Additional papers of Bruce Chatwin
The papers comprise:
- Photographic material
- Drafts and notebooks
- Letters, invoices and works by other people
- Creation: Creation: Majority of material found within Bulk, 1957-1989
- Creation: Creation: [c. 1895-c. 2017]. Bulk c. 1957-c. 1989
5.16 Linear metres (36 physical shelfmarks)
Language of Materials
Oxford, Bodleian Libraries [followed by shelfmark and file or folder number, e.g. MS. 6690/1, folder 1]
Full range of shelfmarks:
MSS 6690 Photogr. 1-22, MSS 6690/1-14
Collection ID (for staff)
CMD ID 6690
Additional papers of (Charles) Bruce Chatwin (1940-1989), writer
Biographical / Historical
Bruce Chatwin was born on 13 May 1940 in Sheffield, the elder son of solicitor Charles Chatwin and his wife Margharita Turnell. He was educated at Marlborough College, and in 1958 he began working for auction house Sotheby’s, starting out as a porter and soon rising to become head of the Department of Antiquities and of the Department of Impressionist Art. At Sotheby’s he met Elizabeth Chanler, whom he married in 1965.
In 1966, citing failing eyesight and dissatisfaction with the art business, Chatwin left Sotheby’s to study archaeology at Edinburgh University. However he left after two years without taking a degree, instead deciding to pursue a career as a writer, originally pitching a book on nomads, but unable to get it published. In the early 1970s he began working for The Sunday Times, at first as an advisor on art and architecture and then as a journalist. Inspired by a conversation with designer Eileen Gray, in November 1974 Chatwin travelled to Patagonia, and these travels became the subject of his first published book In Patagonia (1977).
His next book, The Viceroy of Ouidah (1980) was a fictionalised biography of a Brazilian slave trader, based on Chatwin’s research, done during his travels in Dahomey (now Benin). Although it did not sell well on first publication, it was well-received by critics and later adapted into the film Cobra Verde (1987), directed by Werner Herzog. This book was followed by On the Black Hill (1982), a novel about two brothers who live their entire lives in a farmhouse in the Welsh borders – an intentional move away from travel writing. In The Songlines (1987) Chatwin returned to the subject of nomads, incorporating this with an exploration of Aboriginal creation myths, while his final novel Utz (1988) was a study of a Czech collector of Meissen porcelain.
Shortly after finishing The Songlines, Chatwin collapsed in a street in Switzerland. He died on 18 January 1989 in Nice, France, and his ashes were scattered near a Byzantine chapel above Kardamyli, Greece.
The collection is arranged into three series, which broadly reflect the original order: photographic material; drafts and notebooks; letters, invoices and works by other people. The drafts and notebooks are arranged by project, then by date, and the letters, invoices and works by other people by date. The photographic material was very disordered, though some preliminary sorting had been done by Elizabeth Chatwin. These were then arranged, first by medium, then by project or location. Some items were labelled or packaged in such a way that suggested they were originally grouped together, and in these cases they have been brought back together.
Immediate Source of Acquisition
The papers were donated to the Bodleian Library by Elizabeth Chatwin, and arrived in two accessions in August 2011 and April 2013.
- Catalogue of the Additional papers of Bruce Chatwin
- Finding aid prepared by Francesca Alves
- Language of description
- Script of description
- The cataloguing of this archive has been generously supported by donors to the Bodleian Libraries' 2017 Annual Fund Appeal.