War in the Desert, the first and previously unpublished abridged text of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, copy #4 of the publisher's finely bound full goatskin issue
Castle Hill Press, 2016. First edition. Full leather. This is the first and limited edition of the first version of Seven Pillars of Wisdom intended for general publication. It was prepared in autumn 1922 by T. E. Lawrence and his literary mentor and friend, Edward Garnett, abridged from the 1922 ‘Oxford’ text. Fittingly, it was the final act of outstanding editorial scholarship and fine press publication by Lawrence’s official biographer, Jeremy Wilson (1944-2017) that rescued this text from oblivion.
This copy is hand-numbered “4” by Wilson on the limitation page and signed by Wilson at the end of the Introduction. Of a total edition of 227 numbered copies, only 45 were bound thus for subscribers, in full tan-orange goatskin (evoking desert sand) with raised spine bands, deep green morocco spine labels, double blind rule front cover border, head and foot bands, all edges gilt, folding map, facsimiles of original holograph and edited drafts, and frontispiece photograph of “T. E. Lawrence, Wejh, 1917”.
The strikingly beautiful “sleeping dagger” indigo endpapers bear special note; according to Wilson: “Among the designs I suggested for War in the Desert was a photograph of Lawrence's dagger and belt, lying on the ground. Our printer came back with this, to my surprise converted into a night-time image ("During the day he'd have been wearing it".)” The volume is housed in the publisher’s matching tan-orange cloth, velvet-lined slipcase. Condition is flawless, as-new.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is the story of T. E. Lawrence's (1888-1935) remarkable odyssey as instigator, organizer, hero, and tragic figure of the Arab revolt against the Ottoman Empire during the First World War, which he began as an eccentric junior intelligence officer and ended as "Lawrence of Arabia." The saga of how Seven Pillars was written and published is tortuous.
Lawrence nearly completed a massive first draft in 1919, only to lose it when his briefcase was mislaid at a train station. This first draft was never recovered. At a fever pitch, Lawrence wrote a new 400,000-word draft in 1920. Lawrence followed this punishing burst of writing with equally brutal editing. In 1922, a 335,000 word version was circulated to select friends and literary critics - the famous "Oxford Text". George Bernard Shaw called it "a masterpiece".
In the autumn of 1922, Lawrence and Garnett prepared the abridgement published here. “Between them, they extracted from the many-sided complexities of Seven Pillars a richly observed travel book combined with a fast-moving adventure-story.” Lawrence thought well of it. Nonetheless, on Shaw’s advice, Lawrence canceled the abridgement “at a very late stage, when the completed draft was about to go to the publishers.”
It is difficult to understate the consequences for Lawrence; undoubtedly the book would have brought him financial security and acclaim. Instead, not until 1926 was a different, edited and abridged “Subscribers’ Edition” produced – a lavish edition of fewer than 200 copies that cost Lawrence far more than he made. To recover the loss, Lawrence finally authorized an edition for the general public - but one even further abridged and titled Revolt in the Desert. Only in the summer of 1935, in the weeks following Lawrence's death, was the Subscribers' Edition text finally published for circulation to the general public.
However, the fuller "Oxford Text" - a third longer than the shortened text which became so famous - would not be republished until 1997. And this first abridged version, War in the Desert – the first version prepared for the public and very nearly published in 1923 – remained unknown for more than 90 years. The text was used as bank security for financing for the 1926 Subscriber’s Edition and then subsequently held by Cape as security against advance royalties until the Revolt in the Desert abridgement was delivered. Nonetheless, it remained virtually unknown until this magnificent, long-overdue edition. Item #004088