T. E. Lawrence


T. E. Lawrence : biography

16 August 1888 – 13 May 1935

Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Lawrence’s major work is Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an account of his war experiences. In 1919 he had been elected to a seven-year research fellowship at All Souls College, Oxford, providing him with support while he worked on the book. In addition to being a memoir of his experiences during the war, certain parts also serve as essays on military strategy, Arabian culture and geography, and other topics. Lawrence re-wrote Seven Pillars of Wisdom three times; once "blind" after he lost the manuscript while changing trains at Reading railway station.

The list of his alleged "embellishments" in Seven Pillars is long, though many such allegations have been disproved with time, most definitively in Jeremy Wilson’s authorised biography. However Lawrence’s own notebooks refute his claim to have crossed the Sinai Peninsula from Aqaba to the Suez Canal in just 49 hours without any sleep. In reality this famous camel ride lasted for more than 70 hours and was interrupted by two long breaks for sleeping which Lawrence omitted when he wrote his book.Asher, M (1998)’ Lawrence :The Uncrowned King of Arabia.’ Page 259.

Lawrence acknowledged having been helped in the editing of the book by George Bernard Shaw. In the preface to Seven Pillars, Lawrence offered his "thanks to Mr. and Mrs. Bernard Shaw for countless suggestions of great value and diversity: and for all the present semicolons."

The first public edition was published in 1926 as a high-priced private subscription edition, printed in London by Herbert John Hodgson and Roy Manning Pike, with illustrations by Eric Kennington, Augustus John, Paul Nash, Blair Hughes-Stanton and his wife Gertrude Hermes. Lawrence was afraid that the public would think that he would make a substantial income from the book, and he stated that it was written as a result of his war service. He vowed not to take any money from it, and indeed he did not, as the sale price was one third of the production costs.Graves, Robert, Lawrence and the Arabs, ch. 30. Jonathan Cape: London, 1927 This, along with his "saintlike" generosity, left Lawrence in substantial debt.John E. Mack, A Prince of Our Disorder: The Life of T.E. Lawrence, 1976, p. 323.

Revolt in the Desert

Portrait of T. E. Lawrence by [[Augustus John, 1919]] Revolt in the Desert was an abridged version of Seven Pillars, which he began in 1926 and was published in March 1927 in both limited and trade editions. He undertook a needed but reluctant publicity exercise, which resulted in a best-seller. Again he vowed not to take any fees from the publication, partly to appease the subscribers to Seven Pillars who had paid dearly for their editions. By the fourth reprint in 1927, the debt from Seven Pillars was paid off. As Lawrence left for military service in India at the end of 1926, he set up the "Seven Pillars Trust" with his friend D. G. Hogarth as a trustee, in which he made over the copyright and any surplus income of Revolt in the Desert. He later told Hogarth that he had "made the Trust final, to save myself the temptation of reviewing it, if Revolt turned out a best seller."

The resultant trust paid off the debt, and Lawrence then invoked a clause in his publishing contract to halt publication of the abridgment in the UK. However, he allowed both American editions and translations, which resulted in a substantial flow of income. The trust paid income either into an educational fund for children of RAF officers who lost their lives or were invalided as a result of service, or more substantially into the RAF Benevolent Fund.


Lawrence left unpublished The Mint,Doubleday,Doran &Co, New York,1936; rprnt Penguin,Harmondsworth,1984 ISBN 0-14-004505-8 a memoir of his experiences as an enlisted man in the Royal Air Force (RAF). For this, he worked from a notebook that he kept while enlisted, writing of the daily lives of enlisted men and his desire to be a part of something larger than himself: the Royal Air Force. The book is stylistically very different from Seven Pillars of Wisdom, using sparse prose as opposed to the complicated syntax found in Seven Pillars. It was published posthumously, edited by his brother, Professor A. W. Lawrence.