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Chatwin, Bruce (1940-1989)  
page: 1  2  

His next book, The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980), was originally intended as a biography of Francisco Felix da Souza, a nineteenth-century Brazilian slave trader, but during its development was transformed into a mock-historical fantasy about a Christian slave trader and his African descendants who worship him as a demigod. The book was later made into the film Cobra Verde (1987), a loose adaptation by the German director Werner Herzog.

Chatwin's third book, and first novel, On the Black Hill (1982), is situated in the English-Welsh border country, and follows the circumspect lives of twin brothers who remain for eighty years in the remote farmhouse in which they were born, tilling the soil, sleeping together in the same bed, and remaining relatively untouched by the advances of the twentieth century.

Critics praised the novel for reviving the nearly forgotten genre of the pastoral and compared Chatwin's elegiac story with the works of Thomas Hardy and D. H. Lawrence. On the Black Hill won the 1982 Whitbread Award for First Novel. A faithful screen adaptation, directed by Andrew Grieve and starring the Welsh actors and brothers Mike and Robert Gwilym, was released in 1987.

In 1983, Chatwin wrote the essay "Lady: Lisa Lyon," which accompanied Robert Mapplethorpe's photographic studies of Lyon, winner of the first World Women's Bodybuilding Championship.

Chatwin's next book, The Songlines (1987), is a philosophical meditation on history and culture based on his travels through central Australia and his interactions with Aboriginal tribes.

The New York Times described the book as "part adventure-story, part novel-of-ideas, part satire on the follies of 'progress,' part spiritual autobiography, [and] part passionate plea for a return to simplicity of being and behavior." While most critics hailed the book as one of the foremost achievements in travel writing, spokespersons for Aboriginal tribes chided the work for being overly simplistic and propagating late-colonialist views of Aboriginal culture.

Chatwin's final work of fiction, the novella Utz (1988), recounts the life and obsessions of Kaspar Joachim Utz, an aristocratic Czech and compulsive art collector of Meissen porcelain.

As the respected critic Michiko Kakutani observed, the novel "begins as the story of an art collector, then opens out to become an examination of art--its ability to confer immortality and its ability to become a substitute for life." The novel was shortlisted for the prestigious Booker Prize in 1988 and made into a film in 1992, with a screenplay by Hugh Whitemore and directed by George Sluizer.

Chatwin died of complications due to AIDS on January 19, 1989 in Nice, France. He had insisted on keeping the facts of his illness a secret, and instead attributed his condition to a rare bone marrow disease contracted during one of his travels through China. In an interview given shortly before his death, Chatwin dismissed his condition with the flippant comment, "Hazards of travel--rather an alarming one."

He was one of the first notable British artists to succumb to AIDS. After his cause of death was made public, Chatwin's evasion became a heated source of debate in the media, particularly within the gay press, with the principle of respect for a sick person's right to privacy weighed against the desire for candor about the disease.

Two collections of Chatwin's previously published essays, reviews, and interviews, What Am I Doing Here? (1989) and Anatomy of Restlessness (1996), were published posthumously.

Craig Kaczorowski

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social sciences >> Overview:  Ethnography

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literature >> Dessaix, Robert

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literature >> Lawrence, D. H.

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arts >> Mapplethorpe, Robert

American photographer Robert Mapplethorpe's controversial images typically combine rigorously formal composition and design with extreme subject matter.

literature >> Morris, Jan

The talented and prolific Anglo-Welsh journalist, historian, and travel writer Jan Morris was one of the first transsexuals to tell her story publicly in a memoir.

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Clapp, Susannah. With Chatwin: Portrait of a Writer. New York: Knopf, 1997.

Eder, Richard. "There's No Place That's Home." New York Times Book Review (March 19, 2000): 9.

Harvey, Andrew. "Footprints of the Ancestors." New York Times Book Review (August 2, 1987): 1.

Shakespeare, Nicholas. Bruce Chatwin: A Biography. New York: Nan A. Talese/Doubleday, 2000.

Thubron, Colin. "Into the Unknown." The London Sunday Times Books (March 28, 1999): 1-2.

Wheeler, Sara. "Was He a Genuine Article?" The Independent: The Weekend Review (April 3, 1999): 13.


    Citation Information
    Author: Kaczorowski, Craig  
    Entry Title: Chatwin, Bruce  
    General Editor: Claude J. Summers  
    Publication Name: glbtq: An Encyclopedia of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual,
Transgender, and Queer Culture
    Publication Date: 2006  
    Date Last Updated March 17, 2006  
    Web Address  
    Publisher glbtq, Inc.
1130 West Adams
Chicago, IL   60607
    Today's Date  
    Encyclopedia Copyright: © 2002-2006, glbtq, Inc.  
    Entry Copyright © 2006 glbtq, Inc.  


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