Note — Mar 08, 2020

Jan Morris: ‘You’re Talking to Someone at the Very End of Things’

Sometimes you read about someone’s life and remember that books and movies don’t make anything up, people are actually living these lives, fictions are just remixes of their adventures. Jan Morris is one of these people. 93, living with “Elizabeth, once her wife, now her civil partner,” following reassignment surgery in Casablanca in 1972 (!), and look at that first quote below. Legend!

Morris, at 26, was the only journalist to accompany Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on their 1953 ascent of Everest; at other times she wrote about living on Field Marshal Montgomery’s family houseboat on the Nile, and in a palazzo on the Grand Canal; she met Che Guevara in Cuba; she visited Hiroshima after the bomb, and reported on the trial of Adolf Eichmann in 1961. In her dreamy books about cities – most memorably Venice and Trieste – the world can seem a permanent Xanadu. […]

Morris looks around her bookshelves, the thousands of books that line this long room floor to ceiling. “People always say: ‘Have you read them all?’” she says. “No. but I have an emotional attachment to them all. I pick an old book out and if it is interesting I read a few pages. I put letters and photographs and cards in them to find later.” […]

As a wandering writer – she is widely acclaimed for inventing a way of writing about cities that blends history and imaginative description and a sort of psychology of place – Morris made much of herself being an outsider.