Lawrence of Arabia Essay - Critical Context

Alistair MacLean

Critical Context

Lawrence has fascinated readers both young and old since his exploits first became public in the 1920’s. His reputation has gone through a number of swings, from being the military hero MacLean describes to being seen as a man who shirked his country’s needs by retreating into the ranks of the Royal Air Force after World War I. By the 1950’s, Lawrence’s reputation had suffered further attacks by those who saw Seven Pillars of Wisdom, an avowedly literary production centering around Lawrence’s years in Arabia, as a pack of lies. It was also in the 1950’s that Lawrence’s birth out of wedlock was made public. After this decade of hostile reception, the pendulum swung back, and MacLean’s study can be seen as part of a necessary movement to allow readers to appreciate the admittedly astonishing power that Lawrence had over himself and others, both during his time in Arabia and afterward.

In addition, MacLean’s book is a clearly written, engaging entrant into the tradition of biographies of Lawrence written for young adults. First published in 1962, this book coincided with the release of the epic motion picture Lawrence of Arabia. MacLean’s book offers a useful counterpoint to the more fictionalized figure that is portrayed on the silver screen. Also, because MacLean draws from and embellishes on Lawrence’s own account rather than adopting a broader historical perspective, he allows readers to sample the attitudes toward the Middle East and imperialism that were prevalent in the first half of the twentieth century.