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Lawrence of Arabia – Again!

Lawrence of Arabia – Again!

I’m about half way through Hero: The Life and Legend of Lawrence of Arabia, and I’m still none the wiser about what made the man tick.  The book unearths no hitherto unknown events, the facts of his life having been well-documented by scholars, friends and antagonists alike.  Nor does Hero offer, as far as I can tell, fresh insights into its subject’s character, which is hardly surprising as the fellow has been subjected to posthumous psycho-analysis for over half a century.    

None of which is to criticise the author, David Korda, who’s done a workmanlike job recounting in great detail Lawrence’s childhood, his university days, his time as an archaeologist and, of course, his role in the British-sponsored Arab revolt against the Turks.  The book is very readable.

But I’m still left wondering why Mr. Korda decided that the world needed yet another biography of TE, given the countless previous books on the subject.  There seem to have been as many about Lawrence as there have been about Winston Churchill.  They include the subject’s own version of events, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, for some reason long regarded as a literary classic.  It’s not as if earlier authors skimmed over the subject; none of the better-researched of these tomes came in at much less than the 700 pages to which Hero itself runs.  Mr. Korda as far as I know hasn’t explained what drove him to write the book – which means that I have to ask myself what drove me to read it.  The answer is that I haven’t the foggiest idea.    

Lawrence was never one of my boyhood heroes.  Though undoubtedly an interesting man, he never fascinated me as he did the historians and scholars who’ve written all those millions of words about him.  I did read SPOW once, long ago, but I don’t recall enjoying it much, large tracts being almost as impenetrable as the author himself.  As for David Lean’s film, though I admired it as a consummate piece of film-making, I didn’t much like Robert Bolt’s theatrical, clever-clogs script, which bore about as much relation to history as Hollywood movies supposedly based on real events generally do – that is to say very little relation at all.  Anyway, Peter O’Toole was far too lanky for a character evidently no more than five feet five inches tall in his army boots. 

To me the most interesting sections of Hero are those that reminded me of the extent to which the European powers, Britain and France, connived to draw national boundaries in the Middle East to reflect their own political and military interests, the dreadful consequences of which still dominate the newspaper headlines today.  Lawrence participated fully in these grubby diplomatic intrigues, though to his credit his initial enthusiasm quickly turned to reluctant acceptance and later to shame.    

Perhaps by the last page of Hero my view of Lawrence will have become more positive.  We shall see.    

June 6, 2011

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