Lawrence of Arabia (1955)

Lawrence of Arabia (1955)

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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.


London: Collins, 1955. First edition. Octavo, original black cloth with gilt lettering, portrait frontispiece, eight plates and three maps. A few mild spots affect the cloth, page edges toned, overall a very good copy.

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