LAWRENCE by Michael Asher


The Uncrowned King of Arabia
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A biography of T.E. Lawrence, of the linear narrative, pop-psychology school. Asher, himself an explorer and author of numerous books (A Desert Dies, 1987, etc.) braids his rudimentary psychologizing with a chronological approach to Lawrence’s life, from his Oxford youth in the “long bright Indian summer of Old England before the Great War changed the world forever,” to the motorcycle crash that terminated his “masochistic world of reverse values—for him pain was pleasure, servitude freedom, and self-denial orgiastic self-indulgence.” Asher sees most everything in Lawrence’s life filtered through that lens of masochism, the roots of which he finds in Lawrence’s mother’s smothering embrace. Crippled by all the attention, Lawrence assumed a “self-fashioned mantle of oddness”: awkward, remote, homosexual at a time when it could earn you a jail term, thriving where his English mates dwindled—in places such as the Near East, where he first went on archaeological digs. The relations Lawrence struck with the Arabs were characterized by the “paternal benevolence of the autocrat,” according to Asher, and Arabia was a fantasy land wherein he could play out his youthful obsessions with the medieval, slipping into Arab garb, finding “a delight in being that ‘baron in the feudal system’, a European in the East.” Lawrence’s role in the Arab Revolt is treated as straight rousing military history. It gives Asher, who follows in Lawrence’s footsteps for much of the book, a chance to add some corrections to the Lawrencian legend; for instance, it takes three full days to cross Sinai, not the fabled 49 hours. Then came the postwar, odd-peg years; evidently uncomfortable outside of the military, he tries to reenlist; the hero goes looking for the oblivion of the enlisted man, “towards degradation, poverty, self-denial and enslavement,” that reverse exhibitionism learned at his mother’s knee. “Lawrence was perhaps the first international megastar of the century,” Asher suggests, and this rather narrow biography pays due homage. (49 b&w photos)

Pub Date: Sept. 1st, 1999
ISBN: 0-87951-712-3
Page count: 418pp
Publisher: Overlook
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: July 1st, 2000


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