The Birdcage Archives

Sunday 22 November 2020

Jan Moriss, Dies Aged 94

Hello Gentle Reader
If at the end of one’s life, one takes a retrospective stock of their achievements, their accomplishments, and the very nature of their time walking on the green earth; then Jan Morris’s lifetime review would have been a blockbuster. Born James Morris on October 2, 1926, the young boy is said to have realized early on the he was born in the wrong sense of gender, but suppressed these feelings of gender imposter syndrome and carried on with what would be described as a normal childhood of the times. During the final stages of the Second World War, James Morris served in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers, and was posted to the Free Territory of Trieste. After the war the still James Morris would become a journalist for The Times, completing their first big assignment was to report on the expedition of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay to ascend Mount Everest. What followed would be a dazzling career in journalism, history, and travel writing. At the age of forty-six, James Morris could no longer ignore the fact their gender was misaligned and began the process of transitioning to become a woman, who would go on to be known as Jan Morris. After marriage and five children, Morris’s life was set to change. The surgery would be conducted in Morocco, as no doctor in England would conduct it until Jan had divorced their wife. Jan and Elizabeth (her wife) would later divorce, but they remained constant companions throughout their life, and in 2008 entered a formal Civil Partnership. In 1974, Jan Morris published “Conundrum,” which documented her experience in transitioning to a woman. The book at its initial publication was barely reviewed or discussed. Prior to the publication of ‘Conundrum,” Morris had published some of the most celebrated books of history and travel—though Jani Morris despised the term ‘travel writing,’—which were hailed and acclaimed by the literary community and reading public. “Venice,” published in 1960, is admired and renowned for its sensibility of bringing literary sensibility, endearment, and love for the lagoon city. The "Pax Britannica Trilogy,” published in the late sixties and early seventies, is equally renowned as being of the most important historical (and enjoyable) texts documenting the British Empire. Yet even after transitioning to Jan Morris, she continued to write memories, travel writing, essays, diaries, and historical accounts. Her grace, intelligence, wit, and abundant curiosity made her famous and was always on full display during interviews.
Despite the literary community not being able to comprehend initially the transition from James to Jan, the reading public and even the public at large accepted it in kindness and with stride. Her gender became less and less a topic of concern, and instead all in attendance, focused on her many achievements, life, and writing—rarely fixating on the concept of identity or gender—after all there were far more important matters to discuss.
In the end, Jan Morris lived an extraordinary life, one that continually witnessed history develop, unfold, and at times fall apart. She documented and wrote about these events; contemplated and pondered them; she traveled far and wide, and always found a way to discuss, describe, and bring life to a place visited. Truly Jan Morris was and is an extraordinary woman. The kind of individual who overcame the world through will, drive, ambition and intellectual affinity. When the entire world seems to debate and argue the concept of gender as an idea of social issue or construct, one can only wonder if Jan Morris had reviewed it and waved it off as saying: been there done that, best to move on.
Rest in Peace, Jan Morris.
Thank-you For Reading Gentle Reader
Take Care
And As Always
Stay Well Read
M. Mary 

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