- Lawrence of Arabia and the Shaws
Owing to the efforts of scholars in many fields, including military history, political science, and English literature, T. E. Lawrence—or Lawrence of Arabia, as he is more widely known—has become justifiably celebrated in academe for many achievements, including and ranging beyond his successful leadership of the Bedouin tribes against the Turks during World War I. For those interested in literature, those achievements include Seven Pillars of Wisdom, detailing his Arabian adventures and his thoughts about them; The Mint, his record of his subsequent service in the RAF as an [End Page 182] airman, or private; and his prose translation of Homer's Odyssey. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in particular, was highly praised by the significant writers of his own period, including Thomas Hardy, Robert Graves, E. M. Forster, and Bernard Shaw, and it continues to be studied, as a steady stream of Ph.D. dissertations emanating from universities around the world demonstrates.
The ongoing publishing and editing project of authorized Lawrence biographer Jeremy Wilson and his wife Nicole, whose purpose is to publish all of Lawrence's writings in authoritative editions, will help keep Lawrence in the academic spotlight for some time to come. In their four volumes of correspondence between Lawrence, G.B.S. and Charlotte Shaw, the Wilsons have gathered much unpublished as well as previously published correspondence, some of which is available only in British and American rare-books libraries, and for that alone we must be very grateful. Even material available in other previously published but not always easy to access venues is handily brought together in this final volume, as in the earlier volumes in the set. The Wilsons' previous volumes of Lawrence/Shaw correspondence are divided into the years 1922-26, 1927, and 1928. As in all of their published volumes of correspondence between Lawrence and his literary friends—including, for instance, Henry Williamson, E. M. Forster, and F. L. Lucas—the Wilsons have kept their editorial apparatus to a tasteful minimum. At the same time, Jeremy Wilson's introduction to the volume and the commentaries, as well as the footnotes on individual letters and other items interspersed in this as in all the correspondence volumes, are very informative and valuable. (One small mistake in this volume, however, occurs on page 22, where Robert Graves's birth and death dates of 1895 and 1985 are wrongly stated.)
Shaw's friendship with Lawrence had the complexity characteristic of many relationships between writers with strong personalities, in this case, an eccentric amateur writer of genius lacking confidence and a famous, experienced professional. Perhaps most important, Shaw found Lawrence unusual enough as a personality to provide him with the basis for the affectionate caricature that appears as the character Private Napoleon Alexander Trotsky Meek in Shaw's Too True to Be Good; and Lawrence's personality certainly influenced Shaw's Saint Joan as well. Shaw apparently accepted Lawrence's suggestions for the improvement of Too True to Be Good, which were included in Lawrence's letter to Charlotte of 9 January 1932; and that is certainly one of the most informative letters in this volume.
But while Lawrence and Shaw maintained a respectful, if somewhat distant, writerly relationship with one another, Lawrence's connection with Shaw's wife, Charlotte, to whom the vast majority of the letters in this and [End Page 183] the other volumes are addressed, is most notable for its spiritual intimacy. Lawrence seems to have regarded Charlotte as almost a second mother, confessing to her alone traumatic personal secrets, most prominently his statement in a letter of 1924 that, to escape further torture, he allowed himself to be raped by the Turks when he was captured at Deraa, Syria, a statement that does not appear in the ambiguous account of this incident in Seven Pillars of Wisdom. But as Jeremy Wilson comments in his introduction to this final volume, when after his wife's death Shaw...