SOLITARY IN THE RANKS: Lawrence of Arabia as Airman and Private Soldier by H. Montgomery Hyde
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SOLITARY IN THE RANKS: Lawrence of Arabia as Airman and Private Soldier

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Lawrence of Arabia is a figure nearly impossible to reclaim from the tide of iconography and biographical debate. But Hyde, a prolific biographer, has succeeded in indicating the complexities of Lawrence's personality, capturing his originality of spirit, and suggesting his impact on the common soldier through the memories of servicemen who knew him. This biography concerns itself with T. E. Lawrence's life after his legendary exploits, as a low-ranking member of the R.A.F. from 1922 to 1935, shortly before his death in a motorcycle accident. Even standard biographies, like Liddell Hag's Colonel Lawrence have not thoroughly investigated the significance of Lawrence's passionate ambition to be on the same level as ordinary men, his refusal of the King's honors, and of Churchill's offers of high office. Hyde makes extensive use of Lawrence's letters to friends in government and the Air Ministry, and to people like Thomas Hardy and Mr. and Mrs. G. B. Shaw. These letters, beautifully written in a kind of lyric melancholy and self-deprecating vein, illuminate his almost monastic wish to withdraw from the public view. Partly this reflected his dedication to the fledgling air force, partly his interest in primary research on men in the ranks, and also a penitential impulse. He did not think well of his mission against the Turks and he stayed on in colonial affairs only long enough to see questions in the Arabian peninsula somewhat fairly settled. During this period, too, Lawrence's attention turned to writing. The most important contribution Hyde makes is to our understanding of the Seven Pillars of Wisdom and the introduction of The Mint, Lawrence's work on the world of the recruits. But fame dogged and haunted Lawrence in the ranks, as well as jealous suspicion. Hyde's account, unlike other biographers, is free of speculation or decoration. Through a neglected period of Lawrence's life, he has suggested a different character than what is popularly supposed--one at once passive and utterly possessed.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1978
Publisher: Atheneum