London: Jonathan Cape Ltd., 1935. First edition, first printing. Hardcover. This is the British first trade edition, first printing in dust jacket. This edition, published swiftly after Lawrence’s death, marked the first time that the text of his famous “Subscribers’ Edition” was made available to the general public.
This is a very good copy in a complete, very good dust jacket. First printing is confirmed by the illustration on pages 304-5 incorrectly specified in the list of Illustrations at p.20 as being on pages 302-3, an error corrected in the second printing. The brown buckram binding is square and tight with sharp corners and bright gilt. We note only trivial shelf wear to the bottom edges, minor wrinkling at the spine ends, trivial blemishes to the rear cover, and a hint of uniform spine toning. The contents are bright. Spotting appears confined to the untrimmed fore and bottom edges. The sole previous ownership mark is an illustrated bookplate affixed to the front pastedown. The brown topstain is a bit sunned but otherwise clean. The dust jacket is unclipped, retaining the original lower front flap price, and complete, with no appreciable loss. Moreover, the spine is untoned, with no color shift between the faces and spine. Wear is incidental and confined to extremities. If not for moderate overall soiling we would grade this jacket as near fine. The jacket is newly fitted with a clear, removable, archival cover.
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." This time defined Lawrence with indelible experience and celebrity which he would spend the rest of his famously 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 massive first draft in 1919, only to famously 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. This punishing burst of writing was followed by 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. Finally, in 1926, a further edited 250,000 word "Subscribers' 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 and entitled "Revolt in the Desert". It was only in the summer of 1935, in the weeks following Lawrence's death, that the text of the Subscribers' Edition was finally published for circulation to the general public in the form of a British first trade edition.
Winston Churchill was among Lawrence's original subscribers to the 1926 edition, though Lawrence refused to allow Churchill to pay for his copy, as a token for his esteem for the work he and Churchill had done together in the Colonial Office after the First World War. Of this text, Winston Churchill wrote: "It ranks with the greatest books ever written in the English language. If Lawrence had never done anything except write this book as a mere work of the imagination his fame would last... But it is fact, not fiction... An epic, a prodigy, a tale of torment, and in the heart of it - A Man.”
Reference: O'Brien A042. Item #006632