Characters

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 304

Bruce Chatwin spent much of the time he was traveling through Argentina looking for people who were no longer alive. For him, the idea of “Patagonia” as a mental landscape is as powerful as the physical territory, which actually spans Argentina and Chile. While he meets many people in the course of his journey, his strong interest in the past means that some of the “characters”—the individuals about whom he writes the most—he “meets” only through conversations, writings, and material traces.

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In particular, his fascination with Charles (Charley) Milward, his grandmother’s cousin, stimulated his desire to travel there and learn about Milward’s experiences two generations earlier. He is also captivated by the nineteenth-century self-styled “King of Araucania and Patagonia,” Orélie-Antoine de Tounens of France, who declared a kingdom of Aracaunia in Chile, with himself as its monarch. Charles Darwin also plays an important role, describing the land with his discerning naturalist’s eye. The outlaw Butch Cassidy, buried there, puts in an appearance as well.

Within living people he meets, Chatwin seems drawn to those of European ancestry who express nostalgia for their or their family’s home country. Among these are a woman who dreams of living in Venice, and Father Palacios, a theologian/anthropologist/engineer/mathematician (among other disciplines).

The numerous casual meetings and Chatwin’s commitment to allowing happenstance to dictate, in part, his itinerary mean that many individuals are briefly described rather than fully fleshed out. Chatwin’s interest in white, foreign travelers has often drawn attention. As Nicholas Shakespeare stated, Chatwin’s “book is largely about interiors which are elsewheres. You won’t come across many Patagonian Patagonians in its pages.” Many see this as a shortcoming, noting that he seems uninterested in the real, living diversity of the contemporary Argentinian peoples he encountered.

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