Chatwin in Patagonia: Stumbling Upon Privacy

Marisa Calleja '09 English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2005

When Bruce Chatwin's eyes and spirit began to fail him in his career as art auctioneer, he escaped to Patagonia, a place that held seemingly endless wonder and possibility. Why don't you mention the two reasons C also gives? It was not only Chatwin, inspired by an alleged brontosaurus skin he saw as a child, who was captivated by this stretch of wilderness at the bottom of the world, but generations of Europeans as well. In his travels, Chatwin came across a diverse array of Europeans with any one of a number of reasons for settling in Patagonia. Unlike Europeans of centuries past, most of the people Chatwin spoke with wanted to live quiet lives, close to the land and far away from the scrutiny of neighbors. In the passage below, Chatwin visits with a man who has created an identity and way of life for himself that few outside of his family bear witness to. Milton Evans constructs his own history and preserves it, as a private man would, for his own needs.

Milton Evans was the principle resident of Trevelin and son of its founder. He was a round, mustachioed gentle-man of sixty-one, who prided himself on his English. His favorite expression was ‘Gimme another horse piss!' And his daughter, who did not speak English, would bring a beer and he'd say ‘Aah! Horse piss!' and drain the bottle.

His father, John Evans, came out on the Mimosa as a baby. He was the first of his generation to ride like an Indian. Not for him the inflexible round of field work, chapel and tea. He settled up-country in the Cordillera, made money and built the mill. Once established he took his family to Wales on a year's visit. Milton went to school in Ffestiniog and had a long story about fishing from a bridge. He directed me to the grave of his father's horse. Inside a white fence was a boulder set in a plantation of marigolds and Christmas trees. The inscription read:

HERE LIE THE REMAINS OF MY HORSE EL-MALACARA WHICH SAVED MY LIFE FROM THE INDIANS ON THE 14TH OF MARCH 1883 ON MY RETURN FROM THE CORDILLERA.

At the beginning of that month, John Evans, with three companions, Hughes, Parry, and Davies, rode west up the Chubut Valley. There was an old legend of a city and a new rumour of gold. They stayed in the tents of a friendly Cacique and saw the grass country beginning and the peaks of the Cordillera, but having no food they decided to return. The horses' hooves splinted on sharp stones and set them limping. They were thirty-six hours in the saddle. Parry and Hughes hung their heads and let the reins go limp. But Evans was tougher and shot two hares, so the four did eat that night.

Chatwin, as a twentieth century writer, has a style that most resembles that of Didion, and, in places, of Wolfe. Like both writers, he describes events with little significance outside of the immediate personal importance it has to the person profiled. Chatwin combines the sleepy style and selective detailing of Didion with the dialouge and quoting that brings Wolfe's subjects to life.

Questions

1. How would this passage be different if Chatwin had provided his personal history before creating a snapshot of his life and character?

2. What does the story of John and Milton Evans tell us about how Chatwin was introduced to European/Indigenous relations in Patagonia?

3. Is Chatwin's description of Milton rude? Is it condescending to say "and had a long story about fishing from a bridge"? Does this show us Chatwin's impatience or Evans' disconnect from the world?

4. How does Chatwin establish credibility in this passage, especially since his stories and subjects are nearly impossible to fact check?

Bibliography

Chatwin, Bruce. In Patagonia. New York: Penguin Classics, 2003.


United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 31 October 2007