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Background is a purple-tinted landscape photo of the Welsh mountain Fan y Big. In front of this is a circular mid-shot photo of Jan Morris with one hand on her chin and the other on her hip, she smiles as she looks down the camera. Text reads "Queer History. Jan Morris." The Beyond Reflections logo appears in the bottom left corner.
March 22, 2022
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“Most of the after-time I shall be wandering with my beloved along the banks of the Dwyfor; but now and then you may find me in a boat below the walls of Miramar, watching the nightingales swarm.” – Jan Morris, Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (2001) 

Jan Morris

Our final Queer History feature for Women’s History Month is Welsh historian and author, Jan Morris (1926-2020). She is particularly well known for her Pax Britannica Trilogy, a series of books covers the history of the British Empire from its beginning to end, and for her portraits of cities. These included Hong Kong, Oxford, Venice and New York.  

Many would classify her as a “travel writer” but in an interview with BBC in 2016 she told them that she did not like this description because she didn’t write about movement and journeys. She wrote about people and places.  

Journalism  

As well as publishing books, Jan Morris was a journalist and involved in reporting some historic news stories.  

In 1953, working for The Times, she was the only journalist who accompanied Col John Hunt’s expedition to climb Mount Everest. Using a coded message, she sent the news of the expedition’s success back to the UK. It was received just in time to be published on the day of Queen Elizabeth’s coronation. 

In 1956, during the Suez Crisis, she was the first to gain proof that France and Israel were working together in the invasion of Egyptian territory.  

In 1960, Morris travelled to Moscow to report on the trial of Francis Gary Power, an American spy. Then in 1961, reported the trial of Adolf Eichmann. A Nazi SS officer, who was one of the major organisers of the Holocaust.  

Transition 

Morris began her transition in 1964 and was among the first high profile people to do so. Not wanting to divorce from her wife, she travelled to Morocco to have her gender affirming surgery in1972. In Britain at the time, doctors would only carry out the surgery if Morris was divorced first. While they did end up getting divorced after, they remained together and in 2008 were legally reunited through a civil partnership. 

After her transition, Jan Morris published her autobiography titled Conundrum in 1974. This was one of the first autobiographies to discuss gender affirming surgery and was a best-seller. In this she describes her relationship with her wife as “love in its purest sense over everything else”. 

Legacy 

Jan Morris’ contributions to history and culture are hard to overstate. During her life she published over 40 books, spanning the historical, biographical and fictional genres. She was recognised for her outstanding contributions to the arts throughout her life. This included being elected to the Gorsedd Cymru and being awarded the Glyndwr Award for her contributions to the arts in Wales. As well as being awarded an CBE, which is a British order of chivalry rewarding people for their contributions to arts and sciences, and being elected to be a fellow in the Royal Society of Literature (FRSL). 

Her autobiography, Conundrum, continues to gain positive reviews almost 50 years after its publication. While a little dated in places, most notably her references to the “wrong body” narrative and gender stereotypes, many still find value and importance in her work. 

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