Jan Morris

Jan Morris (1926-2020)

Jan Morris, one of the most influential writers, cultural commentators, and historians to ever come out of Wales, has died at the age of 94. Her son Twm announced her death on November 20th, writing, “This morning at 11.40 at Ysbyty Bryn Beryl, on the Llyn, the author and traveller Jan Morris began her greatest journey. She leaves behind on the shore her life-long partner, Elizabeth.”

In a career as a writer that went back seven decades, Morris’s output as a journalist including Hillary and Norgay’s ascent of Everest, and the French involvement in the Israeli attack on Egypt in the Suez war. As a bestselling author of more than 30 books, she was equally lauded for histories including Pax Britannica, her monumental account of the British Empire, and for her vivacious travel writing. But she was also well-known as a transgender pioneer, with Conundrum, her account of the journey from man to woman, an international sensation when it was published in 1974.

Her last book, published earlier this year, was the second part of her contemporary diaries, titled Thinking Again.

For a fuller tribute to her enormous influence, Wales Arts Review is republishing our celebration from 2016 of Jan Morris on her 90th birthday. In it, artists and curator of the celebration Iwan Bala, writes,

My own understanding of Jan’s writing keeps developing, as I read more and more of it, a humane understanding of the world seems to blossom in my head… and it might well be my companion until death. Until I read the ‘Pax Brittanica’ trilogy, I never understood the random, shambolic nature of the British Empire, and therefore, did not understand it’s significance to my own life. No one could be a better guide to an understanding of this, through humane and ‘kind’ reportage, but reportage that is nonetheless, damning.

But, as I said all along, it was meeting Jan, having some relationship with this person, Jan Morris, that is the most direct inspiration. There is no one quite like Jan Morris… there never will be again. And visiting Trefan Morys, to be welcomed, cosseted with tea or a malt whisky, to feel honoured (though undeserving), is to witness Kindness in action.