Creation out of the void: The making of a hero, an epic, a world, T. E. Lawrence

Victoria Carchidi, University of Pennsylvania


T. E. Lawrence was first a military hero, then a writer, finally a mechanic. This dissertation examines the importance given only Lawrence's military career, seeking to explicate through his autobiographical war epic, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, the strategies which have fixed so protean a figure in a final pose so antithetical to him. Seven Pillars was built from grief. In elegy, loss forces the creation of a memorial monument--which attests not to the lost object's continued existence, but to the mourner's. Adopting this paradox from In Memoriam, drawing from epic novels he admired, and harking back to the early connections between Greek elegy and epic, Lawrence created in Seven Pillars a new genre, the totalizing elegy. The impact of this powerfully ironic form imbedded in a text subtitled "A Triumph" is to subvert its superficially glorious tale of guerrilla warfare. Lawrence's use of the epic tradition equally skillfully undercuts both the assumed authority of the narrative voice in Seven Pillars and the authority accorded an imperial literary tradition--Homer and the Old Testament to Milton--which determined the war-loving strand of Western culture. Lawrence evokes the epic in Seven Pillars to underscore its dangerous difference from elegy. Empire depends upon a dichotomy of void and monument similar to the elegiac pattern, as is illustrated by the centrality given networks bridging foreign land. In A Pasage to India, which E. M. Forster finished while reading Seven Pillars, the characters experience their poignant absence in the hollow Marabar Caves. In Seven Pillars Lawrence attacks the Turkish Empire's railroad only to feel it imprinted on his back in lashstrokes; he later suffers the English Empire's more permanent brand of "Lawrence of Arabia." Lawrence rejected authority in life, as in Seven Pillars. He discarded the name "Lawrence" and sought contentment as a mechanic in the RAF, developing rescue boats and a prototype of the Hovercraft. The obsession with Lawrence as solely a military figure reveals the pattern's persistence: his later relinquishments are perceived as a threatening void, redeemable only through the erection of a monument to unreality.

Subject Area

British and Irish literature|Biographies

Recommended Citation

Carchidi, Victoria, "Creation out of the void: The making of a hero, an epic, a world, T. E. Lawrence" (1987). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI8804889.