Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Hounded to death: the last years of T. E. Shaw. Introduction

Colonel T. E. Lawrence by Augustus John, 1919
Everyone knows him as Lawrence of Arabia. He became the most famous military figure of the First World War.

In November of last year, my friend Kyriacos Kyriacos wrote to me about finding a couple of documents written about T. E. Shaw (Lawrence's legal name change) by B. V Jones who served with Shaw in India and knew him well. The documents (one incomplete) were inside a copy of the 1935 first trade edition of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom. Kyri had found these documents earlier and recognizing their importance, wanted to research them further but being a very busy person, he found little time to do so. I offered to do that research and to publish them on this blog as he wanted to make them available to the T. E. Lawrence Society and to all of the biographers and researchers of T. E. Lawrence. Later, Kyri generously gave me the documents and one of the biographies I used in this project.

Right from the start, I realized that this was a daunting project. I have researched quite a number of objects, but these were mostly newly discovered antiquities. To attempt to do something original in biographical research about someone who was the subject of more than a hundred biographies is far from easy. "Write what you know" is a piece of good advice usually attributed to Mark Twain and as I knew that T. E. was an Introverted Intuitive and I shared that general personality type, I realized that a psychological portrait would be the best approach for me. These types (INFJ and INTJ) are the most difficult for others to understand of all of the personality types. T. E. is mostly identified as an INTJ whereas I am an INFJ but the similarities seem to be greater than the differences.

The author of the documents, B. V. Jones, also contributed an article to T. E. Lawrence by his Friends ed. A. W. Lawrence, Jonathan Cape. London, 1937. No reviews of this book appear on the web, but there are four brief reviews of the 1954 abridgment where B. V. Jones and some other's articles were omitted. The main interests in 1954 were not so much of T. E.'s later years as they were of "Lawrence of Arabia" and you will remember that David Lean's epic 1962 film Lawrence of Arabia starts with his death and then flashes back to the First World War and ends with his return to England. It capitalized on the public interest that grew on Lawrence of Arabia right after WW1 and the public were not, and still are not, as interested in T. E.'s later life. No one suffered more from this lack of interest as T.E., himself: he became a myth and was hounded to death. His downfall was neither as dramatic nor as direct as the death of Princess Diana but in each case, both the press and the public with their obsession for an incomplete myth had blood on their hands.
"Yet each man kills the thing he loves
 By each let this be heard,
Some do it with a bitter look,
Some with a flattering word,
The coward does it with a kiss,
The brave man with a sword!"
Oscar Wilde, The Ballad of Reading Gaol
The one oasis for T. E. Shaw was his service in India and it is the least understood part of his later life. B. V. Jones reveals what I consider to be an important detail about that time that never made it into Jones' original 1937 account. Perhaps that quote from T. E. Shaw was something that Jones was only able to realize as important in his later years as it reflects on the path of life and at the time that Shaw said it he was psychologically much older than his physical years.

Tomorrow I will provide an image archive of both of the Jones documents and their associated ephemera together with a transcript of Jones' main account of T. E. Shaw in India. I will also include excerpts from the 1937 published account by Jones and more of that will appear later in this series.

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  1. Hi John:

    Ah! The long awaited. Well done. Hounded to death? I don't think so. Almost every day I pass the spot where he received his fatal wounds and everyday I suspect official involvement.


    John Howland

    1. Hi John,

      Well, there are direct causes and there are indirect causes, and sometimes there are both. Stay tuned ;-)