Many of us know so little about this very complicated man. For most of us, all we know is what was presented to us in the four-hour cinematic epic that hit the big screen in 1962, starring Peter O’Toole. The dashing, handsome, and driven character portrayed by O’Toole was larger than life, believing in the rights of the people of the land, with a mission that compelled others by its moral stance.
But was that the true Lawrence?
Some quick biographical info: Thomas Edward Lawrence was born in Wales on August 16th in 1888, and as a young boy loved history and travel. As an Oxford student he took a trip to Syria for study, and walked over a thousand miles to study remote Crusader castles; upon graduation (with first-class honors) he decided to become an archaeologist.
Those plans were sidetracked with the start of The Great War, in which he was assigned to the British Army in Cairo. He did indeed assist in the Great Arab Revolt, let by Prince Feisal; and did indeed attack and take Aqaba. And he did indeed witness the decision that France should be “given” Syria during the Paris Peace Conference in 1919, a bitter blow.
He retired from the military and wrote his war memoirs, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which has been called “novel traveling under the cover of autobiography,” capturing Lawrence’s highly personal version of the historical events described in the book. Almost reaching the status of a cult classic, Lawrence re-wrote the book three times – including once “blind” (from memory), after he lost the then-current version of the manuscript while changing trains. First published privately in 1926, it has become a classic and copies of the scarce “Subscriber’s Edition” can command up to $100,000.
So who was the “real” T.E. Lawrence? Archaeologist, soldier, politician, author? We may never fully know, but getting your hands on a copy of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom would be a great place to begin to find out.
(N.B., above info from the Wiki and PBS web sites)