LAWRENCE OF ARABIA
Seven Pillars of Wisdom is brilliantly written and if the politicians of the time had listened to Lawrence’s advice regarding re-drawing the boundaries of the Arab world, the Middle East might not be the center of turmoil it is today. Part of Lawrence’s continuing appeal is that he was a shameless self-promoter even as he claimed to want to be out of the spotlight. There is also speculation that masochism accounted for his enjoyment of the harsh conditions he endured and that he was gay. He came to be friends with many of the major figures of his time, including George Bernard Shaw, Nancy Astor, and Winston Churchill.
SIR RICHARD BURTON
best-known achievements include traveling in disguise to Mecca, The Book of One Thousand Nights and A Night,
an unexpurgated translation of One Thousand
and One Nights (also commonly called The Arabian Nights in English after Andrew Lang's
abridgement), bringing the Kama Sutra to
publication in English, and journeying with John Hanning Speke as the
first Europeans led by Africa's greatest explorer guide, Sidi Mubarak Bombay,
utilizing route information by Indian and Omani merchants who traded in the
region, to visit the Great Lakes
of Africa in search of the source of the Nile.
Burton extensively criticized colonial policies (to the detriment of his career) in his works and letters. He was a prolific and erudite author and wrote numerous books and scholarly articles about subjects including human behavior, travel, fencing, sexual practices, and ethnography. A unique feature of his books is the copious footnotes and appendices containing remarkable observations and unexpurgated information. He was a captain in the army of the East India Company serving in India (and later, briefly, in the Crimean War). Following this he was engaged by the Royal Geographical Society to explore the east coast of Africa and led an expedition guided by the locals which discovered Lake Tanganyika. In later life he served as British consul in Fernando Po, Damascus and, finally, Trieste. He was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and was awarded a knighthood (KCMG) in 1886.
As with Lawrence of Arabia, part of Burton’s enduring appeal is the mystery and hints of scandal around his person exploration of sexual practices and his willingness to defy the prudery of his era. My favorite book about him is The Devil Drives: A Life of Sir Richard Burton, by Fawn M. Brodie.
Huxley was a humanist
and pacifist, and he was
latterly interested in spiritual subjects such as parapsychology and
He is also well known for advocating and taking psychedelics. In October
1930, the occultist Aleister
Crowley dined with Huxley in Berlin, and to this day rumours persist
that Crowley introduced Huxley to peyote
on that occasion. He was introduced to mescaline (considered to
be the key active ingredient of peyote) by the psychiatrist Humphry Osmond in 1953.
On 24 December 1955, Huxley took his first dose of LSD. Indeed, Huxley was a
pioneer of self-directed psychedelic drug use "in a search for
enlightenment", famously taking 100 micrograms of LSD as he lay dying. His psychedelic drug
experiences are described in the essays The Doors of
Perception (the title deriving from some lines in the book The Marriage
of Heaven and Hell by William Blake), and Heaven and
Hell. Some of his writings on psychedelics became frequent
reading among early hippies.
By the end of his life Huxley was considered, in some academic circles, a leader of modern thought and an intellectual of the highest rank.
think if you could mix Brave New World
with George Orwell’s 1984, you’d get
a pretty good picture of where we are today and where we’re heading. But you’d
objected strongly to being described as a Catholic novelist rather than as a
novelist who happened to be Catholic, Catholic religious themes
are at the root of much of his writing, especially the four major Catholic
novels: Brighton Rock,
The Heart of
the Matter, The End of
the Affair and The Power and
Later works such as The Quiet American, Our Man in Havana and The Comedians
also show an avid interest in the workings of international
politics and espionage.
As a novelist he wove the characters he met and the places where he lived into
the fabric of his novels.
left Europe at 30 years of age in 1935 on a trip to Liberia, that produced the
Without Maps. His 1938 trip to Mexico, to see the effects of the
government's campaign of forced anti-Catholic secularisation, was paid
for by Longman's, thanks to his
friendship with Tom Burns.
That voyage produced two books, the factual The Lawless Roads
(published as Another Mexico in the
U.S.) and the novel The Power and
the Glory. In 1953 the Holy Office
informed Greene that The Power and the
Glory was damaging to the reputation of the priesthood; but later, in a
private audience with Greene, Pope Paul VI told him
that, although parts of his novels would offend some Catholics, he should not
pay attention to the criticism.
Greene travelled to the Haiti
Duvalier, alias "Papa Doc", where occurred the story of The Comedians
(1966). The owner of the Hotel
Oloffson in Port-au-Prince,
where Greene frequently stayed, named a room in his honour.
Greene suffered from bipolar disorder, which had a profound effect on his writing and personal life. In a letter to his wife Vivien he told her that he had "a character profoundly antagonistic to ordinary domestic life", and that "unfortunately, the disease is also one's material”
Although critics don’t rate it as his finest work and it was made into a mediocre film, my favorite Greene novel is “The Comedians.” Judging by the news reports coming out of Haiti, not too much has changed since Greene wrote the book—Papa Doc is gone but the island’s violence and grinding poverty live on. Most of Greene’s books seem to have been written when he was in the depressed phase of his bi-polar condition, although “Travels With My Aunt” and some of his short stories are exceptions.
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