T. E. Lawrence


T. E. Lawrence : biography

16 August 1888 – 13 May 1935
Section by C. Leonard Woolley. and fellow-serviceman R.A.M. Guy, Chapter 32. his biographers and contemporaries have found them unconvincing. Chapter 27. 

The dedication to his book Seven Pillars is a poem titled "To S.A." which opens:

I loved you, so I drew these tides of men into my handsand wrote my will across the sky in starsTo earn you Freedom, the seven-pillared worthy house,that your eyes might be shining for meWhen we came.

Lawrence was never specific about the identity of "S.A." There are many theories which argue in favour of individual men, women, and the Arab nation. The most popular is that S.A. represents (at least in part) his companion Selim Ahmed, "Dahoum", who apparently died of typhus before 1918.

Although Lawrence lived in a period during which official opposition to homosexuality was strong, his writing on the subject was tolerant. In Seven Pillars, when discussing relationships between young male fighters in the war, he refers on one occasion to "the openness and honesty of perfect love" Book VIII, Chapter XCII. The passage, in the front-matter, is referred to with the single-word tag "Sex". and on another to "friends quivering together in the yielding sand with intimate hot limbs in supreme embrace".Seven Pillars (1935), featured prominently on Page 2 of Chapter I. In a letter to Charlotte Shaw he wrote "I’ve seen lots of man-and-man loves: very lovely and fortunate some of them were." Letter to Charlotte Shaw

In both Seven Pillars and a 1919 letter to a military colleague, Letter to W.F. Stirling, Deputy Chief Political Officer, Cairo, June 28, 1919 Lawrence describes an episode on 20 November 1917 in which, while reconnoitring Dera’a in disguise, he was captured by the Ottoman military, heavily beaten, and sexually abused by the local Bey and his guardsmen. The precise nature of the sexual contact is not specified. There have been allegations that the episode was an invention of Lawrence’s and (with some evidence) that the injuries Lawrence claims to have suffered were exaggerated. Although there is no independent testimony, the multiple consistent reports, and the absence of evidence for outright invention in Lawrence’s works, make the account believable to his biographers. In Note 49 to Chapter 21. At least three of Lawrence’s biographers (Malcolm Brown, John Mack, and Jeremy Wilson) have argued this episode had strong psychological effects on Lawrence which may explain some of his unconventional behaviour in later life.

There is considerable evidence that Lawrence was a masochist. In his description of the Dera’a beating, Lawrence wrote "a delicious warmth, probably sexual, was swelling through me", and also included a detailed description of the guards’ whip in a style typical of masochists’ writing. In later life, Lawrence arranged to pay a military colleague to administer beatings to him, and to be subjected to severe formal tests of fitness and stamina.Knightley and Simpson, p. 29 While John Bruce, who first wrote on this topic, included some other claims which were not credible, Lawrence’s biographers regard the beatings as established fact. Chapter 34.

John E. Mack sees a possible connection between T.E.’s masochism and the childhood beatings he had received from his motherJohn E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, 1976, p. 420. for routine misbehaviours.John E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, 1976, p. 33. His brother Arnold thought the beatings had been given for the purpose of breaking T.E.’s will. Writing in 1997, Angus Calder noted that it is "astonishing" that earlier commentators discussing Lawrence’s apparent masochism and self-loathing failed to consider the impact on Lawrence of having lost his brothers Frank and Will on the Western front, along with many other school friends.

Introduction by Angus Calder - who says that after losing close friends and familly, returning soldiers often feel intense guilt at having survived, even to the point of self-harm.