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  • TEL's War in the Desert
  • Stephen E. Tabachnick

T. E. Lawrence. War in the Desert. Jeremy and Nicole Wilson, eds. Castle Hill Press, 2016. 404 pp. £245.00

IN 1922, T. E. LAWRENCE completed the manuscript of Seven Pillars of Wisdom and had eight copies printed on the press of the Oxford Times. He then abridged this manuscript (now in the Bodleian Library) which contained 335,000 words. The 250,000 word abridgement became the 1926 edition—printed for 211 subscribers—which was then published in 1935 for the general public. It is the standard version and has never gone out of print since 1935. In 1927, he abridged the 1926/1935 Seven Pillars of Wisdom which, under the title Revolt in the Desert, contained 130,000 words, and became a best-seller.

To their great credit, Jeremy and Nicole Wilson long ago published the 1922 text—as a "best text" including Lawrence's emendations—and the 1926 subscribers' edition using the best paper and print possible as well as very high-quality bindings. Sadly, Jeremy Wilson died in 2017, and War in the Desert—the manuscript of which is in the Houghton Library at Harvard—is the last volume to which he would contribute an introduction in his and his wife Nicole's wonderful Castle Hill Press series of Lawrence's writings and correspondence. Because War in the Desert is so little-known, this edition, including Wilson's excellent, very informative introduction, is a fitting tribute to a distinguished Lawrence scholar, who also wrote the best Lawrence biography (out of over fifty published to date) and will be greatly missed by all Lawrentians.

War in the Desert, another abridged version of the 1922 manuscript, was created by Edward Garnett—an advisor to Jonathan Cape, who would become Lawrence's Seven Pillars publisher—and Lawrence in 1922. At 160,000 words, War in the Desert is shorter than the 1926 edition but, with seventy-seven chapters, is longer than Revolt in the Desert, which has thirty-three chapters. This little-known version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom like Revolt in the Desert gives the story of the war of the Arabs against the Turks during World War I, without going into detail about Lawrence's own personality unlike the 1926/1935 Seven Pillars of Wisdom. It was not published largely because George Bernard Shaw, whose wife Charlotte was a close friend of Lawrence's, did not think it a wise thing to do because he thought that its publication [End Page 294] might prevent the publication of the full Seven Pillars. The opening chapters are the same as those in the 1926/1935 Seven Pillars; they give the history of the Arabs before and during Turkish rule, including a description of Feisal and his father, Sherif Hussein of Mecca, and a brief history of the growth of the Turkish empire in Arabia, as well as an understanding of the territory in which the Revolt took place. Starting with chapter 8, War in the Desert begins telling the story of Lawrence's personal acquaintance with the Arabs and his journeys among them during the ten days he was sent to study the situation. It also mentions his reading of Le Morte d'Arthur, one of his favorite works of literature. The story of his return to the Arabs after his report to his British military superiors in Egypt, and adjustment to his new circumstances and to the situation of the Arabs at war remains as it is in the 1926/35 edition except for some omitted events. Most importantly, such major military successes as the march to and conquest of Akaba are included, if not in quite as much detail as in the full edition.

Some traumatic combat-related events are included, such as his execution of Hamed for having killed another Arab to prevent clashes between two Beduin tribes in Feisal's army, including Lawrence's feeling of faintness afterward. The death of Talal, an excellent leader, which Lawrence regrets tremendously, is also here. On the more positive side, he includes his very trying ten days of fever and boils during which he devised a long-term strategy for...


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