So Lawrence washes upon us again, thanks to Korda, whose timing couldn’t be better. Just as the caldron of Middle East politics has taken its most dramatic turn since Lawrence led a motley band of rival Arab warriors in a successful, unified revolt against the Turks, the story of the ascetic genius behind that earlier groundswell carries tremendous relevance for anyone trying to better grasp the modern Arab world.
For those who care little for geopolitical entanglements, Lawrence’s story is story enough. He remains an enigmatic and fascinating character 76 years after his death.
T.E. Lawrence, like his four brothers, was illegitimate. His father, Sir Thomas Chapman, gave up status and wealth to run away with Sarah Lawrence, the governess to his four daughters. Sir Thomas never divorced his first wife, but left under a lengthy cloud of shame to create a new life with Sarah, the strict, domineering mother of the future Lawrence of Arabia.
Despite, and because of, a lifelong clash of wills with his mother, Lawrence displayed prodigious intellect and ambition from an early age. Korda notes that Lawrence learned Latin at 5 years old and French the following year. Sir Thomas was a pervasive and strong influence, as well, passing along many of his interests, from architecture to classical literature.