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  • T. E. Lawrence, Forster & Lucas
  • Stephen E. Tabachnick
T. E. Lawrence: Correspondence with E. M. Forster and F. L. Lucas. Jeremy and Nicole Wilson, eds. Fordingbridge, Hants.: Castle Hill Press, 2010. xxiv + 312 pp. Cloth £125.00

One of the indications of T. E. Lawrence's literary status is the very high regard in which his Seven Pillars of Wisdom was held by many of the major writers of his own period. Thomas Hardy, George Bernard Shaw, Robert Graves, and E. M. Forster, among others, all stated unequivocally that it was a masterpiece. Lawrence's personal and literary relationship with Forster was particularly close and bore important literary results for both men. In a famous letter of February 1924 in which Forster offers Lawrence brilliant, detailed criticism of the early 1922 draft of Seven Pillars, Forster concludes by mentioning that Lawrence's book helped him finish a book of his own, A Passage to India. Clearly, the Lawrence-Forster relationship had benefits for both men's writing, and their correspondence offers us an intimate glimpse of two first-rate literary minds at work.

This is volume five in the series of Lawrence correspondence edited by the Wilsons and printed by them on their Castle Hill Press. The Wilsons' publication of Lawrence's complete correspondence (and their additional publication of his manuscripts, including the 1922 text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom) is undoubtedly the most important Lawrence project currently being undertaken, one for which Lawrence (and other) scholars will be very grateful now and in the future. Although many of these letters are available in earlier collections, not all of them are; and this volume, like the earlier volumes in the series, has the advantage of notes by the Wilsons, which sparingly but tellingly illuminate some of the important and ambiguous points in the letters. The volume also includes a chronology of meetings between Lawrence and Forster and Lawrence and Lucas.

In addition, this volume includes not only important published items that can be found in other publications, such as Forster's 1935 review of Seven Pillars in the Listener and his contribution to the essay collection T. E. Lawrence by His Friends (edited by Lawrence's brother A. W. Lawrence), but also previously unpublished material, such as a draft [End Page 394] of Forster's proposed introduction to the opening section of The Letters of T. E. Lawrence. (Forster was invited to edit that important project by A.W., but he withdrew from it because of legal anxieties; it was eventually edited by David Garnett.) The volume also includes an early draft of Forster's story "Doctor Woolacott," which he sent to Lawrence for comment, as well as correspondence containing Lawrence's high praise of that story. The Wilsons have saved scholars trips to far-flung libraries in Britain and the U.S. in search of some of these materials, and whether individual items have been previously published or not, it is wonderfully convenient to have them all available in one place. I should add that the clothbound review copy that I have contains a valuable twenty-four-page supplement of letters relating to Forster's projected edition of T. E. Lawrence's letters, and which is now available only in the quarter and full goatskin-bound volumes, which cost £250 and £415, respectively.

The Lawrence-Lucas correspondence is also good to have, if not as important as the Lawrence-Forster letters. However worthy a literary figure the King's College, Cambridge, Fellow Frank Laurence Lucas was as the author of poems, plays and novels and as the scholarly editor of John Webster's work, his status as a writer does not approach Forster's; and in any case, we have very little correspondence between Lawrence and Lucas compared to the dozens of letters between Lawrence and Forster. But Lawrence was an enthusiastic proponent of Lucas's poems, and Lucas thought Seven Pillars of Wisdom "superb" and tried to allay Lawrence's literary self-denigration, which is a constant throughout much of Lawrence's correspondence regardless of the person to whom he is writing. Moreover, Lucas is very honest about the difference in quality between the masterpiece Seven Pillars of...


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