The Chatwin Colloquium

The Chatwin Colloquium
17 and 18 January 2014

This colloquium, marking the 25th anniversary of Bruce Chatwin’s OM (B2 1952-58) death, conveyed a greater understanding of his remarkable legacy.

All three speakers explored his life and writings with the desire to enlighten, and the audience of Lower Sixth English students came away desiring to read more.

Nicholas Murray wrote the first book about Chatwin, and spoke of how his subject used to blur the distinction between fact and fiction in his work, a trait which he carried into his own life. This fancifulness, like his restlessness, was rooted in something very real, which made his writing genuine, if not always factual. Having long time associations with the Welsh border country himself, Murray focused his talk on Chatwin’s On the Black Hill.

Dr Jonathan Chatwin, by contrast, chose to look more closely at In Patagonia, and again picked up on restlessness and the near-impossibility of pinning Chatwin’s work down by genre: to the eternal confusion of booksellers and librarians, it straddles fiction and travelogue.

Susannah Clapp was Chatwin’s first editor at Jonathan Cape and described the remarkable presence of the man: how one could not help but be conscious him; paradoxically, she explained, he is seemingly invisible in his books, ‘a vivid but absent presence’, as the title of his photography book makes clear: Art without Artists.

As Francis Wyndham, editor of the Sunday Times Magazine which employed Chatwin for a while, once put it, ‘All fiction lies, lies in order to tell the truth’. What came across strongly in this Colloquium was Chatwin’s desire to understand the truth about human nature, and, by extension, his own nature. The tension between the need to invent and the need to reason gives Chatwin’s writing a special depth and interest. Many of us left the Colloquium determined to read more of Chatwin’s work.


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