The daughter of T.E. Lawrence's physician, Clarissa Dickson Wright, has recently published a book1 in which she writes, "A firm of solicitors who represent T.E. Lawrence's executors also refused us the Bedouin banquet from The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, but that may be because I inadvertently sent my introduction which describes his life as one of the great Boy's Own adventures of the 20th century, despite the fact that he was an alcoholic, a runt and a homosexual in the days when that was still illegal. He was a patient of my father's so I was talking from an informed position."
She was turned down by the same Establishment who destroyed my father's life and mine at the same time. Richard Aldington, for his biography, Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Enquiry,2 was to have to fight one of the hardest battles in his life. Although all the facts are proved today (this was not the case at the time of publication in 1955), all Aldington did was to reestablish the true life of the man turned into a myth. Though today, even the tone of the book no longer seems unduly vehement, he was nevertheless harassed by the friends and admirers of T.E.L. to a point where not only did he lose his health, but was also deprived of his way of earning his living: writing. He was driven to despair by ruin and only saved by his friends, the Australian writer Alister Kershaw who gave him a house, the poet H.D., and Bryher who gave him an allowance. It may be argued that, in view of the fact that he had written poetry (Aldington is on the poet's memorial in Westminster Abbey), novels (Death of a Hero, All Men are Enemies), translated Boccacio, Choderlos de Laclos, Rémy de Gourmont, Balzac, etc., and written numerous biographies, (Voltaire, the Duke of Wellington, Stevenson, etc.), he was one of the most brilliant writers of his day. In spite of this, his discovery of the true nature of T.E.L. brought a group of people Richard nicknamed the "Lawrence Bureau" to attack him with incredible ferocity.3 Aldington was a gentleman, he was erudite, he was the most tender and anxious of fathers -- something which I am in a privileged position to say. To add to his qualities, his wit was whipping. Yet that alone could not explain this hounding.
I met Peter O'Toole a few years after he worked on David Lean's film. He admitted he had taken the dark side of T.E.L. from Aldington. There was never any credit. Again and again I see T.E. mentioned as a hero, as if nothing had been unveiled. I have never understood what motivated these people to treat Aldington in such a horrific manner. Many arguments have been brought up, some having to do with politics and war. Whatever it was, Aldington became their scapegoat.
On reading Clarissa Dickson Wright, it dawns on me that these men were perhaps in a compromised position themselves and terrified by the fact. One thing is sure; they could not ignore the sexual life of T.E.L. They were therefore lying when they attacked Aldington for mentioning his homosexuality. They were cowards trying to duck. Sexual choice is personal. But surely it is better to stand up for one's choices and be proud of them, than to league against a man whose only error was that he couldn't imagine anyone not being interested in the truth.
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1 Wright, Clarissa Dickson, Food: what we eat and how we eat. London: Ebury Press, 2000.
2 Aldington, Richard, Lawrence of Arabia: A Biographical Inquiry. London: Collins, 1955.
3 Crawford, Fred D.,
Richard Aldington and Lawrence of Arabia : a cautionary tale. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1998.
All names given are included here, from Lowell Thomas to Liddel Hart, Allenby, Graves, Churchill, etc.