Lawrence of Arabia: Between Myth and History


“I deem him one of the greatest beings alive in our time ... We shall never see his like again.”
—Sir Winston Churchill on T(homas) E(dward) Lawrence

"The story I have to tell is one of the most splendid ever given a man for writing."
—Lawrence, remarking, in a letter to a confidante, on the events chronicled in The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

"I've been & am absurdly over-estimated. There are no supermen & I'm quite ordinary, & will say so whatever the artistic results. In that point I'm one of the few people who tell the truth about myself."
—Lawrence, in the same letter quoted above

Epic is the word for the accounts by which most filmgoers and students of literature and history have come to know of T. E. Lawrence’s struggle to unite desert tribes in Britain’s campaign against Germany’s Ottoman allies during the Great War. Each is vast as the arid expanses of the Nefud Desert, long as the camelback trek to Aqaba, and ambitious as the Hejaz campaign from which a young British lieutenant emerged a legend: David Lean’s sprawling 1962 film, Lawrence of Arabia, runs 217 minutes (in the director’s cut), while Lawrence’s own memoir, The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, in the lavish Subscribers’ Edition published in 1926, weighs in at some 250,000 words. But how faithful a likeness of Lawrence emerges from Lean’s film or Lawrence’s own narrative of the events that made this illegitimate issue of British aristocracy the legend that is Lawrence of Arabia? Jonathan Locke Hart, Director of the Program in Comparative Literature and Adjunct Professor of History at the University of Alberta (Edmonton), shall address these and other questions in his Athenaeum presentation as the Ricardo J. Quinones Distinguished Lecturer for Academic Year 2008-09.

Professor Hart has taught at Harvard, Princeton, Cambridge (where just this past year he delivered four plenary lectures on subjects ranging from “Shakespeare’s Drama of History” to “The Beginnings of European Expansion”), the Universities of Toronto and Montreal, and many other institutions. He has published scores of essays, articles, and reviews on all manner of subjects; authored, co-authored, or edited eleven books (including Empires and Colonies [Cambridge: Polity Press, 2008]; Interpreting Culture: Literature, Religion, and the Human Sciences [New York and London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2006]; Theater and World: The Problematics of Shakespeare’s History [Boston: Northwestern University Press, 1992]; and two volumes of poetry, Dream Salvage (2003) and Dream China (2002). He has delivered lectures and papers at colleges, universities, and conferences from Aarhus to Zaragoza, from Ottawa to Oxford, from Saskatchewan to Seoul. His appointments include editorship of the Canadian Review of Comparative Literature and membership of the editorial boards of the Journal of Literary Criticism (India), Oxford University Press, and American Historical Review.

Established in 2003 in honor of the founding director of the Family of Benjamin Z. Gould Center for Humanistic Studies, the Ricardo J. Quinones Distinguished Lectureship brings preeminent intellectuals, writers, and public figures to Claremont McKenna College to hold forth on a broad range of subjects. With his presentation on the history and legend of Lawrence of Arabia, Jonathan Hart joins the distinguished company of Shelby Steele, James Q. Wilson, Harvey Klehr, Paul Barolsky, and Martin Marty as a Quinones Lecturer.