Jan Morris and Trieste, but mostly Jan Morris.


The home library has not been harnessed to Melvil Dewey’s decimal system. Books are shelved in approximate locations, but we’ve run out of shelving again, and as the unhandiest of men it might be a while before I create more.

But I found what I was looking for: Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, by Jan Morris.

I was quite sure Morris was dead, but not so. She’s fascinating in her own right, as this April, 2019 piece illustrates.

The Many Lives of Jan Morris, by Sarah Lyall (New York Times)

It wasn’t until her latest book, “In My Mind’s Eye,” was serialized on BBC that many of her neighbors realized there was a celebrity in their midst.

CRICCIETH, Wales — Everyone here seems to know Jan Morris, even the waitress at the local fish restaurant. “Have you met Jan before?” she asks as Morris materializes from what, due to a trick of the light, looks to be the ocean itself, clouds of white hair wafting and fluffing around her face.

Morris is 92 and walks carefully, with the help of a cane. She has lived in this corner of North Wales — a 3-plus hour train ride from London, and then another 45 minutes by car — for most of her life. In Britain, she is a renowned and beloved essayist, historian, journalist and chronicler of places, the author of more than four dozen books, but it wasn’t until her latest work, “In My Mind’s Eye,” was serialized on BBC radio last fall that many of her neighbors realized there was a celebrity in their midst.

Morris has lived many lives, and it is impossible to separate who she is now from who she was before: James Humphrey Morris, who was born in 1926 in Somerset, England, and whose education and career were typical of privileged Englishmen at the time.

Morris was a choral scholar at Christ Church, Oxford; served in the 9th Queen’s Royal Lancers during the waning years of World War II; and at age 23, met and married Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a tea planter. They raised four children together (a fifth died in infancy).

There have been plot twists.

The biggest constant in her life has been Elizabeth, who was first her wife and then her ex-wife — same-sex marriage was illegal in Britain in 1972 — and is now her legal civil partner, her closest companion for more than 70 years. The couple settled here in Wales; Elizabeth mostly stayed home and Morris lived a peripatetic existence, traveling and writing and then traveling again.

What an incredible love story!

Morris’s deep love of Elizabeth, her lifelong companion, has run like a golden thread through the conversation. When they first met, they so delighted in each other’s company that when Elizabeth took the bus to work, Morris would ride with her so the two could keep talking.

But now Elizabeth is suffering from dementia, what Morris calls “that subtle demon of our time,” and it is a difficult time for a couple who have always shared everything. Morris prefers not to dwell on it, but it is clear that weighs heavily.