- Bruce Chatwin
name = Bruce Chatwin
imagesize = 200px
caption = Bruce Chatwin as he appears on the cover of Nicholas Shakespeare's 2001 biography, "Bruce Chatwin: a biography".
birthdate = birth date|1940|05|13
birthplace = near
deathdate = death date and age|1989|01|18|1940|05|13
deathplace = Nice, France
occupation = Author, Travel Writer. Art and Architecture Advisor
nationality = British
period = 1977 - 89
genre = History, Travel, Non-fiction, Fiction
subject = Patagonia, Slave Trade, Britain, Europe, Afghanistan
spouse = Elizabeth Chanler
influences = Novelists:
Evelyn Waugh, Jerome K. Jerome
influenced = Author: William Dalrymple
Bruce Charles Chatwin (
13 May 1940- 18 January 1989) was an English novelist and travel writer.
Chatwin was born on
13 May 1940at his maternal grandparents' house in Dronfield, near Sheffield, England. His mother, Margharita ("née" Turnell), had left the family home at Barnt Green, Worcestershire, and moved to her parents' home when Chatwin's father, Charles Chatwin, went away to serve with the Royal Naval Reserve. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=22.]
He spent his early childhood living in West Heath in
Birmingham(then in Warwickshire), where his father had a law practice. He was educated at Marlborough College, in Wiltshire. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=65.]
Art and archaeology
After leaving Marlborough College in 1958, Chatwin reluctantly moved to
Londonto work as a porter in the Works of Art department at the auction house Sotheby's. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=86.] Thanks to his sharp visual acuity, he quickly became Sotheby's expert on Impressionistart. He later became a director of the company. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=176.]
In late 1964 he began to suffer from problems with his sight, which he attributed to the close analysis of artwork entailed by his job. He consulted eye specialist
Patrick Trevor-Roperwho diagnosed a latent squint and recommended that Chatwin take a six month break from his work at Sotheby's. Trevor-Roper had been involved in the design of an eye hospital in Addis Ababa, and suggested Chatwin visit east Africa. In February 1965, Chatwin left for the Sudan. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=158-159.] On his return, Chatwin quickly became disenchanted with the art world, and turned his interest instead to archaeology. He resigned from his job at Sotheby's in the early summer of 1966. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=178.]
Chatwin enrolled at the
University of Edinburghto study archaeology in October 1966. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=189.] However, despite winning the Wardrop Prizefor the best first year's work [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=192.] , he found the rigour of academic archaeology tiresome, and spent only two years in the city, leaving without taking a degree. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=214.]
In 1972, Chatwin was hired by the "
Sunday Times Magazine" as an adviser on art and architecture. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=267.] His association with the magazine cultivated his narrative skills and he travelled on many international assignments, writing on such subjects as Algerian migrant workers and the Great Wall of China, and interviewing such diverse people as André Malraux[Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=280.] , in France, and Nadezhda Mandelstam[Harvnb|Chatwin|1990|p=83-85.] , in the Soviet Union.
In 1972, Chatwin interviewed the 93-year-old architect and designer
Eileen Grayin her Parissalon, where he noticed a map of the area of South Americacalled Patagoniawhich she had painted. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=286.] "I've always wanted to go there," Bruce told her. "So have I," she replied, "go there for me." Two years later, in November 1974, Chatwin flew out to Limain Peru, and reached Patagonia a month later. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=287-291.] When he arrived there he severed himself from the newspaper with a telegram: "Have gone to Patagonia." He spent six months there, a trip which resulted in the book " In Patagonia" (1977), which established his reputation as a travel writer. Later, however, residents in the region came forward to contradict the events depicted in Chatwin's book. It was the first, but not the last time in his career, that conversations and characters that Chatwin reported were alleged to be fictionalised.
Later works included a fictionalised study of the
slave trade, " The Viceroy of Ouidah," which he researched with extended stays in the West African state of Benin. For " The Songlines," Chatwin went to Australiato develop the thesis that the songs of the Aborigines are a cross between a creation myth, an atlasand an Aboriginal man's personal story. Winner of the James Tait Black Memorial Prize", On the Black Hill" was set closer to home, in the hill farms of the Welsh Borders, and focuses on the relationship between twin brothers, Lewis and Benjamin, who grow up isolated from the course of twentieth century history. "Utz," his last book, was a fictional take on the obsession which leads people to collect. Set in Prague, the novel details the life and death of Kaspar Utz, a man obsessed with the collection of Meissen porcelain. Chatwin was working on a number of new ideas for future novels at the time of his death in 1989, including a trans-continental epic, provisionally titled "Lydia Livingstone."
tyle and influence
Chatwin is admired for his spare, lapidary style and his innate story-telling abilities. However, he has also been strongly criticised for his fictionalised anecdotes of real people, places, and events. Frequently, the people he wrote about recognised themselves and did not always appreciate his distortions of their culture and behaviour. Chatwin, however, was philosophical about what he saw as an unavoidable dilemma, arguing that his portrayals were not intended to be faithful representations; as his biographer
Nicholas Shakespeareargues: 'He tells not a half truth, but a truth and a half.'
He extensively used a particular brand of notebooks manufactured in France. When production stopped in 1986, he bought up the entire supply at his stationery store. A modern version of the simple, black notebooks are sold by
Much to the surprise of many of his friends, Chatwin married Elizabeth Chanler, a descendant of
John Jacob Astor, on 26 August 1965. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=171.] He had met Chanler at Sotheby's where she worked as a secretary. Chatwin was bisexual throughout his married life, a circumstance his wife knew and accepted. They had no children, and after fifteen years of marriage, she asked for a separation and sold their farmhousein Gloucestershire. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=373.] However, towards the end of his life they reconciled. According to Chatwin's biographer Nicholas Shakespeare, the Chatwins' marriage seems to have been celibate, and he describes Chatwin as homosexualrather than bisexual.citation |url=http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/1999/apr/10/costabookaward1 |title=Yarn spinner |date= April 10, 1999|accessdate=2008-08-20 |periodical= The Guardian]
Chatwin was known as a
socialitein addition to being a famous travel author. His circle of friends extended far and wide and he was renowned for accepting hospitality and patronage from a powerful set of friends and allies. Penelope Betjeman - wife of the poet laureate John Betjeman- showed him the border country of Wales, and thereby helped to contribute to the gestation of the book that would become "On the Black Hill". [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=377.] Tom Maschler, the publisher, was also a patron to Chatwin during this time, lending him his house in the area as a writing retreat. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=387.] Later, he visited Patrick Leigh Fermor, in his house near Kardamyli, in the Peloponneseof Greece. [Harvnb|Shakespeare|1999|p=444-448.]
Numbered among his lovers was
Jasper Conran[Bruce Chatwin, " [http://www.knittingcircle.org.uk/brucechatwin.html The Knitting Circle] " , accessed 2006-12-28] .
Death at an early age
Around 1980, Chatwin contracted
HIV. Chatwin told different stories about how he contracted the virus, such as that he was gang-raped in Dahomey, and that he believed he caught the disease from Sam Wagstaff, the patron and lover of photographer Robert Mapplethorpe[James Crump " [http://www.blackwhitegray.com/ Black White + Gray: A portrait of Sam Wagstaff + Robert Mapplethorpe] "] . He was one of the first high-profile sufferers of the disease in Britain and although he hid the illness - passing off his symptoms as fungal infections or the effects of the bite of a Chinese bat, a typically exotic cover story - it was a poorly kept secret. He did not respond well to AZT, and suffered increasing bouts of psychosis which included extravagant shopping trips around the auction rooms of London - many of which purchases his wife quietly returned.Fact|date=August 2008 With his condition deteriorating rapidly, Chatwin and his wife went to live in the South of France at the house that belonged to the mother of his one-time lover, Jasper Conran. There, during his final months, Chatwin was nursed by both his wife and Shirley Conran. He died in Nicein 1989 at age 48.
A memorial service was held in the
Greek OrthodoxChurch of Saint Sophia in West London on the same day that a fatwawas announced on Salman Rushdie, a close friend of Chatwin's who was in attendance. Paul Theroux, Chatwin's one-time friend and fellow-writer, quotes himself as saying to Rushdie "it'll be your turn next, Salman". Theroux later commented on the memorial service in a piece he wrote for Granta, condemning Chatwin for failing to acknowledge that the disease he was dying of was AIDS.
Chatwin's funeral was also attended by the novelist
Martin Amiswho describes the memorial in his essay "Salman Rushdie", from the anthology "Visiting Mrs Nabokov".
In Patagonia" (1977)
The Viceroy of Ouidah" (1980)
On The Black Hill" (1982)
The Songlines" (1987)
What Am I Doing Here?" (1989)
Photographs and Notebooks" (1993)
Anatomy of Restlessness" (1997)
Winding Paths" (1998)
Surname = Chatwin
Given = Bruce
Year = 1990
Title = What Am I Doing Here?
Publisher = Pan
ID = ISBN 0-330-31310-X
Surname = Murray
Given = Nicholas
Year = 1993
Title = Bruce Chatwin
Publisher = Seren
ID = ISBN 1-85411-079-9
Surname = Clapp
Given = Susannah
Year = 1997
Title = With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer
Publisher = Jonathan Cape
ID = ISBN 978-0-224-03258-2
Surname = Shakespeare
Given = Nicholas
Authorlink = Nicholas Shakespeare
Year = 1999
Title = Bruce Chatwin
Publisher = The Harvill Press
ID = ISBN 1-86046-544-7
Paul Yule, 'In The Footsteps of Bruce Chatwin' (2x60 mins) BBC, 1999 - Berwick Universal Pictures
* [http://www.spikemagazine.com/0896chat.php In Search Of The Miraculous] Nick Clapson on the enduring enigma of Bruce Chatwin's travel writing
* [http://www.brucechatwin.co.uk brucechatwin.co.uk] The Author's Homepage
* [http://www.literatis.net] Travel writing course at Literatis
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