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BOOK REVIEWS university literature and history classrooms, that a passage from Seven Pillars now appears in the Longman anthology of modern British writing (intended for university use), and that a steadily increasing number of scholarly works and dissertations in history and political science as well as literature have been devoted to it and to his other writings. In fact, relatively few scholarly studies of any aspect of Lawrence's career appear in Asher's bibliography. Moreover, when Asher does comment on Lawrence's literary side, it is usually to assert an unsupported opinion. Unexceptionally, he finds that the book has "a wit and mastery of language which is far out of the ordinary . Yet it has its faults." Among the faults Asher sees is that Lawrence invented "a series of personal incidents which would give fire to the story—none of these can have been taken from his dispatches or diaries, because none of them is mentioned therein." Needless to say, the absence of documentary evidence does not prove that an event did not occur, and so Asher's own statement here is exaggerated. In fact, several letters written by Lawrence, including one to Stirling dating from 1919, soon after the war, attest for instance to the very strong probability that the Deraa incident, treated by Asher as one of Lawrence's literary inventions , did indeed occur. Perhaps Asher's most interesting literary suggestion is his comparison of Seven Pillars to Tolkien's Lord of the Rings as an epic, but he does not follow it up any more than he does any of his other literary opinions. Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia, then, is good on description and on topographical questions, but generally lacks depth of argument and research especially but not only regarding literary issues, and occasionally reveals the same tendency to exaggerate of which its author accuses Lawrence. Asher's Lawrence is a flawed human being and the subject of the century's first (and partially self-created) celebrity campaign, but still someone worthy of respect for the very real things that he did accomplish. One cannot argue with this, only note that it has been said before and more convincingly. Stephen Tabachnick The University of Memphis Exorcising "Dorian" Jerusha Hall McCormack. The Man Who Was Dorian Gray. New York: St. Martin's Press, 2000. xiv + 353 pp. $24.95 353 ELT 44 : 3 2001 THE CONTEMPORARY PATTERN having been set, apparently, by biographies written to great commercial (and even critical) success by Peter Ackroyd, gross fictional intrusions now pollute biography. Lytton Strachey at least pretended that he was purveying facts. Biographers have longed to penetrate the bedroom doors and other sanctums closed to them by absence of documentation, and more and more of them are now inventing whatever seems missing—or marketable. Ackroyd even held a conversation with the very dead Charles Dickens, the subject of one of his massive lives. Unfortunately, few reviewers have objected, and the projected profits of such gimmickry have encouraged other biographers and their publishers. For many years, with less fanfare, writers have also used diaries and letters to imagine what might have been in their subjects' minds, although it is a given that one lies to one's self in diaries and to others in letters. And biographers have sometimes reproduced as authentic dialogue lines from letters, as if one speaks as one writes. (Perhaps the circumlocutory Henry James was an exception.) One extravagant example known to me is the case of a lady, forbidden by the estate of a writer to publish his letters, who used his amatory correspondence with a mistress as pillow talk in a novelized version of the life. In another case, I discovered, visiting an archive, that a sealed collection of letters had been broken open, and reported it to the curator. (I did not want to be charged with the violation.) "Oh, that's all right," said the librarian. "The donor himself reopened them to check on something. You can look at them if you like." And I realized after the first pages that the letters had been exploited by the donor, who had bought them at auction, in a book of his...


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pp. 353-358
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Will Be Archived 2021
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