Seven Pillars of Wisdom: a triumph, the complete 1922 'Oxford' text, three volume limited and numbered edition of 1997
Salisbury, England: Castle Hill Press, 1997. Hardcover. This is an as-new set of the three-volume Castle Hill Press limited edition of the full 1922 "Oxford" text, one of 752 sets total and 650 issued thus. This edition marked the first time that Lawrence's full text was made available to the public since its original circulation to a select few in 1922. This set’s limitation page is hand-numbered "739" by the publisher. The volumes are pristine, appearing unread. The dust jackets are crisp and complete, with only a few incidental spots of trivial soiling. The jackets are now protected beneath removable, archival quality clear covers. The publisher’s slipcase, which typically scuffs and soils easily, is bright and clean, with only incidental scuffing.
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 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 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. This punishing burst of writing was followed by an equally brutal process of editing by Lawrence. 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. 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. 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 - would not be published in an edition 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 thus. The production value is excellent and aesthetically appealing. The large volumes measure 11.25 x 9 inches. The two text volumes are printed on acid-free stock and bound in quarter cream cloth and grey paper-covered boards with green leather spine labels, head and foot bands, green top edge stain, and green endpapers. The Volume I rear pastedown features a pocket bearing two folding, color maps. The third volume contains illustrations, featuring 41 full-page Seven Pillars portraits (26 in full color as in the 1926 Subscriber's edition) as well as 127 war photographs, mainly from the collection Lawrence presented to the Imperial War Museum. The Illustrations volume is bound in full cream cloth with illustrated endpapers. All three volumes are issued in uniform dust jackets evocative of the original 1935 British trade edition of the shorter text and housed in a dark red cloth slipcase.
Reference: O'Brien A034a. Item #007267