An Evening at Sandfords

Last Wednesday (June 17th) I visited Stanford’s Travel Bookshop for the first time to attend a talk given by Anthony Sattin in support of his book Young Lawrence, which looks at the first twenty or so years of Lawrence’s life.

Sattin cut a very debonaire figure with his lean figure and twinkling eyes. He has the kind of face that could not only gatecrash a private party with ease but give the impression that he was the host: he looks very self-assured and confident.

After Wednesday, I may add knowledgeable for that for he spoke very well about Lawrence. His talk also included images and it was nice that, unlike one or two other authors whose talks I have attended recently, he was able to work the computer that brought them up on the monitor! Amongst the interesting selection of pictures were a couple I had never seen before – including one (the only extant one) of Lawrence’s father.

In regards the talk, Sattin talked about how TEL became the first of his siblings to discover that their parents were not married, and that he blamed his mother for his illegitimacy. He spoke about Lawrence’s difficult relationship with his mother, Sarah; he was the only one of her sons that she beat.

Sattin took us from the Lawrence family house to Oxford University, where Lawrence matriculated at Jesus College, and hence to the Middle-east via France, which TEL travelled to for his dissertation, which was on the topic of Crusader Castles.

One of the castles that Lawrence visited was the magnificent Crac des Chevaliers, which still stands in western Syria – although with the civil war engulfing the country and the onward march of Islamic State who knows for how much longer? Sadly, it has already been damaged by the violence there.

Much to my delight, Sattin mentioned David Hogarth (one of the first things I did when buying my copy of Young Lawrence was to check the index to see if he was there; not only does Sattin mention him but does so numerous times). He described Hogarth as a ‘shadowy figure’, for despite holding some very important posts in his lifetime (e.g. Director of the British School in Athens and of the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford, and a senior role in the Arab Bureau in Cairo during the Great War) there is no surviving Hogarth archive. What we know of Hogarth, therefore, comes chiefly from his books.

After Lawrence graduated, Hogarth took him to Carchemish in northern Syria, where he was leading an archaeological dig. Lawrence acted as foreman and earned the trust of the native people through the respect he had for them.

As I recall, Lawrence described the Carchemish dig as the happiest days of his life. He was far from home, doing something he enjoyed and enjoyed a very happy friendship with a young man (I would say teenager but that term might be anachronistic) whom he nicknamed Dahoum.

Lawrence and Dahoum were very close. Leonard Woolley, who succeeded Hogarth as overseer of the Carchemish dig, alleged that they were lovers but later rowed back from this. I speak under correction but I don’t believe there is any direct evidence that Lawrence and Dahoum had a sexual relationship.

For his part, Lawrence loved being contrary. During the war he earned the annoyance of his senior officers through his scruffiness and while at Carchemish he carved a statue of a naked demon that, so it was said, Dahoum had posed for. Even if this wasn’t true, I could imagine Lawrence refusing to confirm or deny the rumours just for the sake of it.

When Carchemish came to an end, Lawrence continued to work in the Middle-east. In early 1914 he and Leonard Woolley went on a map making expedition in Ottoman controlled territory in the Negev Desert. This work was done ostensibly for the Palestine Exploration Fund but that may have been cover for the British Army. The clouds of war were appearing on the horizon and Britain had too little knowledge of the desert that would be the frontline of any Middle-eastern war with the Turkish empire.

Following the talk, Sattin took questions from the audience. I asked if – despite Hogarth’s shadowyness – we knew enough about him to say whether he had a deep influence on Lawrence. Sattin replied that in the Seven Pillars of Wisdom Lawrence describes Hogarth in the most fulsome terms – a mentor, father confessor etc etc. I haven’t read the Seven Pillars yet so here is one more reason to do so.

All too soon, the talk and questions were over and the audience were dispersing into the evening warmth outside. I look forward to reading Sattin’s book and, indeed, going back to Sandford’s to investigate its book collection.

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4 Responses to An Evening at Sandfords

  1. I think the most remarkable revelation in this is that you haven’t read Seven Pillars of Wisdom yet. Well, I am sure you will remedy that soon, as you say. Nice post.

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    • M J Mann says:

      I think I will make it a priority this summer, Seven Pillars and Jeremy Wilson’s biography both. It’s funny because at the talk, Sattin said that most people come to Lawrence through Seven Pillars or the film. I, however, have neither read the book (although I have a copy) nor watched the film. At least, not in its entirety. I have started it a couple of times but O’Toole’s Lawrence keeps putting me off. Which is ironic as Ralph Fiennes’ Almásy is hardly a better man but I love The English Patient. I’ll accept any and all encouragement towards watching the picture as I would like to at least once!

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      • If any of your issue is strictly with Peter O’Toole’s performance, you wouldn’t be the first. Of course, he was probably a good eight inches taller than T.E. Lawrence, and I have read complaints about his mannerisms as well. Let’s at least give him this, though: the facial resemblance is uncanny.

        If it’s at all about simply his character or moral fiber, well, what can one say? He’s a sympathetic and complex character. Also remember that Seven Pillars itself was, as Lawrence himself admitted, not the most factual account, and so, owing to that as well as what movies tend to do, the film is not an accurate and precise history lesson. It is nevertheless a marvelous film, taking all that into account. One I myself never tire of seeing, and I’ve seen it a good many times.

        So consider yourself encouraged.

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      • M J Mann says:

        Yes, I think I’m just being shallow. I didn’t like the portrayal of him as a smart aleccy type. But how can can one fairly assess a character in the first ten minutes? I will try again!

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