Bruce Chatwin Additional Biography


Bruce Chatwin was born in Sheffield, England, on May 13, 1940. His mother was Margharita Turnell Chatwin, and his father, Charles Leslie Chatwin, was a lawyer. His family regularly moved around England, but he attended a private secondary school in Marlborough. He did not pursue a formal university degree, choosing to read on his own and travel throughout the world to places that fascinated him. His writings about these locations became his first published works and established him as an expert on their history, geography, and culture.

He did, however, work for eight years at Sotheby’s, the famous art auction house in London. Beginning as a porter there, he worked his way up to art consultant and picture expert and, finally, became a director and member of Sotheby’s board of directors in 1965. His rise to such a high position in his early twenties has become one of the art world’s most famous success stories. Though starting work still in his teens, he suggested that a newly acquired Picasso painting was really a fake. When highly paid experts were asked to authenticate the painting, they found that it was, indeed, just that. Chatwin was then offered a job as an expert in paintings. His career at Sotheby’s was so successful that he was actually given, at age twenty-five, a partnership in the company, becoming the youngest man in the history of Sotheby’s to be appointed director of modern art.

In the meantime, Chatwin had used his self-taught expertise to begin his own antiquities collection. Disaster struck, however, when he suddenly lost his eyesight at the age of twenty-five by, according to his eye doctor, studying too closely the details of paintings and other art objects. Though it was considered a psychosomatic disorder, his physician suggested that he find landscapes with long horizons so that he could physiologically expand the parameters of his vision. Upon the return of his eyesight, Chatwin immediately sailed to the African Sahara and became deeply involved not only in the physical landscape but also with the nomadic tribes that traveled throughout the land and domesticated its enormous spaces. Initially, he had become interested in the relationship between the physical geography and the spiritual lives of those who lived there and how that combined into a geography of the imagination.


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(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

Few writers went to such great lengths to pursue their passionate obsessions as Bruce Chatwin. Suspecting that a nomadic existence was humankind’s original and most natural condition, he journeyed to the farthest points on the planet to test his theory. If he was not as great a stylist as the other two distinguished travel writers, Evelyn Waugh and D. H. Lawrence, he certainly brought a more precise and varied brand of scholarship to his work. Compared with Lawrence, Chatwin documented even more brutally the disastrous consequences that modern industrialization and mechanization had on so-called primitive societies. His works truly celebrate the idiosyncratic diversity of the world while simultaneously lamenting the damage done to the instinctual lives of those, such as the Aboriginals, who have no methods of protecting themselves.


(Literary Masterpieces, Critical Compilation)

Nicholas Shakespeare is a novelist who grew up in the Far East before settling in Tasmania. His novels are The Vision of Elena Silves (1989, winner of the Somerset Maugham Award), The High Flyer (1993, nominated as one of Granta’s Best of Young British Novelists of 1993), and The Dancer Upstairs (1995, named American Library Association Best Novel of 1997 after its U.S. publication).

Bruce Chatwin’s What Am I Doing Here (1989) and Anatomy of Restlessness (1996) might well serve as twin epitaphs for his life. As a wanderer and a seeker, he roamed the world discovering its peoples, history, geography, stories, and, ultimately, himself. Nicholas Shakespeare’s biography...

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