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T. E. Lawrence

Lawrence, T. E. (Thomas Edward Lawrence), 1888–1935, British adventurer, soldier, and scholar, known as Lawrence of Arabia. While a student at Oxford he went on a walking tour of Syria and in 1911 joined a British Museum archaeological expedition in Mesopotamia. He remained in the Middle East until 1914, learning colloquial Arabic and making exploratory trips and archaeological surveys. After the outbreak of World War I, Lawrence was attached to the intelligence section of the British army in Egypt.

In 1916, he joined the Arab forces under Faisal al Husayn (Faisal I) and became a link between the British and the Arab rebels as well as a leader in the Arab revolt against Turkish rule. Lawrence molded a diverse group of a few thousand tribesmen into an effective guerrilla force whose small, rapid assaults tied down large Turkish armies. After the war he was a delegate to the Paris Peace Conference, where in vain he sought independence for the Arabs. He became (1919) a research fellow at Oxford and served (1921–22) as Middle East adviser to the colonial office, working constantly for the creation of independent Arab states.

Lawrence had meanwhile become something of a legendary figure, but in 1922 he enlisted, under the name of Ross, as a mechanic in the Royal Air Force. There have been many interpretations of his search for anonymity: his feeling that he had betrayed Arab hopes for independence or, conversely, the conviction that he had done everything possible for his Arab friends and could do no more; an almost pathological aversion to publicity; or emotional disturbances produced by his war experiences. When Lawrence's identity was discovered (1923), he went into the tank corps; in 1925 he rejoined the air force. He legally adopted (1927) the name T. E. Shaw.

In Paris in 1919, Lawrence began to write a narrative of his Arabian adventures, but he lost most of the manuscript and had to rewrite the whole without his notes, which he had destroyed. The result was the celebrated Seven Pillars of Wisdom, which was privately printed and circulated in 1926 although not published commercially until 1935. An abridged version, Revolt in the Desert, appeared in 1927. The Mint, an account of his life in the Royal Air Force, written under the pseudonym J. H. Ross, was published in 1955. Other works are a translation of the Odyssey (1932), Oriental Assembly (papers, ed. by his brother, A. W. Lawrence, 1939), and his letters (ed. by David Garnett, 1938, new ed. 1964).

See biographies by R. Graves (1928), D. Orgil (1973), J. E. Mack (1976), M. Brown and J. Cave (1988), J. Wilson (1989), M. Asher (1999), and M. Korda (2010); studies by J. Meyers, ed. (1989) and S. Anderson (2013); bibliographies by F. Clements (1973) and P. O'Brien (1988).

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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