Bruce Chatwin's Citation of Other Authors in Songlines and In Patagonia

Frederica Miller '91 (English 137, 1990)

One way in which Chatwin creates ethos involves mentioning works by earlier authors, a technique also used by Sara Suleri and Jonathan Raban. The books of other writers, more famous or canonical, tend to validate a book by lending it an air of authority. For example, In Patagonia incorporates the works of historians, scientists, dictionaries, and a number of authors such as Coleridge, Swift, Twain and Poe. He includes several actual stories of his uncle Charles Milward. Songlines is filled with excerpts from other works, including a forty-one page chapter filled with quotations that influenced him.

Quotations drawn from outside the text serve many purposes. Not only do they provide authority but they also offer differing perspectives and draw a connection between what he writes and the experience that he praises. Chatwin explains that "one day Aunt Ruth told me our own surname had once been ŒChettewynde¹ which meant Œthe winding path¹ in Anglo-Saxon, and the suggestion took root in my head that poetry, my own name, and the road were, all three, mysteriously connected.² Literature, he suggests in both of his books, is both a product of individual experience and a way to interpret it. It must never, however, replace that experience. Patagonia is controlled by many different people with different lifestyles and each person has his own valid version of Patagonia.


United Kingdom In Patagonia