The Devices of Historical Fiction in Chatwin's Travel Writing

George Marinopoulos, English 171, Sages and Satirists, Brown University, 2002

In Patagonia is book that uses a narrative that walks a fine line between the one used in D.H. Lawrence's Twilight in Italy and John McPhee's The Crofter and the Laird. Unlike Lawrence, Chatwin does not create his own diatribes about the locals; however, he also does not exclude any personal investment from the narrative, as McPhee is prone to do. The style used by Chatwin in the specific travel book closely resembles that of many historical novels since the author combines the historical with the personal in such a way that the narrative has a quality that is almost like a story. This quality of the narrative is induced by the little details, which the author provides about every place he visits. For example, in the following passage Chatwin provides his reader with information that has no other reason for being there except for being an interesting piece of trivia:

I left the Rio Negro and went south to Port Madryn. A hundred and fifty-three Welsh colonists landed here off the brig Mimosa in 1865. They were poor people in search of a New Wales, refugees from cramped coal-mining valleys, from a failed independence movement, and from Parliament's ban on Welsh in schools. Their leaders had combed the earth for a stretch of open country uncontaminated by Englishmen. They chose Patagonia for its absolute remoteness and foul climate; they did not want to get rich.


1. By comparing Lawrence and Mcphee with Chatwin we see that there are obvious differences in their styles and form of narrative. How much of the difference is due to personal style and how much of it is due to the timeframe of each book? What is the factor in Chatwin's approach towards the places and people that he sees that makes a difference in his style?

2. In the specific passage above the author refers to poor European immigrants looking for a better life. Why does he make the final statement about them not wanting to get rich? By leaving certain things unsaid while meticulously explaining others does he enhance the narrative or make it confusing?

United Kingdom In Patagonia Reading and Discussion Questions

Last modified 9 April 2002