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‘For Only Those Deserve the Name’

T.E. Lawrence and Seven Pillars of Wisdom

Mark Calderbank was born in Lancaster and brought up in the north of England. He read modern French and German literature at Cambridge University and Linguistics at Kent. A compulsion to travel led him to the Arab East, where he spent twenty years, learned Arabic, and travelled. This is his first book, building on his articles for the T.E. Lawrence Society Journal. He is married and lives in France.

In Seven Pillars of Wisdom, his epic of the Arab Revolt, T.E. Lawrence wanted to write a work of spiritual greatness, comparable to The Brothers Karamazov, and Thus spake Zarathustra. ‘For only those deserve the name’, he wrote to Charlotte Shaw, recalling his ambition to be a great writer. Mark Calderbank’s biography shows how post-World War I political developments in the Middle East, and Lawrence’s unsettled life and sense of guilt, influenced the published work and contributed to his sense of failure. By following multiple lines of enquiry into chosen events, Mark Calderbank shows us a story coloured by a retrospective vision of history, a post-war Weltanschaung, and the compulsion to present an exemplary personality. This approach has the deepest significance for the interpretation of the Seven Pillars’ reliability as a historical source, in particular the interweaving of fantasy and historical truth, and excessive personalisation. The psychology of masochism plays a prominent rôle in interpreting the ‘drama of the Self’, especially the notorious incidents at Dera’ and Tafas. Problems of personality are paramount.

Seven Pillars has been overly influential and has long required a reassessment. The 100th anniversary of the Revolt is opportune. Of especial significance are the revealing of accounts of other participants, and Lawrence’s presentation of the Arabs and of history, both of which remain highly topical. The Epilogue, a commentary on an essay (1940) by André Malraux, appraises the meaning of literature in Lawrence’s life. To date, Seven Pillars has eluded evaluation. “In the end”, wrote Herbert Read, “the reader finds himself alone: he has to decide for himself.” Calderbank’s majestic reassessment is long overdue.

Hardback ISBN: 978-1-84519-808-4
Hardback Price: £40.00 / $64.95
Release Date: October 2016
Paperback ISBN: 978-1-84519-842-8
Paperback Price: £27.50 / $39.95
Release Date: September 2017
Page Extent / Format: 396 pp. / 234 x 156 mm
Illustrated: Yes

Abbreviated References used in this book
Key chapter numeration in successive editions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom
A note on the texts


Chapter One
Genesis in Paris, 1919

Chapter Two
Writing the Book. London, Oxford, Pole Hill, 1920

Chapter Three
In the Political Arena, 1920–21

Chapter Four
From the Oxford Text to Enlistment in the Ranks, 1922

Chapter Five
Literary Mentors, 1922–24

Chapter Six
Bovington Camp, 1923–25

Chapter Seven
The Subscribers’ Edition, 1923–26

Section 1 The Arab Revolt: Participant Accounts
Chapter Eight
Lawrence in The Arab Revolt: A Summary

Chapter Nine
Lawrence & Ronald Storrs in Jeddah

Chapter Ten
The Battle of Tafileh. Subhi al-Umari & Lawrence
Chapter Eleven
Kirkbride's Account

Section 2 The Drama of the Self
Chapter Twelve
The Outsider: 1

Chapter Thirteen
Climax at Dera’

Chapter Fourteen
The Outsider: 2

Chapter Fifteen
The Biographical Environment and Sequel

Section 3 Between Myth and Reality
Prologue The Titanic Inspiration

Chapter Sixteen
The Arab Mirage

Chapter Seventeen
The Presentation of History

Chapter Eighteen
The Problem of Autobiography

Epilogue Was that all it was, then?

Appendix 1 Chronology of Text 1: Four versions
Appendix 2 Nesib al-Bakri and the Syrian alternative
Appendix 3 The demonisation of Abdelkader

Bibliography of References

Reviewed in Middle East Policy Journal, Vol XXIV, No.1, Spring 2017, 178–81.

It is such a monumental piece of research that you are able to read Lawrence’s motivations and emotional reactions with 100% credibility.  By dint of your unremitting research efforts you have really got inside his skin. It certainly merits scholarly attention, from historians, biographers and psychologists alike, because you explore and contribute to all these fields.  You do it very coherently and persistently, in a very readable way. You stick to your theme of Seven Pillars with great tenacity but you make it interesting with all the details you have unearthed about its author’s background, activities and character. What follows from the interesting nature of these details may be, for some, a sense of poignancy.
June Rathbone, Former Fellow, University College, London and author of Anatomy of Masochism

There have been surprisingly few critical studies of this literary masterwork. … So this insightful study is overdue. … Calderbank's most important contribution is to analyse Seven Pillars in terms of Lawrence's masochism … he presents a stimulatingly fresh interpretation of this important book.
Graham Chainey, The Times Literary Supplement No.5963 (14 July 2017)

This book examines Seven Pillars of Wisdom, T.E. Lawrence’s memoir of the Arab Revolt from 1916 to 1918, as well as his life during the writing and production of the book. It describes the genesis and development of the memoir and how it was influenced by postwar political developments and Lawrence’s moral crisis. It discusses the book’s development through the unfinished 1920 abridgement, the 1922 “Oxford” text, the subscribers’ edition of 1926, literary mentors who tried to help Lawrence (Edward Garnett, Bernard Shaw, and E.M. Forster), and his political engagement and outcomes in the Middle East, which affected the tone of the book, as well as his relationships with writers, artists, and others. The second part looks at the memoir from various perspectives, including accounts of the Arab Revolt written by other participants, such as Ronald Storrs, Subhi al-Umari, and Alec Kirkbride; the parallel text, Revolt in the Desert; the major themes of the memoir, namely Lawrence’s multi-faceted attitude towards the Arabs, his presentation of history, and the meaning of his autobiography; and literary evaluation of it and the meaning of literature in Lawrence’s life, through a commentary on an essay by André Malraux written between 1940 and 1943.

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