T. E. Lawrence: The Enigma Explained

T. E. Lawrence: The Enigma Explained - Andrew Norman (Dr.) Andrew Norman's biography of T.E. Lawrence is a slim volume compared to other tomes I've read, and in that there is some virtue, because it will likely prove to be a useful summary of the outlines of Lawrence's life. Norman actually arranges his later chapters by the various people who were Lawrence's close friends (insofar as he allowed himself to have close friends). I found that a novel light on the later years, and enjoyed it, since it led Norman to quote a fair bit of epistolary source material.

That said, I am not completely convinced by Dr. Norman's thesis about the development of Lawrence's personality and sexuality. He advances the notion that Lawrence was physically abused by his mother, but there is, of course, little evidence of this, other than Lawrence's own statements about the whippings that he (unlike his siblings) used to get. I tend to think that sounds like Lawrence grandstanding, with a side of masochistic glee, myself. He asserts that Lawrence was in all probability a virgin up to the Deraa incident. This I find at least somewhat plausible; the man was at the very least sexually conflicted. But Norman seems to have a real vested interest in demonstrating that Lawrence was not homosexual, and that therefore the Deraa rape (on the subject of which Norman clearly takes Lawrence's account at face value) was completely incapacitating and caused the self-effacing withdrawal of his last years.

Now, I'm still not convinced that the "Deraa never happened" arguers are on the right page. Clearly, something happened sometime during that campaign that caused the obvious psychic damage that Lawrence displayed later, and tried to write his way through in "Seven Pillars." But to support the assertion that Lawrence was heterosexual, you have to pretty much ignore the tone of his comments about the Arab boys, and you have to read his poem of love to S.A. as one of a father to a son (as Norman does). I find that rather far-fetched. Perhaps I'm just being an over-sexualized reader, born of the 70s and 80s. In any case, the author presents epistolary evidence, which seems to me irrefutable, that regardless of his putative orientation, Lawrence had a horror of both sex and romantic intimacy. I would add (and I don't think Norman ever does) that he sublimated this into both his acts of heroism and his masochism and desperate self-abnegation after the War.

On the other hand, this little book is very helpful on matters military, bringing in some very helpful charts from A Military History of the First World War, along with comments from military commanders, that helped me put that part of Lawrence's life into a bit more perspective - and I don't often manage to avoid dozing during military history, so that's no small feat!

All in all, a useful little addition to my Lawrence collection.