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Lawrence of Arabia (Pelican) [Paperback]

Richard Aldington
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)

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Product details

  • Paperback: 512 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Books Ltd; New edition edition (25 Feb 1971)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0140212639
  • ISBN-13: 978-0140212631
  • Product Dimensions: 18 x 11.2 x 2.2 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 892,556 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A classic with a disturbing background 13 May 2010
By SAO
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Richard Aldington (1892 - 1962) was a poet, novelist and biographer who had fought on the Western Front in World War I. Late in his life he agreed to write a biography of Lawrence of Arabia. He thought that it would be a quick potboiler but soon started to discover anomalies and contradictions during his researches. He spent several years, assisted by friends, in conducting and writing up his researches. He quickly grew to despise Lawrence as someone who lied and exagerated and helped create the legend of Lawrence of Arabia whilst pretending to dislike all the publicity. Aldington's research and writing was only the beginning. The disturbing story of how an influential group of people, obsessed with Lawrence, tried to prevent publication and denigrate Aldington was documented by the journalist Philip Knightly in 1973 and in much more detail by Fred Crawford in his fascinating and very readable book 'Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia: a cautionary tale'. The role of Basil Liddel-Hart in this was particularly disgraceful and appalling. Crawford's work shows that the controversy continued for decades after publication. Aldington's book is understandably bitter and this threatens to undermine his story. However, the underlying points he made have generally stood the test of time and are accepted widely, including in books which continue the denigration of Aldington. He managed to achieve this when, in comparison to today, relatively few primary sources were available. Some people who knew Lawrence in Arabia were however still alive and many supported Aldington's views. Lawrence was a fascinating, complex, cultured and strange character. Before Aldington there were only hagiographies; after Aldington the true story with all its complexities started to appear. This is rarely acknowledged. Read more ›
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3.0 out of 5 stars The De-bunking of a Legend? 2 Feb 2014
By menzski
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
(Copied from: [...])
"Aldington was best known for his World War I poetry, the 1929 novel, Death of a Hero, and the controversy arising from his 1955 'Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry'."

"Aldington's biography of T. E. Lawrence caused a scandal on its publication, and an immediate backlash.[25] It made many controversial assertions. He was the first to bring to public notice the fact of Lawrence's illegitimacy. He also asserted that Lawrence was homosexual. Lawrence lived a celibate life, and none of his close friends (of whom several were homosexual) had believed him to be gay. He attacked Lawrence as a liar and a charlatan, claims which have colored Lawrence's reputation ever since. Only later were confidential government files concerning Lawrence's career released, allowing the accuracy of Lawrence's own account to be gauged. Aldington's own reputation has never fully recovered from what came to be seen as a venomous attack upon Lawrence's reputation. Many believed that Aldington's suffering in the bloodbath of Europe during World War I caused him to resent Lawrence's reputation, gained in the Middle Eastern arena".

(Copied from: imagists.org/aldington/lawrence_bureau.html)
"The daughter of T.E. Lawrence's physician, Clarissa Dickson Wright, has (written)" -------- "but that may be because I inadvertently sent my introduction which describes his life as one of the great Boy's Own adventures of the 20th century, despite the fact that he was an alcoholic, a runt and a homosexual in the days when that was still illegal. He was a patient of my father's so I was talking from an informed position."

(See also: samilitaryhistory.org/vol092mm.html} for a fairly impartial view by Prof W D Maxwell-Mahon

And make your own mind up.
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Amazon.com: 3.8 out of 5 stars  4 reviews
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Revisionist History or Hatchet Job? 3 Mar 2010
By Hancock the Superb - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In the course of writing a college paper on the film Lawrence of Arabia, I picked up a number of Lawrence-related books - relating to both the film and the man. One of them was Richard Aldington's Biographical Inquiry (1955), infamous for being the first overtly anti-Lawrence biography. As one who falls resolutely in the pro-Lawrence camp (having read Seven Pillars, Revolt in the Desert, Jeremy Wilson's authorized bio and several other works), I decided, in the interest of fairness, to give Aldington a try.

If Aldington's book has any relevance or importance, it's in providing something of a corrective to the admittedly-hagiographic portrayal of Lawrence that prevailed up to then. The hyperbolic adulation of someone like Lowell Thomas is pretty hard to swallow, even if it makes a great story, and a counter-view was probably needed. Unfortunately, Aldington's book is a pretty nasty piece of work, a highly scurrilous, vitriolic and insulting screed that goes out of its way to demonize Lawrence.

The most unattractive thing about the book is Aldington's tone. The text is dripping with sarcasm, full of acidic parenthetical commentary on Lawrence's every word and action. At times, Aldington comes up with modestly clever asides and bon mots, but at other times he just seems to be childishly hateful. One example: noting a descrepancy over dates in Lawrence's demobilization (p. 296), he remarks that "it illustrates so well Lawrence's modest confession 'that... he could recall any date.'" As this is, by Aldington's own account, a trivial detail, such an insulting comment is completely uncalled for. He repeatedly parrots lines that are less-than-flattering to Lawrence or his associates - for instance, he repeats Lloyd George's comment on denying "agnostic, atheistic France" a mandate in Syria three times. After the first few chapters, Aldington's condescending mockery becomes tiresome, and he generally comes off as a playground bully picking on a popular kid.

Another problem is Aldington's lack of scholarship. Aldington's method of research consists of comparing Lawrence's own account of said incidents with those of his biographers (specifically Robert Graves, Basil Liddel Hart, and Lowell Thomas), and accounts of others. There is some value in this, but the problem here is that Aldington *always* assumes that: a) Lawrence is the one fibbing, b) Lawrence's biographers cannot be blamed for the discrepancies (highly suspect in Thomas's case), and c) Lawrence is *deliberately* lying in *all* cases. That Lawrence may have somewhat embellished facts, or perhaps, more mundanely, misremembered them, is a valid point, but to go a step further and claim him a pathological liar is something else entirely. Aldington's disuse of primary documents - for instance, government reports - can be somewhat, but not entirely, excused, and this certainly hurts his case and claimed authority.

Aldington also makes heavy use of strawman arguments. He says that Lawrence claimed his own responsibility for creating the idea of the Arab Revolt, and inventing the campaign against the Hejaz Railway. In Seven Pillars, I find no indication of such grandiose claims. He also claims that Lawrence's subtitling of Seven Pillars as "a triumph" is vanity or egoism rather than irony over the ultimate failure of the Arab Movement. To be fair, Lawrence took undue credit for certain aspects of the campaign, particularly the raid on Aqaba, and Aldington is right to point this out. It's something else, however, to use this as proof that Lawrence lied about *everything*.

It also seems that Aldington's motives are highly suspect. He had his own traumatic experiences in France during World War I, where he was wounded. Obviously this affected him a great deal, as evidenced by his body of work and troubled life. The overall tone of the book seems to be of a man who fought in France, the decisive theater in the war, angry that someone from "the sideshow of a sideshow" got all the glory. Aldington even more or less admits this, particularly in this explicit and revealing passage (p. 381):

--------------------------------------------------------------------------------
"I have tried, but perhaps not always successfully, to give evidence... fairly and in such away that it can be instantly verified, though not without some indigination that *such a man should have been given the fame and glory of the real heroes of 1914-1918"* (emphasis added)
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------

Ergo, Aldington's motives as suspect if not moreso than what he claims of his subject. Apparently Lawrence's hardships in the desert, helping to unite disaparate Arab tribes and providing a front that, at the very least, proved a useful "sideshow" to the British war effort, while under extremely harsh and trying conditions, is nothing compared to Aldington's own contribution, because Lawrence did not serve in France. To which I say, phooey. Even if we accept that Lawrence gilded the lily in Seven Pillars, Aldington's self-righteous chauvinism is obnoxious and uncalled for, and insults far more people than Lawrence.

I might also suggest, if only parenthetically, that Aldington, already disenchanted with British society, wanted to bring the depised British Establishment down a peg by attacking one of their cherished heroes. The final line of the book, "Lawrence was the appropriate hero for his class and epoch," is highly suggestive of this.

In search of ways to demonize Lawrence, Aldington creates the playbook for what Robert Bolt called the "facile Lawrence denigrators". Everything is here: emphasis on Lawrence's illegitimacy, the downplaying of the Arab Revolt's importance, the downplaying within that of Lawrence's own contribution, the treatment of Lawrence as pathological liar and egomaniac, etc. Just about the only thing that later biographers would differ on is his acceptance of the Deraa Incident as fact; so far as I know, it wouldn't be until Suleiman Mousa's T.E. Lawrence: An Arab View that a biography strongly questioned the incident.

For all discussions of Lawrence's sexuality, I think it's key that Aldington is the first major biographer to strongly assert Lawrence as homosexual; this discussion seems tacked on as a kick in the teeth, with an absurd suggestion that Lawrence's evil mother warped his personality (!!!). Without expanding into a full-blown discussion, I don't think it's a coincidence that allegations of Lawrence's homosexuality originated here, and has largely been parrotted by Lawrence detractors since.

All in all, Aldington's book is a bloody-minded, foul and dishonest hatchet job, saved only by virtue of being reasonably well-written. Any value it has as a corrective to what he calls "the Lawrence Bureau" is undermined by its overall smuttiness. This wouldn't be so much a problem if many people, unwilling to concede that old-fashioned heroes may have a grain of genuine honor to their name, take Aldington and his successors at face value. There's room for debate in any area of history, but vitriol and dishonest scholarship is something be discouraged.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Brave revisionism 7 July 2013
By David Stevens - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I suppose I understand the scorn with which this book is often regarded. Largely because of the legend-creating work work of Lowell Thomas, who knew a headline when he saw it, Lawrence was seen as the one true, unsullied hero of the First World War and Aldington was a scurrilous antidote to that.

Yet much of what Aldington said is now known to be fact. Lawrence was illegitimate and illegitimacy had a stigma to it in those days, certainly to a young man with chivalric concepts. He was severely disciplined by his mother, to which has father was often passive - sound familiar?

Did Lawrence embroider his role in the Desert Campaign? Some, for sure, but perhaps others embroidered more in his behalf - Lowell Thomas, for example - and Lawrence did not demur. Churchill said that Lawrence was a man constantly backing into the limelight of history, but he had an unerring instinct for where the limelight was.

My father was in barracks in Karachi with Lawrence in 1926 and regarded him as a braggart and a liar - and probably queer. Was he homosexual? I have no doubt of it, but by that I mean that he was gay in any sense we understand today, but rather that all his sexual inclinations and urges were directed towards men, which does not mean that he always acted on them.

But sometimes he did. There is John Bruce. And, above all, there is Dahoum.

Yet to this day, this seems to confound the Lawrence hagiographers, who fall into two basic groups - because he was a great general he couldn't been queer, or, conversely, if he had been queer he wouldn't have been a great general. It is homophobia on a grand scale.

For those who want the Lawrence of the movie, that strange, sexless man, devoid of libido, this book is not for you. For those who want a more realistic assessment of a fascinating, complex - and finally deeply unhappy - man, this book is an excellent starting point.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very important book 29 Mar 2004
By ruth - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This book is still one of the most interesting biographies about Lawrence.Aldington was the first person who had the courage to destroy some myths about "Lawrence of Arabia".But we shouldn't forget that this book was published 50 years ago,when many important documents about Lawrence weren't available for Lawrence-bioghraphers.Nowadays all serious historians agree that Lawrence played an important role in the arab revolt and that his book "the seven pillars of wisdom"is an historical document not a fairy tale.
Lawrence was much more than a neurotic liar.I highly recommend Jeremy Wilson's Lawrence-biography and the books of Stephen Tabachnik.These authors are critical but fair,they both show us what a fascinating and great man Lawrence really was.
2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Good insight into the legend... 8 Mar 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Interesting book... picked up in used bookstore. The author has an attitude but admits it early. Excellent research and support of his conclusions... a realistic look at the Legend. A historical piece that will interest those with some knowledge of Lawrence. It is dated but still timely... when looking at heroes, you need to walk around them ... and this book does.
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