Surreysmum's Reviews > Lawrence: The Uncrowned King of Arabia

Lawrence by Michael Asher
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Apr 02, 09

bookshelves: biography, 2009, owned
Read in April, 2009

Suffice it to say that by the end of this biography, Asher had me agreeing that a number of the most emotionally striking scenes in the movie have asterisks against their veracity because they're based on Seven Pillars, even if you don't already have asterisks against them because Robert Bolt conflated a number of incidents and characters from that book in order to make his screenplay.

On the other hand, it's a really fascinating and remarkably consistent picture of Lawrence, physically fearful and constantly "fleeing forward", that Asher builds, based on his meticulous research, and added to in a real way by his own retracing of Lawrence's steps (it's not nearly as intrusive as you might think; Asher is no dilettante; he'd crossed the Sahara by camel long before he came to write this biography). I got from this book a much better sense of the real Arabs, I think, and the real state of the world at the time (do we forget that WWI was raging in Europe as well?); Asher condemns no-one, least of all Lawrence, but he utterly refuses to buy into the hero myth with which, as he demonstrates, Lawrence had a complex relationship - feeding it, enjoying it, and hating himself for enjoying it to the point of degrading himself deliberately.

It's an interesting substitute for the mystery and charisma (although the real Lawrence doubtless also had both, for his public) that I took away from Peter O'Toole's performance in the David Lean film. I'm glad that, for me, the film came first, and then Lawrence's own bizarre, half-revelatory voice in Seven Pillars, and finally Asher's voice of reason and, I think, authority.

Do you know there are still people who cannot bear to think Lawrence was homosexual? Gay, in the older sense, he was not, and deeply troubled and masochistic he certainly was, but surely Seven Pillars was, as Asher asserts, very much Lawrence's cry to be seen as he was, all the good and bad of him. Even if - and surely he enjoyed the paradox - he revealed this truth by telling lies.
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