Jan Morris, Historian, Travel Writer And Trans Pioneer, Dies Aged 94 – Jan Morris, the acclaimed British journalist, travel writer and historian who wrote about history’s sweep and the details of place with equal eloquence, died on Friday. She was 94.
Jan Morris, Historian, Travel Writer And Trans Pioneer, Dies Aged 94:
Jan Morris, the prolific writer and journalist, who underwent a sex change in middle age, has died aged 94.
Her son, Twm, announced her death on Friday. “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 lifelong partner, Elizabeth,” he wrote.
Morris was a military officer in one of Britain’s most renowned cavalry regiments and then a daring journalist who climbed three-quarters of the way up Mount Everest for an exclusive series of dispatches from the first conquest of that mountain, the world’s highest.
Morris continued a brilliant writing career with reports on wars and revolutions from a score of countries, and with much-admired books like “Pax Britannica,” the first of a three-volume history of the British Empire. Morris also married and had five children.
But Morris became increasingly despondent over the issue of gender identity. At age 46, she underwent transition surgery, explaining the reasoning in a well-received 1974 memoir, “Conundrum,” which was written two years after the operation under a new byline, Jan Morris, replacing James Morris.
“I was three or perhaps four years old when I realized that I had been born into the wrong body, and should really be a girl,” the book began, a riveting narrative of being transgender, which was misunderstood at the time and rarely discussed.
“I thought of public success itself, I suppose, as part of maleness, and I deliberately turned my back on it, as I set my face against manhood,” she wrote.
Travel Writer, Novelist And Journalist Jan Morris Dead:
In all, Morris wrote some four dozen books. Among the best-known early titles were “The Hashemite Kings” (1959) and “Heaven’s Command: An Imperial Progress” (1973).
She wrote more than 40 books, notably a three-volume history of the British Empire titled Pax Britannica, and non-fiction portraits of famous cities ranging from Oxford and Venice and New York.
She was born James Humphrey Morris in 1926, to an English mother and a Welsh father, and studied at Christ Church College, Oxford. Morris worked as a journalist, after serving in the Queen’s Royal Lancers in the closing stages of the Second World War.
She established an envious reputation as a journalist. Her scoops included the news of the first successful Everest ascent in 1953 – she travelled with Edmund Hillary as far as his base camp – and evidence of French involvement in the invasion of the Suez Canal three years later.
In 1972, at the age of 45, already married and father to five children, Morris underwent gender reassignment surgery and changed her name to Jan. She said that she had known since the age of four that she was in “the wrong body”. She remained with her then-wife, Elizabeth, with whom she later entered into a civil partnership.
Morris achieved significant literary acclaim in her later decades. Pax Britannica was completed in 1978, sealing her reputation as a historian. She also wrote fiction – her 1985 novel, Last Letters from Hav, an account of a traveller’s visit to a fictional land, was shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
In 1999, she was awarded a CBE. Think Again, her final book, was published in March, when she was 93.
Morris remained with her wife, Elizabeth, after her transition, though they had to divorce. They held a civil union ceremony in Pwllheli in 2008.
Tributes to the writer are already flooding.
The former Plaid Cymru leader Leanne Wood MS said: “So sad to hear that Wales has lost Jan Morris. I met her a few years ago while campaigning for @Plaid_Cymru in Porthmadog, after many years of being a big fan. She was a superb ambassador for this country and will be sorely missed.”