Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a triumph, the complete 1922 'Oxford' text, four volume limited and numbered edition of 1997
Salisbury, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Hardcover. This the Castle Hill Press limited edition of the full 1922 "Oxford" text, one of 752 sets total and only 75 “extra-illustrated sets” issued thus, with an additional illustrations portfolio and specially-sized slipcase.
This edition marked the first time that Lawrence's full text, originally circulated to a select few in 1922, was made available to the public. This set’s limitation page is hand-numbered "113". The volumes are pristine. The dust jackets are crisp and immaculate apart from faint transfer browning from the leather spine labels and a small mark on the blank rear face of the Illustrations volume jacket. The jackets are protected beneath removable, clear, archival covers. The additional illustrations folio is complete. Only the publisher’s slipcase shows some scuffing, but is nonetheless bright and intact.
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is the story of the remarkable odyssey of T. E. Lawrence (1888-1935) 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." This time defined Lawrence with indelible experience and celebrity, which he spent the rest of his short life struggling to reconcile and reject, to recount and repress. Lawrence famously resisted publication of his magnum opus for the general public during his lifetime.
The saga is remarkable. He nearly completed a 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 an equally brutal process of editing. In 1922, a 335,000 word version was carefully circulated to select friends and literary critics - the famous "Oxford Text". George Bernard Shaw called it "a masterpiece". Nonetheless, Lawrence was unready to see it distributed to the public. In 1926, a further edited 250,000 word "Subscriber's Edition" was produced by Lawrence - but fewer than 200 copies were made, each lavishly and uniquely bound. The process cost Lawrence far more than he made in subscriptions. To recover the loss, Lawrence finally authorized an edition for the general public - but one even further abridged, titled Revolt in the Desert. Only in the summer of 1935, in the weeks following Lawrence's death, was the text of the Subscribers' Edition finally published for circulation to the general public. But the text released to the world as "Complete and Unabridged" in 1935 and which became so famous is, in fact, a significantly abridged version. The 1922 "Oxford Text" - a third longer – was not available to the public until this 1997 edition.
Castle Hill Press took this text from the manuscript in the Bodleian Library and T.E. Lawrence's annotated copy of the 1922 Oxford Times printing. Castle Hill first published a three-volume limited edition of 752 sets of this Oxford Text. Of these, 650 sets were issued in the handsome cloth and paper bindings featured here, but only 75 of these 650 included an extra matching portfolio containing a proof set of the Seven Pillars portraits. These were produced by the original Spanish printers of the book of illustrations, which was reprinted in England when the first printing was found to be defective. The three volumes plus the portfolio of proof portraits were issued in a cloth-covered slipcase. The two text volumes are beautifully bound in quarter cream cloth over grey paper-covered boards with green leather spine labels. The Illustrations volume and Illustrations portfolio are both bound in matching full cloth. The three volumes feature dust jackets in a style evocative of the original 1935 British trade edition of the shorter text. These extra-illustrated sets were issued to subscribers only and otherwise available only with the very limited number of full-leather sets.
Reference: O'Brien A034a. Item #006297