor, & where they pile up their loose stones into walls of palaces. Our digs are I hope more accurate, if less perfect. They involve no ‘reconstruction,’ which ruin all these Teutons. So we showed her that, & left her limp, but impressed. She is pleasant, about 36 [she was 43], not beautiful, (except with a veil on, perhaps). It would have been most annoying if she had denounced our methods in print. I don’t think she will.

-T.E. Lawrence to his mother, May 1911. This was written while he was in Carchemish on an archaeological dig with D.G. Hogarth and Leonard Woolley.

The photo shows T.E. Lawrence and Gertrude Bell in Egypt, much later (I think 1919). One would hope his opinion of her had improved by that time. I am interested to see how this sort of interaction will be handled (if at all) in the upcoming Werner Herzog film.

T.E. Lawrence in sculpture. Starting from the top left: Lawrence bust by Eric Kennington at Jesus College, bust by Francis Derwent Wood held at the Imperial War Museum in London, Lawrence effigy by Eric Kennington in St. Martin’s Church, Wareham, Dorset, and finally the Oxford High School commemoration plaque dedicated to Lawrence as he attended school there from 1896 to 1907.

Minimalist graphic art interpretation for the cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Minimalist graphic art interpretation for the cover of Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

Do you know if any of Lady Astor's letters to Lawrence still exist? I haven't been able to find even one.

Asked by thisisaslongas

I’ve personally never come across any online. I see that the University of Reading has a collection of her letters in their special archives. I did find this book of correspondence between G.B. Shaw and Lady Astor! http://www.amazon.com/Bernard-Nancy-Astor-Selected-Correspondence/dp/0802037526

Do any readers have any other leads to letters from Lady Astor to T.E.?

“Lawrence kept the terracotta animal figure (Hittite horse and rider) in his room at All Souls College in Oxford after the war. It dates from the ninth century BC and comes from the area of his excavations at Carchemish.”

Lawrence kept the terracotta animal figure (Hittite horse and rider) in his room at All Souls College in Oxford after the war. It dates from the ninth century BC and comes from the area of his excavations at Carchemish.”

Three of my favorite Lawrence quotes:
"Compare us. I’ve tried to sculpt: - failure: to write: - failure. I’ve made other people a lot of money: but can’t bear to keep any of it for myself. I’ve argued myself out of creation: and go on living because it is the line of least resistance, and go on learning because the more one learns the less one knows, and some day I may attain perfect ignorance that way." 
“To imagine ourselves—because we are freaks—to be therefore rare and admirable creations is to deceive ourselves. Two-headed chickens and Siamese twins are rare—and unfortunate. Generally they are bottled young.” 
"My mother does not encourage kindness, in her brisk utility: but when she receives it, she is touched. No wonder all her children are queer. With such a father (you did not know him … before your time) and such a mother, we have no chance of being useful citizens of this great country. If only they sold tickets to the Moon now! I think they would elect me President there."

Three of my favorite Lawrence quotes:

"Compare us. I’ve tried to sculpt: - failure: to write: - failure. I’ve made other people a lot of money: but can’t bear to keep any of it for myself. I’ve argued myself out of creation: and go on living because it is the line of least resistance, and go on learning because the more one learns the less one knows, and some day I may attain perfect ignorance that way." 

To imagine ourselves—because we are freaks—to be therefore rare and admirable creations is to deceive ourselves. Two-headed chickens and Siamese twins are rare—and unfortunate. Generally they are bottled young.” 

"My mother does not encourage kindness, in her brisk utility: but when she receives it, she is touched. No wonder all her children are queer. With such a father (you did not know him … before your time) and such a mother, we have no chance of being useful citizens of this great country. If only they sold tickets to the Moon now! I think they would elect me President there."

Was Ned gay?

Asked by Anonymous

Wow, asking the tough questions tonight! But I suppose I should have expected the age-old question of Lawrence’s sexuality. I guess I will start by saying that sexuality is such a delicately nuanced issue. I hate this obsession with finding labels for people, especially people like Lawrence who clearly defied any sort of conventional label. But, if you must ask my opinion, I will say that I believe he was asexual with some homosexual tendencies. I don’t think he could be defined as heterosexual in any conventional sense. He distrusted and avoided most women and usually stuck to older, married (and thus safe) female companions. He had many interesting and unconventional relationships with men: Dahoum and John Bruce being the two most famous. But he did have an opportunity to be with a gay man, his childhood friend Vyvyan Richards — but Richards later claimed that nothing ever occurred and that his relationship with Lawrence was purely platonic, despite Richard’s best attempts to win Lawrence over.

Sometimes I wonder if there has been (almost certainly there has been) some destroyed correspondence that would shed more light on this issue. Someone (perhaps his brother Arnold) fearing for Lawrence’s reputation in posterity destroyed some evidence. I think it’s very likely. But in the end, I think the nature of Lawrence’s sexuality is unknown and unknowable.

Photos, quotes, and other tidbits based on the life and legend of T.E. Lawrence, more commonly known as Lawrence of Arabia. Please use the links at the top of the page (specifically the "Tags" link) in order to find more information about specific aspects of T.E. Lawrence's life.


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