17 NOVEMBER 1961, Page 23

ticians and cold warriors, but still using him, ambiguously.

In Moscow, where they think it right and good that a political leader in his eighty-first year should be humiliated and reduced to tears in public, how are they likely to treat an aberrant someone so little as a great poet? We know; and know also that mankind, wherever we like, London, Moscow, New York, always produces its brash literary dung beetles and ichneumon flies, its conforming and performing establish- menteers; know as well that Moscow's establish- menteers differ only in being organised by the disciplines of ideology and fear, so that they have a power more totally and brutally of in- flicting literary death or castration or actual death.

Do we need a book—like Mr. Conquest's— to tell us that, again? Possibly. Even then I would urge on Mr. Conquest that someone else should have compiled it—that the proper duty of an English poet who has the good fortune to know Russian, towards the poet Pasternak, and ourselves, is to translate Pasternak, or to write about his writing so as to make it better understood and more widely effective. It would be less profitable, but more honourable. It is certainly what Pasternak would have preferred; and he would have been sorry to observe a poet declining into a propagandist, and doing the Russian thing in reverse, i.e., subscribing (though from the opposite pole of fear instead of desire) to that ludicrous notion of Communists that the most 'total' system has the power of em- bracing everything of consequence in life im- mutably, and for all time. It was part of Paster- nak's distinction to reject that shallowness— with every danger to himself.


PRESUMABLY at some stage of its gestation, one of the Californian emirs behind the film for which Mr. Nutting was engaged as chief ad- viser invited him to set forth, in simple and, where possible, cinematic terms, just who this Lawrence of Arabia was. Certainly the word for this brisk, 250-page assembly of the main facts known about Lawrence's life, with a chapter apart at the end discussing his motives, seems less biography than appreciation : the kind of resumd of terrain or situation subalterns and consuls supply to busy superiors, no more sophisticated in language or detail than fits with being digested at a sitting. Before curling a lip at this, however, you'd best decide just how much more you want to know about Lawrence. He has been dead nearly twenty-seven years, his work buried even longer beneath events: little in the radio hubbub of today's embattled Middle Eastern nationalisms seems relevant to the camel-borne revolt he helped lead north from Medina forty-five years ago. Mr. Nutting maps that legendary ride to Damascus, sets it in per- spective as a minor flanking-movement to Allen- by's offensive in Palestine, and tells how crowned and discrowned lived ever after. Every- thing that matters to history and the camera is there, sketched accurately and fairly adequately, and it's hard to see what more you could demand.

Except, of course, an answer to the question which has no importance to history but remains the most fascinating of all: what was he hiding from? Why did Lawrence, the national hero, turn his back on his life, sell his gold dagger and bury himself anonymously in the Air Force? 'Oh, Ross,' as he cries in Terence Rattigan's play, `how did I become you?' Mr. Nutting sensibly chucks out the usual hypotheses. Lawrence him- self denied he was driven by shame for the Arabs' betrayal at Versailles; Britain had cleared her conscience, he said more than once, with the Cairo settlement of 1922 which set up the king- doms of Iraq and Transjordan. Nor is there any evidence for the Rattigan theory that Lawrence was broken by the revelation, at the hands of his Turkish captors in Deraa, of homosexual in- stincts in himself. Lawrence speaks calmly in The Mint of homosexuality as a temptation he understood but had never succumbed to—too calmly for a man discussing his life's shattering secret.

Mr. Nutting's suggestion is another version of what may have happened that brutal night in Deraa. He seizes on Lawrence's description in the Seven Pillars of how at the height of his flogging 'a delicious warmth, probably sexual' swelled through him. Lawrence must have been a masochist, he argues, driven all his life by desire to mortify his flesh, to seek positions of hardship, subservience and humiliation. This is why he drove and starved himself in the desert, why he punished himself for guzzling his post- war celebrity by cleaning latrines at Uxbridge aircrew depot. I find this theory as tenuous as Rattigan's. Would Lawrence, again, have bared his soul so casually? In context, the description of his beating reads as a curious discovery about pain's boundaries, passed on for general interest with his other exotic Eastern experiences. In any case, the equation of masochism in this clinical sense with a desire for discipline as found in the Air Force seems little more than lead it, but was hastily tacked by the Cairo command as a paymaster-adviser to an Arab fait accompli) came as an accident and ended in horror: if, like many ordinary men, he over- reached under stress of war his normal limits, he was thrown back within them that night in Deraa, when he grovelled and sobbed for mercy as anyone else would have done. Freed, he asked Allenby to send him home; but the Arabs and Allied propaganda needed a hero, and so the Lowell Thomas circus took the road. For Law- rence, the real test was the Seven Pillars. He set himself, he told Edward Garnett, to write a book to stand beside Tolstoy, Dostoievsky and Mel- ville, to prove the genius others had claimed for him. When it was written he saw that he had failed, creating a plaster monster of borrowed styles and mock nobilities, with no word, as he told Shaw, he could claim as his own. Better than his critics, he knew it was a deception : it had not revealed the voice which was the true Law- rence, in which he could speak out.

But the praise rolled in, and bewildered him again. Was he a hero? Was he a genius? Perhaps the RAF would tell him who he was. 'The genius raids,' he wrote to Robert Graves, 'but the com- mon people occupy and possess. Wherefore I stayed in the ranks and served to the best of my ability.' He could not wholly resist the savour of his fame, but if he had touched greatness it had been a raid, not a conquest. Ultimately his sense of himself rebelled, warning him that to swallow the legend would be to risk sanity, to cast loose from identity itself. Mr. Nutting has done right to give most of his book to the deeds, the externals. What lay behind them the poor, Proud little man himself never discovered.