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1lawrence of arabia and american culture the Making of a Transatlantic Legend

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Press coverage, much of it invasive, made life in the United States intolerable for the Lindberghs. As a consequence, they fled to Europe in 1935. Under the front-page banner "America Shocked by Exile Forced on Lindberghs," New York Times reporter, Lauren D. Lyman, echoed other journalists in describing the move as "a national disgrace" due partly to "inexcusable meddling in the Lindbergh's private life" by the yellow press. By this time, however, the rift between Lindbergh and reporters was so wide that the flyer would never again trust them. Much of the rest of his life was colored by a constant battle with newspeople and a paranoia about publicity. 26
Lawrence, too, was exiled from his country because of the invasiveness of the press. From India he wrote his American friend, Ralph Isham: "I hate the East. It holds bad memories for me. This is my fifteenth year abroad. Yet, I had to ask the R.A.F. to put me on foreign draft . . . I am exiled, therefore, until the fuss of my books has died down in the Press." 27
Throughout their lives Lawrence and Lindbergh ran from publicity, sometimes making deals with newspaper owners to keep reporters at bay. Lawrence continually asked Winston Churchill and other influential friends to intervene with press barons; but even his direct appeals became frontpage sensation: Lawrence of Arabia Talks (Exclusive)/Bitter Cry: "I Want to be Left Alone." Lindbergh was forced to run away to Europe and eventually took refuge on the big island in Hawaii before that island was "discovered" by floods of tourists. He came to realize that "as one gains fame he loses life." Lawrence, who first tried to hide in the ranks as a common soldier, had to have himself posted overseas and eventually took refuge unsuccessfully in provincial Dorsetshire. The two greatest heroes of the 1920s were hounded into exile by the press. 28
For all their resentment of its intrusiveness and inaccurate reporting, railing at bogus headlines such as "Lindbergh Missing" or "Lawrence of Arabia Fights Soviet in India," the two men courted the press when it was convenient. Left to their own devices, they also dressed for the parts they played. Lindbergh put on a colonel's uniform, Lawrence his Arab robes. Lawrence slipped in to see Thomas's London lectures about him on several occasions and Lindbergh, reputedly, occasionally stole into the National Air Museum at the Smithsonian to gaze again at The Spirit of St. Louis, "hiding from the crowds behind the glass cases." Neither man was forced to publish personal accounts of his exploits. Lawrence did not have to exhort the public about British Middle East policy or surround himself with famous friends. Similarly, Lindbergh did not have to give "America First" speeches in the 1930s that could be construed as pro-Nazi. They chose to do so, and their sometimes incongruous attempts to curtail publicity, presumably based on personal shyness and the desire for privacy, had the effect of only increasing public interest. Perhaps, as Leo Braudy posits in The Frenzy of Renown, "stardom and shyness, public assertion and private withdrawal, are the twin offspring of the desire for fame and recognition." 29
Fame in modern times, Braudy argues, is different from that of earlier eras when, presumably, everyone knew his place. Only success in the eyes of others can relieve the uncertainty of personal identity which accompanies the fragmentation of modern society. The "frenzy of renown" has to do with the individual's need to be seen or heard in an increasingly competitive field,
made more competitive by democracy and the ability of the media to reach further and faster into the pool of applicants for fame. In Braudy's view, modern fame contains an essential paradox: "the desire for transcendence through personal glory that leads not to freedom but to a new and more secure entrapment." "Lurking behind every chance to be made whole by fame," he writes, "is the axman of further dismemberment. Fame promises a freedom from worry about the opinions of others, only to trap the aspirer inside an even larger audience." In other words, raising oneself above ordinary people, one supposedly no longer has to care what ordinary people think; the rub, however, is that now one is extraordinary and has to live up to even more rigorous standards. By striving for the unprecedented, whether to liberate and unite all of Arabia or be the first person to fly alone across the Atlantic, Lawrence and Lindbergh sought uniqueness and recognition as individuals, the same desire that flagpole sitters or marathon dancers in the 1920s sought on a more frivolous level. 30
The privilege of being on top, however, had consequences. Lawrence no longer had a private life. To escape publicity, he had to hide out in the ranks, change his name twice, and for a period of time leave England, an act of self-exile. In similar fashion, the press in the 1920s literally made Lindbergh a legend overnight. Like Lawrence, he eventually had to seek refuge abroad by fleeing to Europe to escape the American press. For Colonels Lawrence and Lindbergh, the mass adulation that accompanied their celebrity brought tragedy, and recognition, instead of being the hero's reward, became his burden. In April 1935, about a month before his death, Lawrence wrote to Evelyn Wrench: "Often I wish I had known at the beginning the weary lag that any sudden reputation brings. I should have refrained from doing even the little that I did. To have news value is to have a tin can tied to one's tail." 31 Lindbergh shared the same sentiment.


Lawrence's death in a motorcycle accident on a country lane in 1935 ensured continued interest in the reclusive Englishman during the 1930s by raising a new set of intriguing questions about him. Was his death suicide, murder, or an accident? Rumors spread that he had been murdered by foreign agents, or even by British agents fearing he would expose government secrets. Lawrence was an unknown quantity, and his patriotism, because of his dual role earlier in Arabia and sympathy for Irish nationalism, was suspect. His death, however, was considered a national loss, occasion-
ing elegies from people of all walks of life and from the notables of British politics and society.
Lawrence's death made a cinematic reconstruction of his life and part in the Arab Revolt a possibility. Until then, he had prohibited the use of his story. Although several attempts had been made to recreate his Arabian adventure on film, Lawrence had not wanted further publicity. His letters from 1928 and 1929 chronicle his anxiety about it. Lawrence was in India at this time, back in the RAF again; earlier public attention had resulted in his dismissal from the RAF and transfer to the Army Tank Corp. In late 1928, the New York World and other newspapers carried fictitious stories about him, under such headlines as "Lawrence of Arabia Fights Soviet [sic] in India" and "Secret Crusade Against Bolshevists." These stories, and similar false speculation that he was a spy, led to his official recall to England in early 1929. A film about his Arabian adventures and further publicity were the last things Lawrence wanted. 32
Despite the anxiety that a prospective film about his experiences in Arabia caused him, Lawrence saw the grotesque sides of his dilemma, finding a comic analogy for his adventures in Arabia in a Walt Disney cartoon character. His American friend, Colonel Ralph Isham, reported that, two months before he died, Lawrence told him: "He would cooperate . . . with any film based on his Arabian career if it were done in the manner and spirit of Mickey Mouse." According to Isham, Lawrence explained: ."It would be perfect with that treatment. Example: a Turkish troop-train blown into the air in bits--reforms in space--and perfectly united, lands gracefully and proceeds merrily on its way. Treated thus, [my] affairs would make a great picture." 33
In late 1934, as Lawrence contemplated quiet retirement in Dorset, Alexander Korda of London Film Productions reportedly bought the film rights to Revolt in the Desert, an abridgment of Seven Pillars, from the Lawrence Trust for 6,000 pounds, and again Lawrence was faced with the possibility of a film being made about him. Lawrence, who had given the copyrights of both books to a trust fund for widows and orphans of the RAF, appealed to Korda directly and the British film baron agreed to postpone the project. Lawrence wrote to Robert Graves in February 1935: "I loathe the notion of being celluloided. So there won't be a film of me." Korda did not have long to wait, but he had secured a bad option. Although he began production plans for the film shortly after Lawrence's death, it was never made. Korda's nephew Michael, in his collective biography of the famous film-making family, Charmed Lives, writes that the film was abandoned for political reasons. According to Korda, Churchill intervened to halt the film
because he did not want to alienate the Turks, potential allies in the event of another war with Germany. 34
A documentary film about Lawrence was produced after Lawrence's death in 1935 and distributed in Great Britain by Ace Films. The film footage, some of it by Thomas's cameraman, Harry Chase, was compiled and produced from newsreels in the archives of the Imperial War Museum. But a popular film version was still several decades away. 35
Publishers of adolescent literature, however, profited from the Lawrence story in this period. After the publication of Thomas The Boys' Life of Colonel Lawrence in 1927, similar books followed, most of them published in the United States as well as in England, and some in translation. All present Lawrence in the boy adventurer mode by either retelling Lawrence's story for children or using it as a fictional base. The same year The Boys' Life appeared, E. V. Timms, a well-known Australian novelist writing under the pseudonym of David Roseler, published Lawrence, Prince of Mecca. Australian interest in Lawrence, bibliographer Phil O'Brien reasons, is not surprising because of the many Australian veterans of the Palestine Campaign and because Thomas toured Australia with his Allenby-Lawrence lecture. 36
A number of other children's works in American editions soon followed, along with an account of Lawrence in American Boy Adventure Stories and a 1929 Boys' Magazine issue on Lawrence. These children's works included two of Gurney Slade's ( Stephen Bartlett) three books on Lawrence. The first, In Lawrence's Bodyguard ( 1930), is a fictional work, published in the United States and then later in England. The protagonist, Irwin Baxter, is, like Lawrence, an archaeologist working in the Middle East. He joins Lawrence, who has little more than a cameo role in the book, for the march on Damascus. Slade followed this fictional account with two more books in the 1930s, Led By Lawrence and Lawrence in the Blue. The latter book opens with an American adventurer, Dale, joining the Australians at Gallipoli before meeting Lawrence.
A particularly interesting book in this genre is Harry Irving Shumway Lawrence--The Arabian Knight ( 1936), which was published by L. C. Page & Company of Boston with the approval of the Boy Scouts of America in the publisher's "Books for Boy Scouts" series. Although riddled with inaccuracies, the book contains numerous references and analogies to American heroes, such as John Paul Jones and Charles Lindbergh. Shumway makes an attempt to bring the United States into the story whenever possible, utilizing republican imagery. He writes, for instance, that Lawrence wanted to create a "United States of Arabia, another U.S.A. on
the other side of the world." Shumway book, retitled War in the Desert, was subsequently published in England where, as might be expected, interest in Lawrence books for boys remained steady throughout the late 1930s. 37
Despite Lawrence's attempts to escape the Arabia legend, it clung to him until his death in 1935, which added further dimensions to the story. In Hollywood films, books for boys, tabloid rumors, and serious journalism, the media kept the legend current while Lawrence had occasionally kindled it himself. On both sides of the Atlantic it spread, finding fruitful ground during the interwar years in American newspapers and magazines.
the other side of the world." Shumway book, retitled War in the Desert, was subsequently published in England where, as might be expected, interest in Lawrence books for boys remained steady throughout the late 1930s. 37
Despite Lawrence's attempts to escape the Arabia legend, it clung to him until his death in 1935, which added further dimensions to the story. In Hollywood films, books for boys, tabloid rumors, and serious journalism, the media kept the legend current while Lawrence had occasionally kindled it himself. On both sides of the Atlantic it spread, finding fruitful ground during the interwar years in American newspapers and magazines.

Chapter 5

Redefinition and Literary Reception, 1920-1940
And in the distant future, if [it] deigns to consider my insignificance, I shall be appraised rather as a man of letters than as a man of action. 1
Lawrence to Edward Garnett 23 December 1927
As the Arabia legend spread during the 1920s and 1930s, different images of Lawrence manifested themselves in a variety of media, from academic journals and critical biographies to the tabloids and adolescent adventure fiction. To Lawrence's personae of archaeologist, guerrilla leader, and "Prince of Mecca" were added diplomat, secret agent, eccentric recluse and skilled technician, and finally man of letters. The man of letters perception was one that pleased Lawrence immensely as he strove to distance himself from the Strand Magazine stereotype of the immediate postwar years. He was flattered when asked to do translations or contribute book reviews and essays to literary magazines. He confided to Charlotte Shaw that he was "staggered" when Irish poet and playwright W. B. Yeats nominated him to the Irish Academy of Letters. From his soldier's barracks, he set about to cultivate an image for himself as literary-intellectual outsider, while at the same time he enjoyed insider status with Thomas Hardy, Bernard Shaw, and others of England's literary establishment.
Lawrence's new, somewhat paradoxical role as literary outsider was based on a range of literary output, including his confessional memoir of the war, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, and The Mint, an exposé of barracks life in the Royal Air Force. The books were essays of considerable literary merit, but Lawrence's reputation as an author nevertheless rested less on his ability
as a writer than on his military reputation. His colorful war record and subsequent quixotic retreat into the ranks served him as subject matter, but it also engendered public fascination with Lawrence as an eccentric heroturned-literary recluse.
Every offbeat detail about Lawrence's war memoir added to this fascination. The protracted, ironical production history of Seven Pillars gave the work a mystique before it went to press. There were three prepublication versions of the book. Lawrence had begun the first manuscript in early 1919 while a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, and he continued to work on it at All Souls College throughout that year. Parts of the narrative he discussed with friends from the Palestine and Arabia campaigns and possibly with Robert Graves whom he met at Oxford. According to Lawrence, the manuscript, by then nearly completed, was lost or stolen while he was waiting for a train at Reading Station in London. Along with the manuscript went most of his notes, photographs, and other materials. David Hogarth, Lawrence's prewar mentor at Oxford and Keeper of the Ashmolean Museum, convinced him to begin again. Working from surviving notes, copies of The Arab Bulletin, and memory, Lawrence prepared a second manuscript in three months. Dissatisfied with this labor, he reputedly burned the manuscript. A third, more painstaking version was then written in 19211922. From this draft, Lawrence simultaneously prepared an abridgment, entitled Revolt in the Desert, for publication in the United States. He gave several chapters to Robert Graves, then still a struggling young writer, to sell to F. N. Doubleday's New York monthly, The World's Work. Seven Pillars, or at least excerpts from it, thus appeared publicly in the United States before it did in England.
The 1922 Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which came to be called the Oxford Edition because it was privately printed in the newspaper office of the Oxford Times, consisted of only eight copies. Lawrence distributed these to friends for critical comment and timorously awaited their judgments. His readers included Bernard Shaw, E. M. Forster, Thomas Hardy, Rudyard Kipling, and Siegfried Sassoon, a notable group of reviewers. One of the copies was given to F. N. Doubleday. In order to defray part of the costs of production and to circulate Seven Pillars to a wider net of select readers, Lawrence next prepared an elaborate subscriber's edition of around 220 copies. This edition included over fifty illustrations, ranging from landscapes to portraits of Arab and English principals of the Palestine-Arabia campaigns, commissioned from an impressive list of British and American artists. These included Eric Kennington, Frank Dobson, Colin Gill, Augustus John, Henry Lamb, William Nicholson, William Roberts, William
Rothenstein, Gilbert Spencer, Paul Nash, Blair Hughes-Stanton, and expatriate American painter John Singer Sargent. Jeremy Wilson has written that " Lawrence was gradually becoming one of the most significant private patrons of contemporary artists in Britain." The subscriber's edition was printed by Manning Pike, an American studying at the London School of Printing, and published privately in 1926. U.S. copyright was secured by having George Doran print a slightly altered American edition and place it on sale at $20,000 per copy to effectively prevent circulation. The approachavoidance manner in which Lawrence wanted his book to be read and not read at the same time was typical of him. 2
Private publication of Seven Pillars in its elaborate 1926 subscriber's edition fueled British as well as American interest in the book. The $20,000 price tag on the American edition was also big publishing news and immediately inflated the resale price of the original subscriber's edition. The New York Times ran several stories, including one about Lawrence entitled "The Modest Author of a $20,000 Book," which hinted that a popular edition might be forthcoming. Resale at auction of the coveted subscriber's edition was especially newsworthy; the Times reported that a copy had been sold at the Anderson Gallery for $1,150. To give the sale relative value, the reporter noted that "a rare first issue of the first edition of the King James Bible" had brought in only $1,000. 3
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, by virtue of its author's fame and its inflated price, generated considerable critical interest among literati and book collectors throughout the mid-1920s and beyond. Reviews immediately followed publication from those who had early access to Seven Pillars, such as George Bernard Shaw and E. M. Forster. London art galleries held exhibits of the paintings and drawings Lawrence had commissioned to illustrate the book. In a World's Work essay for the American audience, Bernard Shaw judged Lawrence "a literary genius" and Seven Pillars "a masterpiece." He recounted the detail, expense, and personal sacrifice that had gone into the production of the book, explaining that each copy had a different binding "so there might be no 'first edition' in the collector's sense." Shaw noted that Lawrence determined to make no profit from the book, which added to the author's mystique. Shaw did not mention that he had been one of Lawrence's critical readers or that he was responsible for expunging a controversial introductory chapter from the book. He also failed to say that he had once suggested Seven Pillars be placed in the British Museum under a 100-year embargo. 4
It has been estimated that the production of Seven Pillars cost Lawrence about 13,000 pounds. Of this amount, a large portion was used to pay the
artists, several of whom were struggling at the time. Lawrence planned to offset the cost of production by selling his abridgment, Revolt in the Desert. In this shortened rendition, which he referred to as "the boy scout" version, Lawrence cut Seven Pillars by roughly one third, deleting chapters and whole sections. He edited out much of the sociopolitical commentary and self-analysis and, instead, emphasized the action. When it hit the book stands in 1927, Revolt immediately sold over 100,000 copies, its British sales helping to establish the London publishing house of Jonathan Cape. Eventually, Revolt in the Desert was translated into fifteen languages, and it has often been reissued. 5
In the United States, Revolt was handled by Lawrence's friend, F. N. Doubleday and published by George H. Doran. As with Seven Pillars, it first appeared in installments in World's Work. The book was reviewed in a wide range of American periodicals, including New Republic, Literary Digest, The Dial, and American Historical Review. For a "boy scout" book, as Lawrence called it, Revolt enjoyed the attention of reputable reviewers. As part of the popular fanfare the book received, the Book-of-the-Month Club also featured Revolt as one of its selections. Thus, Seven Pillars and its abridgment brought transatlantic recognition to Lawrence as an author, not altogether distinct from his fame as a military hero, but as a writer in his own right.
Writing became for Lawrence his highest ambition during these years, and he set high standards for himself. He wanted Seven Pillars to be an English fourth to the works he considered "Titanic books" in Western literature: Dostoyevsky The Brothers Karamazov, Nietzsche Thus Spake Zarathustra, and Melville Moby-Dick. His correspondence in the 1920s and early 1930s indicates a preoccupation with the craft of writing, much of it self-disparaging as he compared himself to the great and near-great. He wrote to Robert Graves: "What is the perversity which makes me, capable of many things in the world, wish only to do one thing, book-writing: and gives me no skill at it?" To E. M. Forster he wrote: "Writers & artists aren't like other men. The meeting them intoxicates me with a strangeness which shows me how very far from being one of them I am." 6
For all his deference, Lawrence was admitted to an elite group of English literati, some of them, such as E. M. Forster, acknowledging a literary debt to Lawrence. Besides Shaw, Hardy, Forster, Kipling, Sassoon, and the Garnett family, Lawrence counted among his friends or correspondents such writers as Joseph Conrad, H. G. Wells, Edmund Blunden, John Buchan, Ezra Pound, James Elroy Flecker, James Hanley, Henry William-
son, Australian writer Frederick Manning, Edward Marsh, Herbert Read, Evelyn Wrench, Francis Yeats-Brown, and W. B. Yeats.
With such friends, Lawrence enjoyed a literary recognition by association, but he also deserved his newly found reputation as an author. Besides Seven Pillars, he produced a stream of reviews and criticism, contributed introductions, translated from French, Greek, and Arabic, and wrote a modernist text entitled The Mint, which was published posthumously. Lawrence translation of Homer Odyssey ( 1932), arranged by bibliophile Ralph Isham and printed by the renowned book designer Bruce Rogers, both Americans, took five years to accomplish while Lawrence was posted abroad in the RAF.
Because of his experience of war and familiarity with the classical world, Lawrence was well suited to the task of translating Homer. He had an affinity with Homer's protagonist as well. Like that of Odysseus, his "return" had been full of ironies and unexpected obstacles. Presumably, he understood the trials of leadership and a life of wandering. He, too, had relied on disguises (aliases "Ross" and then "Shaw"). So, it is not surprising that Lawrence accepted the task or that his translation was generally well received as "one of the notable books" of the period. Critics such as C. M. Bowra, a warden at Oxford and distinguished classicist, found Lawrence's rendering of the Odyssey particularly readable. In New Statesman, he wrote that it "is by far the best translation of Homer into English." 7 In the United States, however, the "Scholar-Warrior" ( Time, 28 November 1932) and his translation got mixed reviews in scholarly periodicals. Louis E. Lord of Oberlin College reviewed Lawrence's translation for The Classical Journal, a publication of the regional classical associations around the country. For Lord, it was interesting and gripping because of its "nervous energy" but lacking in "tonal quality" and inaccurate. Lord praised the craftsmanship of the Odyssey's printer, Bruce Rogers, but noted that "the twentyeighth English rendering of the Odyssey was hardly a literary event except that its translator was T. E. Shaw . . . or Lawrence of Arabia." Similarly, A. T. Murray of Stanford, reviewing for Classical Philology, a quarterly published by the University of Chicago, thought the strength of the new rendition was its translator, who was "equipped as no other" to interpret Homer. Like Lord, Murray praised Rogers's printing, but he too was disappointed by Lawrence's translation. Although he contradicted himself, Murray found no "spiritual kinship" between translator and original poem. 8
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