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Perspective: Lawrence Epilogue 1922-1935

The exhibit editors review the final years of T.E. Lawrence’s life.

From 1922 to his death in 1935, T.E. Lawrence was a busy man — inventing and reinventing himself, writing and translating, in and out of the military, and all the while dogged by depression, self-hatred and anxiety. He could be remarkably sensitive, boyishly charming and appallingly rude. His was a complex psyche that could never find inner peace.

In 1922, Lawrence enlisted in the Royal Air Force (RAF) as John Hume Ross. He spent his free time fretting over how to publish Seven Pillars of Wisdom, editing it into an abridged version that eventually became Revolt in the Desert, and taking notes for a book he was planning on the RAF. Eventually his presence in the RAF was uncovered, reigniting press interest and professional jealousies and contributing to his discharge.

His attempt to be reinstated in the RAF was rejected, but in 1923 he was accepted into the Tank Corps as Private T.E. Shaw. With military duties demanding less of his time, he undertook translating The Forest Giant from the French, and working on an expensive subscription edition of Seven Pillars of Wisdom that was ultimately published in 1926. 

Still longing to be part of the RAF, in 1925 he begged for reinstatement, was again turned down — then to his delight he was unexpectedly reinstated. The publication of Lowell Thomas’s With Lawrence in Arabia had, according to Jeremy Wilson, “the effect of rekindling public interest.” Fame for Lawrence was consistently a double-edged sword.

By January 1927, Lawrence headed to India for a tour of duty. Revolt in the Desert was published the same year and became a best seller in the US and in Britain. Lawrence began receiving offers to make public tours — including one for $100,000 to the US. Despite unrelenting financial needs, he turned down all offers; instead he focused on finishing his book on the RAF, The Mint, which was published posthumously. Moving from place to place inside India Lawrence was also working on a translation of the Odyssey. It was an undertaking that proved more challenging than he had anticipated, and he often despaired of finishing. Then, once again, his fame came to haunt him, and rumors that he was involved in political intrigue lead to his removal from his post in India.

Moving back to Britain in 1929, but still in the RAF, Lawrence encountered his first experience with belittling press coverage — it shocked and dismayed him. But his new duties in the RAF engaged him — working as a mechanic and testing high speed motorboats. In 1932, his translation of the Odyssey was published, which further enhanced his stature as a writer.

With his tour of duty ending in February 1935, an exhausted Lawrence returned to Cloud Hills, a cottage he had restored and purchased. The press, however, greeted him on arrival, and he fled back to London again in despair. By this point his anxiety about the press, according to Jeremy Wilson, “became almost irrational.” As a last resort Lawrence appealed to media associations to leave him alone, and in April he returned unmolested to Cloud Hills. On May 13, driving back from a trip to the post office, he swerved his motorcycle to miss two boys on the road. Six days later he died of his injuries leaving generations to critique, vilify, aggrandize, or admire the legendary figure known as Lawrence of Arabia.