'You’re talking to someone at the very end of things’
November 20, 2020 1:58 PM   Subscribe

RIP Jan Morris, Travel Writer and Journalist extraordinaire.
In March The Guardian published what was to be her final interview.
Obituary - NYT.
posted by adamvasco (22 comments total) 16 users marked this as a favorite
Awww, I had just read this in her Guardian obit. What an incredible woman with a bunch of fascinating stories. It was interesting to me to read the 1974 book review of Conundrum (cw: a lot of archaic gender/sex terminology and discussion) and hear her talking about her life over time to date, and embarking on her post-transition life.
[her] old twinkle of ironic self-awareness is in her eye. She knows she has already been incredibly lucky. Lucky in Elizabeth, in her children, her friends, her career, her success, and her timing.
We were lucky to have had her in the world for so long.

Also worth noting that today is International Transgender Day of Remembrance coming at the end of Trans Awareness Week.
posted by jessamyn at 2:22 PM on November 20 [10 favorites]

posted by dlugoczaj at 2:32 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]


(loved her travel books)
posted by Halloween Jack at 2:53 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

One of the very best.

posted by villanelles at dawn at 3:03 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

posted by acb at 3:55 PM on November 20


What an incredible life. I love her writing, especially Last Letters from Hav.
posted by Fuchsoid at 4:30 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

So sad to see her go, and yet -- 94 years, what a great run, what a marvellous writer. Conundrum, which I read back in the mid-70's, was the book that first helped me start to understand the actual existence of trans people, and I was always awed by the courage she had to take the steps, way back then, to be authentically and publicly who she was.

There's an interesting chapter in Paul Theroux's Kingdom by the Sea which describes his visit to Morris, in 1982, that speaks to her humor, her intelligence and charm, but just now I'm remembering this bit:
Then she said, "Want to see my grave?"

I said of course, and we went down to a cool shaded woods by a riverside. Jan Morris was a nimble walker; she had climbed to twenty thousand feet with the first successful Everest expedition in 1953. ...

She pointed across the river and said, "That's my grave--right there, that little island."

It was like a beaver's dam of tree trunks padded all around with moss, and more ferns, and the river slurping and gurgling among boulders.

"That's where I'm going to be buried--or rather scattered. It's nice, don't you think? Elizabeth's ashes are going to be scattered there too."

. . .

Jan said "Want to see my gravestone?"

It was the same sudden, proud, provocative, mirthful way that she had said Want to see my grave?

I said of course.

The stone was propped against the wall of her library. I had missed it before. The lettering was very well done, as graceful as the engraving on a bank note. It was inscribed Jan & Elizabeth Morris. In Welsh and English, above and below the names, it said,
Here are Two Friends
At the End of One Life.
posted by Kat Allison at 4:59 PM on November 20 [23 favorites]

posted by scruss at 5:35 PM on November 20

posted by niicholas at 5:56 PM on November 20

For those of you who have read her, which book would you recommend?
posted by frumiousb at 7:14 PM on November 20

posted by miles per flower at 7:41 PM on November 20

posted by thatwhichfalls at 7:50 PM on November 20

which book would you recommend?

_Manhattan '45_ was fascinating, but I couldn't get into _Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere_.
posted by Rash at 7:52 PM on November 20

posted by mandolin conspiracy at 8:53 PM on November 20

I need to go back and read more Jan Morris. It’s been decades now and I haven’t read most of her stuff, but I know I enjoyed the things I did read.
Morris told Michael Palin in 2016: "I've enjoyed my life very much, and I admire it. I think it has been a very good and interesting life and I've made a whole of it, quite deliberately.

"I've done all of my books to make one big, long autobiography. My life has been one whole self-centred exercise in self-satisfaction!"
What a joy to read those sentences from someone who did not always do as society expected, and did not always have an easy go of it. I hope I can look back on my life with the same satisfaction.

posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 10:20 PM on November 20 [4 favorites]

I am gutted, she was one of my favourite writers full stop.
posted this elsewhere:

RIP, or rather enjoy roaring eternally around the Grand Hotels of Old Europe in a fast car, Jan Morris.
An inspired writer, hugely knowlegeable about all kinds of historical and geographical and political arcana, a principled journalist, widely admired as a courageous trans pioneer, the person who brought the news of the climbing of Everest down the mountain, a proud Welsh nationalist, with a powerful imagination and a huge zest for life, we will not see her like again.

I always recommend her Fifty Years of Europe, an Album. It "explores" elements of Europe found all over the continent - enclaves, borders, bells, standing stones, tiny ethnic minorities, in very short whimsical vignettes, kind of like The Pillow Book. To me it encapsulates the essence of Europe.

Also, after Terry Pratchett died I made a list of people I wanna write to and say "thanks for the books/tunes" to. And I have procrastinated on it after Iain Banks died and now her. No longer!
posted by runincircles at 11:07 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

In terms of books of hers to read, I’d highly recommend her book on Wales. Read it as a teenager. It fit right in with the fantasy I was devouring at the time. Was gorgeous, mythical, and yet often down to earth. And she was so full of passion for the land that it made me, then an Arkansas boy who had never been abroad, into a bit of a Welsh nationalist mourning Llywelyn the Last and Owain Glyndwr. Every now and then I still think about studying Welsh solely because of her and her book. It was such a lovely work.
posted by Teegeeack AV Club Secretary at 1:41 AM on November 21 [1 favorite]

posted by filtergik at 4:03 AM on November 21

posted by Kattullus at 5:14 AM on November 21

posted by Pentickle at 2:15 AM on November 22

From a 2014 NYT question and answer:

You’re hosting a literary dinner party. Which three writers are invited?

Nothing on earth would induce me to host a literary dinner party.
posted by thatwhichfalls at 8:18 AM on November 22 [5 favorites]

In praise of Jan Morris, by six fellow travel writers.
posted by adamvasco at 2:30 AM on November 24

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