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T. E. Lawrence (Thomas Edward ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ Lawrence) Biography

(1888–1935), (Thomas Edward ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ Lawrence), Crusader Castles, The Wilderness of Zin

British soldier and writer, born at Tremadoc, Caernarvonshire, the illegitimate son of an Anglo-Irish baronet and a governess, educated at Oxford High School and Jesus College, Oxford; his undergraduate dissertation on the military architecture of the Middle East was published with a collection of his letters as Crusader Castles (two volumes, 1936). In 1910 he was sent to assist with the excavations at Carchemish, on the banks of the Euphrates, by D. G. Hogarth, from whom he had acquired his interest in Middle Eastern archaeology as a student. He worked at the Carchemish site until 1914, achieving some conversational fluency in Arabic, acquiring a taste for the food and clothing of the Arabs, and becoming active on behalf of British military intelligence. The report of his survey of the Negev region in 1914 was published as The Wilderness of Zin (with C. L. Woolley, 1915). Following the formation in 1915 of Hogarth's Arab Bureau in Cairo, Lawrence liaised between the British and the Arabs, organizing a highly effective campaign of guerrilla warfare against the Turkish army in Syria which culminated in his forces' entry into Damascus in 1918. The Seven Pillars of Wisdom: A Triumph, his celebrated autobiographical account of the conflict, was privately printed in 1926 and posthumously published in a commercial edition in 1935; an abridgement appeared in 1927 under the title Revolt in the Desert. Despite its sometimes cumbrously ornate style, the work remains a compelling and self-revealing testimony to Lawrence's deep admiration and affection for the Arabs and their culture. He attended the Versailles Peace Conference on behalf of the Arab States and in 19212 served under W. S. Churchill as an adviser to the Middle Eastern Department of the Colonial Office, resigning out of his disillusionment with Britain's policy in the Middle East, which he saw as manipulating Arab interests. From 1922 onward he sought anonymity, repudiating the fame generated by his heroic reputation as ‘Lawrence of Arabia’ and serving as an enlisted man in the RAF and the tank corps under the successive pseudonyms ‘J. H. Ross’ and ‘T. E. Shaw’; he legally adopted the latter in 1927. His documentary record of conditions in the ranks appeared as The Mint in 1936. Lawrence died of injuries following a crash on his motorcycle shortly after he left the RAF. Notable among his other writings are a prose translation of The Odyssey (1932), which Maurice Bowra admired, and the Letters (edited by D. Garnett, 1938); his correspondents included Thomas Hardy, John Buchan, E. M. Forster, Siegfried Sassoon, and George Bernard Shaw, the last-named's wife Charlotte becoming Lawrence's confidante; Oriental Assembly (edited by A. W. Lawrence, 1939) is a miscellany of previously uncollected pieces. The powerful appeal of his profoundly ambivalent and intriguingly complex personality has made Lawrence the subject of many biographical treatments, among which B. H. Liddell Hart's T. E. Lawrence in Arabia and After (1934), John Mack's A Prince of Our Disorder (1976), and J. M. Wilson's voluminous T. E. Lawrence (1989) may be mentioned. The numerous imaginative works which are strongly informed by their authors' conceptions of Lawrence include Shaw's Too True To Be Good (1932), W. H. Auden's The Ascent of F6 (1936), and Terence Rattigan's Ross (1960).

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Literature Reference: American Literature, English Literature, Classics & Modern FictionEncyclopedia of Literature: Mary Lavin Biography to Light Shining in Buckinghamshire