His letters home during this period, though still the work of a seriously damaged man, betray a serenity that resulted from his self-imposed removal from the public eye. Still in a state of near-total mental exhaustion, he begins to lay important ghosts to rest.
These are some of the most carefully crafted letters he ever wrote: to great literary figures such as EM Forster, Robert Graves, John Buchan and George Bernard Shaw, but also to his former comrades in arms, his family, his publisher and his lawyer. These are the words of a man putting his life in order, as if readying himself for a new life, or death.
His letter to EM Forster at the end of December 1927, just before leaving for Miranshah, is one of the most significant because it addresses the much-discussed issue of his sexuality. In it, Lawrence faces up to his rape at the hands of Turkish soldiers after his capture at Deraa almost exactly a decade earlier. Forster had sent him a ghost story, 'Dr Woolacott', in which a young squire dies after a sexual encounter with a male employee on his estate and Lawrence appears to find a form of release from his demons in reading it. 'There is a strange cleansing beauty about the whole piece of writing,' he says.
He then discusses his own experience: 'The Turks, as you probably know [or have guessed through the reticences of Seven Pillars] did it to me, by force: and since then I have gone about whimpering to myself, "Unclean, unclean". Now I don't know. Perhaps there is another side, your side, to the story.'
It is a terribly sad letter in which he seems to suggest that he has never had a physical relationship with another human being and believes he never will.
Monday, November 28, 2005
So, Lawrence Was Buggered
A new book out, "Lawrence of Arabia: The Selected Letters", edited by Malcolm Brown (Little Books £20, pp590) and its companion volume, "Lawrence of Arabia: The Life, The Legend" (Thames & Hudson and Imperial War Museum £24.95, pp208) finally have, er, closed the chapter on Lawrence of Arabia and what happened to him when captured by the Turks (you all have seen the film, yes? well, the scene can be found here).