E.M. Forster and T.E. Lawrence

June 28, 2010
By Jeremy Wilson

E.M. Forster was one of the most influential readers of Seven Pillars of Wisdom during the time that Lawrence was cutting down the 1922 ‘Oxford’ text to the abridged version that he issued to subscribers in 1926. Forster offered far more than general praise and admiration. He provided expert criticism of specific writing faults. The two became friends and remained in contact until Lawrence’s death in 1935.

We are in the final stages of editing our scholarly edition of the Lawrence-Forster correspondence. In the past, some of the letters have appeared in print in published collections – but some letters were for various reasons withheld. Our edition (as with other volumes in the T.E. Lawence Letters series) includes everything we have been able to locate, in order to reproduce as much as possible of the substance of a friendship that was largely channelled through correspondence.

Fortunately, both Forster and Lawrence kept most of each other’s letters. So readers will have the satisfaction of a sequence of correspondence with few noticeable breaks. More important, however, is the human quality of this remarkable series. For Forster, Lawrence was one of the few friends he could trust to read his writings on homosexual themes.  Lawrence said things about his war experiences to Forster that he said to no-one else. Stripped of reserve over conventional taboos, the friendship was genuine – and important to both parties.

For us, working on the Lawrence-Forster letters comes after the immense task of editing Lawrence’s correspondence with the Shaws, and before the major part of our work on his correspondence with Robert Graves. For Lawrence, each of these friendships was different and, as Graves noted, ‘compartmentalised’. In a sense, though, there is a satisfying equality in Lawrence’s relationship with Forster that did not exist with either the Shaws (who saw Lawrence as a protégé) or Graves (who Lawrence saw as a protégé). It is an excellent series of letters.

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