There was something truly strange and self-defeating and remarkable about T.E. Lawrence (of Arabia fame). Like many artists his relation to fame seems to have resembled his relationship to himself: he hated it, despised it, and was also fascinated by it and could not quite give up his quest to possess it on some kind of happy terms. For some bizarre reason the 1938 Garden City Publishing edition of his Seven Pillars of Wisdom contains excerpts from his correspondence with his editor about the text of Seven Pillars. There was nothing hasty about the composition of the book: he says he composed it fully three times, revising and polishing the final text “with great care.” One can imagine the frustration the editor felt, therefore, when finding proper names of major characters in the text spelled in all kinds of ways, even on the same page. Here is what the edition gives us of their exchange:
I attach a list of queries raised by F. who is reading the proofs. He finds these very clean, but full of inconsistencies in the spelling of proper names, a point which reviewers often take up. Will you annotate it in the margin, so that I can get the proofs straightened?
Slip [i.e., section] 1. Jeddah and Jidda used impartially throughout. Intentional?
Slip 16. Bir Waheida, was Bir Waheidi.
Why not? All one place.
Slip 20. Nuri, Emir of the Ruwalla, belongs to the “chief family of the Rualla.’ On Slip 23 ‘Rualla horse,’ and Slip 38, ‘killed one Rueli.’ In all later slips ‘Rualla.’
Should have also used Ruwala and Ruala.
Slip 28. The Bisaita is also spelled Biseita.
Slip 47. Jedha, the she-camel, was Jedhah on Slip 40.
She was a splendid beast.
Slip 53. ‘Meleager, the immoral poet.’ I have put ‘immortal poet,’ but the author may mean immoral after all.
Immorality I know. Immortality I cannot judge. As you please: Meleager will not sue us for libel.
Slip 65. Author is addressed ‘Ya Auruns,’ but on Slip 56 was ‘Aurans.’
Also Lurens and Runs: not to mention ‘Shaw.’ More to follow, if time permits.
Slip 78. Sherif Abd el Mayin of Slip 68 becomes el Main, el Mayein, el Muein, el Mayin, and el Muyein.
Good egg. I call this really ingenious.
Lawrence got his way with all of them, and I’m sure there were many more, because on page 50 Prince Feisal, one of the most important figures in the book, is called both Feisal and Feysul. That’s just on one page. In fact both spellings occur on page 51 as well.
I’ve returned to Seven Pillars - whose tomish ponderousness I’ve never quite been able to read through – because the Museum of the Moving Image is screening the truly great David Lean film Lawrence of Arabia in its “See It Big!” series. I am filled with desire to get down to the city for it, but I have work the next day up here, and a squaredancing and folk music festival (the Hoot) before that. I think I’d certainly go if I could reserve tickets in advance, but that is not possible. There’s also a massive snowstorm predicted. Well, we’ll see.