Lawrence & Graves
By Assistant Editor Kimball Worcester
|At War's End: A Wary Robert Graves
The Great War fronts of combat experienced by T.E. Lawrence and Robert Graves could not have been more different. Graves served in the trenches and woods of France and Flanders that epitomize the stagnation of the Great War. Lawrence's war was one of movement across the Arabian desert and into the Levant. They both, however, carried the war with them for the rest of their lives and found in each other mutual understanding and appreciation.
Graves and Lawrence first met in 1919 at an Oxford dinner. Before that, Lawrence had worked with Graves's older brother in Cairo. He knew of Graves also as a poet, whose work he admired. Graves had married in 1918 and was already embarked on what was to become a family of four children in rapid succession. His wife was Nancy Nicholson, a talented artist and daughter of Sir William Nicholson. Their life was fraught, impoverished, and haunted by Robert's harrowing experiences in the war, which included his near-fatal wounds at the Battle of the Somme in 1916.
By 1927 Lawrence was an international celebrity, having published Seven Pillars of Wisdom in 1922 and been crowned as "Lawrence of Arabia" by press and populace alike. His publishers pushed for him to follow up Seven Pillars with an autobiography. Lawrence himself was hesitant, for he was not comfortable with the fame and accolades. He did see, however, the opportunity to help his friend Robert Graves—Lawrence agreed to the biography being published but only if Graves wrote it and that this stipulation be kept secret from Graves to spare him embarrassment. The publishers agreed, approached Graves, and received his acceptance only on the condition that Lawrence's approval be sought!
Upon publication in 1927, Graves's book, Lawrence and the Arabs: An Intimate Biography, was an instant success and ensured solvency and even comfort for Graves and his family for some time to come. Lawrence's generosity came at a time of very low spirits for Graves and went a long way toward bolstering the morale of a poet and writer who Lawrence knew to be capable of significant contributions to 20th-century literature. Graves more than sustained Lawrence's faith in him.
T.E. Lawrence died in 1935 of injuries from a motorcycle accident. Robert Graves lived until 1985 and is remembered as a significant poet, novelist, and mythologist. For a thoughtful, thorough, and adept biography of Robert Graves in three volumes see Robert Graves: The Assault Heroic 1895-1926 (1987); Robert Graves: The Years with Laura, 1926-1940 (1990); Robert Graves and the White Goddess, 1940-1985 (1995), all by Graves's kinsman Richard Perceval Graves. Graves's biography of Lawrence is still in print.