Wednesday, August 16, 2023

Third reading: D.W. Buffa on "Seven Pillars of Wisdom"

D.W. Buffa's new novel is Lunatic Carnival, the tenth legal thriller involving the defense attorney Joseph Antonelli. He has also published a series that attempts to trace the movement of western thought from ancient Athens, in Helen; the end of the Roman Empire, in Julian's Laughter; the Renaissance, in The Autobiography of Niccolo Machiavelli; and, most recently, America in the twentieth century, in Neumann's Last Concert.

Buffa writes a monthly review for the Campaign for the American Reader that we're calling "Third Reading." Buffa explains. "I was reading something and realized that it was probably the third time that I knew it well enough to write something about it. The first is when I read it when I was in college or in my twenties, the second, however many years later, when I wanted to see if it was as good as I remembered, and the third when I knew I was going to have to write about it."

Buffa's "Third Reading" of T.E. Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom begins:
In the copy of Seven Pillars of Wisdom T.E. Lawrence gave to his friend, E.M. Forster, he wrote: “Not good enough, but as good, apparently, as I can do.” Forster disagreed. Lawrence, he explained, “was so modest that he never grasped its greatness, or admitted that he had given something unique to our literature.” To say that the book describes the revolt in Arabia against the Turks, is like saying that “Moby Dick is about catching a whale.”

The book that Lawrence did not think good enough, and E.M. Forster thought one of the greatest ever written, was written more than once. The original manuscript, left in a bag at the Reading station, was stolen, and Lawrence had to write it all over again. This second manuscript, known as the Oxford edition of l922, did not do much better. Nearly 330,000 words in length, only about a half dozen copies were known to exist. Lawrence cut this version by 50,000 words, including all of the first chapter, which contained one sentence Forster always remembered: “All the subject provinces of the Empire to me were not worth one dead English boy.” It was a sentence to be weighed against the seven words stamped on the cover of the edition finally offered to the public in 1935, the year of Lawrence’s death: “The sword also means cleanness and death.”

Forster understood why Lawrence had become so famous. The war in the desert was the “last of the picturesque wars. Camels, pennants, the blowing up of little railway trains by little charges of dynamite in the desert - it is unlikely to recur. Next time the airplane will blot out everything in an indifferent death….” The Arab Revolt, Lawrence’s war, was “the last effort of the war-god before he laid down his godhead and turned chemist.” How did it happen? How did a twenty-eight year old English intelligence officer who had joined the army only at the outbreak of the war become one of the greatest generals England ever had?

Lawrence was sent out from Cairo, where he was stationed, to...[read on]
Visit D.W. Buffa's website.

Third reading: The Great Gatsby

Third reading: Brave New World.

Third reading: Lord Jim.

Third reading: Death in the Afternoon.

Third Reading: Parade's End.

Third Reading: The Idiot.

Third Reading: The Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

Third Reading: The Scarlet Letter.

Third Reading: Justine.

Third Reading: Patriotic Gore.

Third reading: Anna Karenina.

Third reading: The Charterhouse of Parma.

Third Reading: Emile.

Third Reading: War and Peace.

Third Reading: The Sorrows of Young Werther.

Third Reading: Bread and Wine.

Third Reading: “The Crisis of the Mind” and A Man Without Qualities.

Third reading: Eugene Onegin.

Third Reading: The Collected Works of Thomas Babington Macaulay.

Third Reading: The Europeans.

Third Reading: The House of Mirth and The Writing of Fiction.

Third Reading: Doctor Faustus.

Third Reading: the reading list of John F. Kennedy.

Third Reading: Jorge Luis Borges.

Third Reading: History of the Peloponnesian War.

Third Reading: Mansfield Park.

Third Reading: To Each His Own.

Third Reading: A Passage To India.

Third Reading: Seven Pillars of Wisdom.

--Marshal Zeringue