Behind the Lawrence Legend: the title suggests debunking, iconoclasm, the examination of dirty laundry – another contribution, that is, to the lively tradition of Lawrence-bashing that began with Richard Aldington’s spiteful 1955 biography and includes The Secret Lives of Lawrence of Arabia, the book that revealed to the general public that Lawrence, while serving in the ranks of the RAF and the army, had paid a young friend to whip him fiercely in ritual acts of humiliation and, perhaps, atonement.
Many (not all) of these hostile accounts have been motivated by homophobia. The most sickening of them was probably Malcolm Muggeridge’s sneer at Lawrence as ‘or English Genet, or Sodomite Saint’. It was in the decade after Aldington published his book that Alan Bennett wrote his brilliantly funny passages about Lawrence in Forty Years On: ‘There have been those, as there always are those, who have said that there was something feminine about his make-up, but his was always so discreet.’
Philip Walker’s book, which barely so much as alludes to Lawrence’s complex sexuality (though it does, twice, innocently refer to his ‘make-up’), is a very different enterprise. Minutely researched and honourably intentioned, the book aims to turn the spotlight away from the guerrilla leader and onto a small group