The Guillotine: Twentieth-Century Classics That Won't Last No 31: T E LAWRENCE
Sunday 08 August 1999
Historically, Lawrence was an important figure whose influence on political developments in the Middle East between 1916 and 1921 was real, if ultimately neutered. Despite all his efforts to promote the cause of Arab independence, Syria, Palestine and Iraq were eventually mandated to France and Britain, and he returned home an exhausted and disappointed man. His efforts at self-promotion, however, were to prove rather more successful, at least in the short term.
If he were alive today, he'd probably be represented by Max Clifford. It was of his later, supposedly reclusive period as an ordinary serviceman in the RAF that the often-repeated putdown "backing into the limelight" (coined by the American journalist Lowell Thomas) was originally used. And the panache with which - in those early years spent sashaying across the desert - he would sling his own glamorous aura around his shoulders like a velvet opera cloak, not to mention the rakish angle at which he sported his hero's halo, suggest that the cult of self-nurtured celebrity, which we tend to regard as virtually an invention of the late 1990s, is in reality no newer than anything else under the sun.
There is, though, a paradox. If you try too hard to fabricate a "memory" - if, for example, knowing you will never see someone again, you laboriously attempt to create the conditions for an unforgettable last meeting - what you're actually likelier to end up remembering is less the mise en scene of the "memory" itself than the labour you put into creating it. So it is, in a sense, with Lawrence. All that posturing self-aggrandisement, that obsession with his public image, and what is his current reputation? Increasingly, that of a posturing self-aggrandiser, obsessed with his public image.
And Lawrence the writer? If, as I have done, you have ever ploughed through Seven Pillars of Wisdom, you will know, as I do, that a more accurate title would be "Seven Pillars of Boredom".
GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival
TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride
FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head
Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treattv
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 10 ways we damage our teeth – without realising
- 2 Fifa corruption arrests: Nike reported to be 'multinational sportswear company' at centre of bribery claims over Brazil shirt deal
- 3 Facebook Messenger sends 'creepily' precise location data, as revealed by Marauders Map Chrome extension
- 4 Bahar Mustafa: Goldsmiths Students' Union diversity officer to keep her job after vote of no confidence petition fails
- 5 Photo of wedding guest proposing to girlfriend in front of bride and groom goes viral
Grace of Monaco film panned: Screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman as movie gets US debut
Big Brother contestant Aaron Frew removed from house for 'inappropriate behaviour' after flashing fellow contestants
Britain's Got Talent 2015: Jamie Raven divides Twitter as fans expose mind-boggling magic trick
ASAP Rocky gives nauseating response to explicit Rita Ora rap: 'I'm not saying she's a terrible person'
San Andreas 3D, film review: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson's disaster movie has clear fault lines
EU referendum: David Cameron's rules are a 'democratic disgrace', says French-born Scottish politician set to be denied a vote
SNP fury as HS2 finds 'no business case' for taking fast train service to Scotland
British tourists complain that impoverished boat migrants are making holidays 'awkward' in Kos
Australian man punched in the face for defending Muslim women from abuse on train
A nation of inequality: How the UK is failing to feed its most vulnerable people
David Starkey 'tells Amal Clooney to shut up and stop over-promoting human rights'