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

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That learned reviewers detected faults, technical and conceptual, in Lawrence's translation is expected. As he wrote to Rogers and others, he had grown impatient with the work and was only able to attend to it after
his day's military duties, which meant frequent interruptions. He tried several times to get out of the job altogether. Perhaps the trouble it caused him killed the kinship he might have felt with the poem. Buyers did not seem to think so. Lawrence Odyssey went into eleven editions during its first decade of publication, including a 1940 impression made for the U.S. Military, and it was adopted as a school text in the United States. It is still in print with a new Oxford edition in 1991. 9
With Lawrence's death in 1935, a wider appreciation of his literary abilities was possible. An edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom was finally offered for sale to the general public. In the United States, the 1935 edition was published by Doubleday Doran. It contained the same front matter, maps, and illustrations as the Jonathan Cape edition and sold for $5. The book eventually ran to nearly forty editions, including those in foreign languages, and many of these had multiple printings.
Reviews of Seven Pillars were generally laudatory in the United States, but they often noted that, unlike its abridgment Revolt in the Desert, the longer book was stylistically complex, even disorderly, and difficult to read. Lawrence himself had worried about these shortcomings as early as 1922 in his first tentative letters about the manuscript to Edward Garnett and Bernard Shaw. The two writers and other contemporary critics who read the early drafts, however, did not think Lawrence's style was out of keeping with a war narrative. Columbia University professor Mark Van Doren, writing for Nation, agreed. He compared Seven Pillars to a Greek tragedy and thought the author's style suitable to his subject matter. Some American reviewers thought the book's ornateness gave it an oriental quality. 10
Other reviewers were more interested in what Seven Pillars said about war and its effects on the individual than about how the book was written. Journalist Vincent Sheean considered Lawrence's narrative "A Revelation and a Miracle," in a review for the New York Herald Tribune. Indeed, for a public used to Lowell Thomas fare, Seven Pillars was nothing less than revelatory; it was shocking. Lawrence had consciously balanced the seamier sides of the Arab Revolt with its victories and presented the darker, troubled sides of himself along with the praiseworthy. A New York WorldTelegram article asked whether passages in the book describing Arab sexual practices should be considered pornographic and if the U.S. publication would include them. Critic and author Malcolm Cowley found "material in this book for a compendious treatise on sadism, masochism, necrophilia and their effects on men at war," but he seemed relieved to find "something profoundly un-English . . . in this darker side of [ Lawrence's] character." Cowley concluded that Lawrence, now seen for the first time in a fuller
context, was an even more imposing figure than before. Most reviewers mentioned the duality of Seven Pillars, describing the book as both an exciting war narrative and a disturbing confessional. It was left to later critics, many of them Americans, to analyze more fully the author and his work. At the time, E. M. Forster noted, Seven Pillars was "too strange a book to be typical of the period." 11
In 1936, the first American review appeared about Lawrence's second confessional work, anticipating publication of the suppressed book by nearly twenty years. When Lawrence first entered the RAF in 1922, he began collecting notes for a study of barracks life which he planned to call The Mint, an analogy for the process of stamping out recruits as if they were interchangeable coins. Like Seven Pillars, The Mint is difficult to classify. It is a journalistic account and exposé that reveals as much about Lawrence's self-exile as it does about life in the ranks. As with Seven Pillars, Lawrence fused observation and introspection, but The Mint, in its close-up description of confinement, is analogous to prison literature. Because of the critical light it shed on the Royal Air Force, and because it was libelous, Lawrence (who treasured his job) suppressed publication of the book in England. To prevent pirating in the United States, he had the book copyrighted and set the price at $500,000 per copy to preclude it being sold. Two copies were deposited at the Library of Congress and kept in the office of the secretary of the Library. Scholars who could demonstrate seriousness of intention were allowed to examine the book under the supervision of the secretary but were not allowed to take notes. For this reason, few people knew of the book's existence, and little contemporary public comment about the book is available.
Despite Lawrence's extraordinary precaution, or perhaps because of it, the unpublished Mint was uncovered and reviewed for the public. Literary critic Henry Seidel Canby, learning about the Library of Congress copies, exercised his right to view unclassified documents held by a government repository and demanded to see the book. He subsequently reviewed it for The Saturday Review of Literature. In a rather odd analogy, Canby compared The Mint to Thomas Hughes's nineteenth-century novel about prep school life, Tom Brown's School Days. He nevertheless performed a service to those interested in contemporary modernist texts by drawing attention to the Library of Congress holding. A reporter for Time, who followed up with a February 1936 story entitled "Reviewer's Scoop," emphasized the book's rawness and use of obscenity. He found a perhaps more apt analogy than Canby's by comparing The Mint to Henry Miller Tropic of Cancer ( 1934), a book also suppressed in England and the United States. The Mint was
finally made available to the public in 1955. Reviewers' interest was undoubtedly stimulated because the book's publication corresponded with the American printing of Richard Aldington's debunking biography and the controversy the later book caused. 12
Shortly after Canby, R. R. Blackmur also read The Mint at the Library of Congress and discussed Lawrence in the lead essay of his second volume of criticism, The Expense of Greatness ( 1940). Blackmur's essay caused a bit of a stir, but not particularly because of what he wrote about Lawrence. Harry Levin, then a young professor at Harvard, imputed in a review for New Republic that Blackmur had not read The Mint because, for one reason, he had not quoted from it. It apparently did not occur to Levin that Blackmur could not quote from the text because it was forbidden by copyright law to do so. But more important than the book's "embargo," or whether or not Blackmur actually read it, was the import of Blackmur's essay, which would affect how Lawrence would be studied.
"The Everlasting Effort" was one of the first essays that tried to distinguish between Lawrence the artist and Lawrence the military hero. Blackmur began by explaining that thinking about Lawrence is "bound up in the web of action and event--the war, the air force, the motorcycle--which made him a legend." He then went beyond the popular impression of Lawrence to look critically at him as a writer and literary craftsman. For Blackmur, "the expense of greatness" in Lawrence's case was failure. Lawrence failed as a writer because he was crippled by subjectivity and a strained "relish" to shock the reader. Blackmur attributed this to "an immaturity in the compositional habit, which Lawrence, had he gone on living . . . might well have made up for." 13
Had Lawrence lived to finish his last literary ambition, a book to be called "Confession of Faith," critics might have conveniently classified him as the author of a trilogy of confessionals. Judging from his description of the planned book, as told to Charlotte Shaw, "Confession of Faith" might have been a precursor to Charles Lindbergh Autobiography of Values. Lawrence, the aircraftsman, planned his book to be less about "the conquest of the air, but our entry into the reserved element, as lords that are expected. He wanted it to capture "the purpose of [his] generation." 14
Lawrence's literary career, however, was cut short in 1935. Contrary to the hopes he expressed to Edward Garnett, he has not been remembered "more as a man of letters than as a man of action." The image of Lawrence that has lasted is that of a resolute young Englishman dressed in Arab robes, tampering with imperial politics and tribal ambitions beyond the power of his will to control. Still, the critical essays and memoirs about him that
began to appear with regularity after Lawrence's death, many of these written by England's intellectual elite, presented him as a writer of genius and extraordinary conversationalist. In America, where Lawrence's career as writer and eccentric war hero had been closely followed by newspapers and periodicals since 1919, scores of elegiac articles appeared at the time of his death. Some of these remembered him better as a soldier and military strategist than as a writer. Others referred to his books in the context of World War I authors and realized that the Lawrence legend had become plural. An article in Christian Century assessed "War's Spiritual Toll" on Lawrence, and one for the Boston Evening Transcript predicted: "Lawrence Dies and a New Crop of Legends is Born." 15
Literary portraits and articles assessing Lawrence as a military figure continued in the United States for years after his death in periodicals ranging from the Annals of the American Academy of Political & Social Science to Yale Review. After World War II, assessment of his life and contributions become a small scholarly industry. Like Lawrence's literary works, which had been better received in the United States than in Britain, scholarship about Lawrence flourished in America.


The image of T. E. Lawrence as literary-intellectual found fertile ground in America. For his part, Lawrence returned the favor. Although he never traveled to the United States, he was deeply interested in modern American authors. He was friend and correspondent to quite a few American intellectuals of the 1920s and 1930s, and they influenced his writing. Although not generally acknowledged, considerable evidence of Lawrence's interest in and acquaintance with American intellectuals exists. The best guidelines to Lawrence's reading of American authors are his voluminous correspondence about literature and literary personalities and a list of the books in his library at his death. The former is, for the most part, spread throughout several volumes of his letters. The latter is included in the festschrift published by A. W. Lawrence in 1937, T. E. Lawrence by His Friends. The list includes titles of over 1,000 volumes that were crammed into Lawrence's tiny cottage, Clouds Hill, in Dorset, where he planned to retire. 16
The "Books at Clouds Hill" list indicates Lawrence's wide-ranging intellectual interests, covering the fields of literature, music, art, history, politics, science, and various technical subjects. The list is dominated by
imaginative literature--fiction and poetry, and it reads like a list of the world's best authors, from Aeschylus to Yeats. It begins alphabetically by author with Henry Adams, The Degradation of the Democratic Dogma, and ends with a history of typhus fever by Hans Zinsser. In between are American authors already renowned, such as Whitman and Twain, and authors yet to be generally appreciated in 1935, such as Melville and Faulkner. Lawrence, as he wrote to American dancer and writer Lincoln Kirstein, could not understand why Melville was not better appreciated in the United States. Some of the American authors on the Clouds Hill list are from today's standpoint not unusual; Lawrence had good taste in literature. Others on the list were at the time of Lawrence's death in 1935 still unproven. Their inclusion in Lawrence's library indicates a strong interest in contemporary writers that is borne out by Lawrence's correspondence with and about his literary contemporaries. 17
A breakdown of the over eighty volumes by twenty-three American authors on the Clouds Hill list roughly parallels that of the collection as a whole. Almost two-thirds of these volumes are fiction (43 titles) or poetry (13). American biography, history, and travel narrative follow in number of volumes. Fully two-thirds of the American authors are Lawrence's contemporaries or near contemporaries. These included Stephen Crane (10 titles), Faulkner (7), Hemingway (4), and Ezra Pound (5). If Wyndham Lewis, born in the United States but raised in England, is considered an American, he joins the list with four titles.
Conspicuously absent from Lawrence's collection of Crane's works are Active Service, a novel based on Crane's experiences in the Greco-Turkish War, and a collection of poetry, War Is Kind. Otherwise, Lawrence had a fairly complete Crane collection. That he read and thought critically about Crane's works is evident in his correspondence to Edward Garnett. Soon after he finished his basic recruit's course at the RAF training depot at Uxbridge in 1922, Lawrence wrote to Garnett about notes he had begun for The Mint. He compared his "Uxbridge draft" to Maggie, a comparison which at first seems stretched because Crane's first novel is about a prostitute. But there are many parallels between the two works and their authors, who used pseudonyms. Both books are journalistic in style and naturalistic in their stark description. Lawrence, in living with and describing the rank and file of the military, was "slumming, "just as Crane had done when, as a young reporter for the New York Tribune, he mingled with and wrote about the downtrodden on the Bowery. A decade later, Lawrence was still discussing Crane with Garnett. Two years before retiring from the RAF, he recalled how writers such as Crane had excited him. He wrote Garnett
that he was planning on the following weekend to read Crane Wounds in the Rain, a posthumously published collection of sketches about Crane's life as a correspondent. Lawrence planned to tell Garnett "about [his] modern idea of Crane," but his interest in Crane was less as a critic than as a fellow writer. What drew him most to Crane was the writer's ability to "surprise and shock" by "turns of incident and vivid phrases." The same ability has been noted, and sometimes criticized, in Lawrence's writing. 18
Lawrence was also an avid collector of works by William Faulkner. As might be expected because of his war experiences, he owned Faulkner's first novel Soldiers' Pay, a story that centers on the return of a physically and psychologically disabled World War I veteran. He also had all of Faulkner's major works from the early 1930s. Although Lawrence did not discuss Faulkner in his letters, he apparently had a prescience about modern American writers which many critics in the 1930s lacked. With the exception of Sanctuary, Faulkner's works were not generally appreciated until he won a Nobel Prize for literature in 1949, awarded for his earlier works. Faulkner had been so little recognized before then that most of his 1930s' works were out of print by the next decade. Lawrence, however, had avidly collected Faulkner's works as they appeared.
One can get a sense of Lawrence's literary prescience about American authors from the period, and his interest in and commitment to modern writers, from a letter he wrote in late 1934. Apparently, the University of Missouri had acquired a copy of Revolt in the Desert. Walter Williams, then president of the university, wrote to Lawrence asking for his autograph to accompany the book and attaching a list of literary works selected for the library and, he noted, deemed important by a committee at the university. It is clear from Lawrence's response that Williams hoped to impress him. Instead, Lawrence wrote that he was astonished by the list because it excluded most of the visionary writers of the period. Of the authors whom Lawrence deemed important that did make the University of Missouri list, American poet Archibald MacLeish was one. Lawrence then remarked on contemporary authors absent from the list and gave examples. These included the American writers Faulkner, Gertrude Stein, Robinson Jeffers, Ezra Pound, and Dos Passos. He explained rather ungraciously that he lived in barracks and made no pretense to keep up with contemporary literature, but he did not find it flattering to have his work included in a collection that "shut out" nearly everything he cared about. Less stridently, he closed his letter to Williams with an appeal to discount the "avalanche of dead books" suggested by the university committee. 19
Ernest Hemingway was another author whom Lawrence discovered early and whose works he began regularly collecting. He probably knew about Hemingway in the 1920s because the two men had mutual acquaintances in Ezra Pound and Wyndham Lewis. We know that Lawrence and Pound discussed Hemingway in their letters. Lawrence and Hemingway also occasionally purchased books from the same bookseller, Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris. In 1921, when American expatriates Malcolm Cowley, Hemingway, Thornton Wilder, Sherwood Anderson, and others invaded Paris, Lawrence was preoccupied with the Cairo Conference and Winston Churchill's Middle East settlement. Shortly thereafter, he buried himself in the ranks and did not travel in Europe during the 1920s. But Lawrence was in constant touch with the literary scene on the continent through his correspondence and acquaintance with England's literary elite and through "little magazines" such as The Dial, an American periodical that Pound asked him to contribute to. Lawrence seemed to be fascinated by the Paris group. He wrote to a friend: "There is this colony of dispossessed English and American and Irish writers living rather intensely in one another's cheap lodgings in Paris and writing desperately hard." At one point he asked Pound for an article, which he never got, on "the American expatriate." A passage from the letter is worth quoting in full because it indicates the depth of Lawrence's thinking about American writers abroad and helps to illuminate as well his correspondence with Pound. 20
If the New English goes on, will you perform an irreverent autopsy for me? Dissect for me the cause, tendency and effect of the American expatriate. Please don't take offense. I mean nothing of the sort. The foreign-living American, in the days of Henry James, meant only that he preferred one European scene to another. Now it is something quite different. You people are manufacturing a civilization that is neither Europe nor the States. You (physically) seem to live on in our midst, but morally, aesthetically and intellectually, even politically, you have a world of your own. Is it the same world? Do you and the transition crowd and Gertrude Stein and Eliot feel solid? Or are the apparent likenesses you betray to outsiders only accidental? I would like an article by you, written wholly without bravura, on this real theme. 21
Instead of an essay from Pound, Lawrence got bits and pieces about American authors, but he continued to collect their works. In his library, he had all of Hemingway major early works except Torrents of Spring, a satire of Sherwood Anderson Dark Laughter, and Death in the Afternoon, a study of bullfighting. These two Hemingway books, not generally well received, were outside of Lawrence's interests. However, Hemingway's
other works from the 1920s and early 1930s, especially his novels The Sun Also Rises and A Farewell to Arms, and his collection of short stories Winner Take Nothing, appealed to Lawrence for their style and subject matter. Like Lawrence, Hemingway was a spokesperson for the generation of 1914.
Of the American authors living in Europe, Ezra Pound interested Lawrence the most. Pound scholars have until recently dated their first meeting to 1920, but apparently the two men met as early as 1918. Lawrence began reading Pound's work in 1911. He wrote home critically from Aleppo the following year that "Pound has a very common American affectation of immense learning in strange things." In another letter in 1912 he wrote: "The great risk of Pound's poetry is the symbolic for its own sake," but he thought Pound a good poet and continued to be interested in him. The next year Lawrence's older brother Will, who two years later was killed in France, invited Pound to Oxford to speak at the university. Will Lawrence and Pound became acquaintances. T. E. Lawrence, then, was not surprised to receive a letter from Pound when he got home in 1918 from the war. They subsequently met on several occasions and began a correspondence that covered a broad range of topics, including economics. They asked for each other's comments in writing, and Lawrence is referred to in Pound "Pisan Cantos" (LXXIV). Toward the end of Lawrence's life, the correspondence grew harsh as the two men drifted apart politically. Their relationship, as observed in their correspondence, has a symbiotic quality to it, each appreciating in the other what he is not or what he aspires to be. Pound appreciated Lawrence's "man-of-action side," and Lawrence recognized in Pound the literatus he felt he could never be. 22
By contrast, Lawrence remained on good terms all of his life with Wyndham Lewis, whom he met in 1924. As Jeffrey Meyers has observed in his biography of Lewis, The Enemy, the two veterans had much in common besides their war experience. Most notably, they were self-declared outsiders who could be eccentric in their extremes of behavior. They also appreciated each other's work at a time when both were particularly productive. Lawrence asked Lewis to read and to do an illustration for his Seven Pillars when Lewis was writing Paleface, a book about European fascination with primitivism; Lewis learned from Lawrence about the Arabs for his Moroccan travel book, Filibusters in Barbary. They praised each other in correspondence to others, although Lewis was to Lawrence a contradiction. He wrote to the artist William Rothenstein: " Lewis is a first-rate brain, and a very good artist. Isn't it odd to like all that a man does, and to dislike, almost vehemently, all that he likes?" 23
Other contemporary American authors of fiction and poetry represented in Lawrence's library include Sherwood Anderson, Theodore Dreiser, Robinson Jeffers, Archibald MacLeish, John Crowe Ransom, and Gertrude Stein. It is easy to understand why several of these writers would also interest Lawrence. The flat, minimalist prose style of Anderson, which had such an influence on Hemingway, is apparent also in Lawrence The Mint. The Dreiser work in Lawrence's library, A History of Myself: Dawn, appealed to Lawrence's interest in autobiography. Robinson Jeffers's classical allusions, his preoccupation with the corrupt nature of man, and his call for a poetry of "dangerous images" are all concerns that apply equally to Lawrence. The subjectivity of expatriate Archibald MacLeish's early poetry would have also appealed to Lawrence. Absent from Lawrence's library of modern American authors is the work of Thornton Wilder, with whom Lawrence corresponded, and that of Vachel Lindsay who visited him at Oxford.
Besides his interest in contemporary American poetry and fiction, Lawrence was also close to various American bibliophiles and publishers, in particular Ralph Isham, Bruce Rogers, and F. N. Doubleday. Lawrence affectionately addressed Doubleday as "Effendi" (Greco-Turkish for "sir") because of his initials F.N.D. From 1918 until Doubleday's death in 1934, he visited and corresponded with Lawrence. They first met in London, and during the Paris peace talks they became confidants. Lawrence encouraged Doubleday to write his memoirs, and Doubleday, despite some confusion about the American publication of Revolt, looked after Lawrence's literary interests in the United States. In Doubleday's privately printed memoir, "A Few Indiscreet Recollections," he included a chapter on Lawrence, "The Strange Character, Colonel Lawrence." He describes their first meeting and his request that Lawrence write for his monthly, The World's Work, and he relates an anecdote that indicates how close they became. Lawrence arranged with Prince Feisal for Mrs. Doubleday to have dinner with them in Paris. As Doubleday described the occasion, it was a great honor for his wife. He believed, erroneously, that Mrs. Doubleday was Feisal's first female dinner guest. 24
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