Jan Morris

Sad to learn of Jan Morris’s death, although she was a great age. She was probably the greatest of all travel writers. I never met her, but we corresponded when she and I were both writing books about the British Empire. I was one of the few academic historians willing to appreciate her somewhat romantic view of the whole enterprise, on the grounds that she was expressing an aspect of it that was common at the time, and so which helped explain it.  I can’t put my hands on my review just now – it will have been in the early ‘70s – but I remember comparing Pax Britannica to an account of the stuccoed surface of a dilapidated building. She was happy with that. Later she wrote me a postcard complimenting me on The Lion’s Share, which she said she’d been reading in the bath and found so engaging that she couldn’t get out until the water had gone cold. I think that’s the best review I’ve ever had. I must see if I can find the pc when I get back to England. 

Of course she was a ‘he’ then. Halfway through her ‘imperial’ trilogy she changed sex, and wrote a book about it: Conundrum. I read it – all except the middle chapter, which described the operation. This was a man who had been in an elite Army regiment, climbed Everest with Hilary and Tensing, and fathered five children. Amazingly, and touchingly, his then wife, Elizabeth, stayed with her and has survived her. Jan also became a passionate Welsh patriot, living in the north-west of Wales until her death. It pains me that I never got around to visiting her there. RIP.

About bernardporter2013

Retired academic, author, historian.
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