Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides by Paul Clements - review by Caroline Moorehead

Caroline Moorehead

Travels & Tribulations

Jan Morris: Life from Both Sides

By

Scribe 608pp £25
 

In 1998, when Jan Morris was in her early seventies, she was asked how she would like to be remembered. ‘As a merry and loving writer,’ she replied. Although her remark made light of her formidable body of work, it was indeed as many people would later think of her: ebullient, full of curiosity and wit, erudite and generous -– all virtues amply described in Paul Clements’s biography. But it was not an easy life.

Jan was born James Morris, the youngest of three sons to a musical, bookish family of Norman, Welsh and Quaker descent. Morris was twelve and a choral scholar in Oxford when her father died. If not singing, Morris was writing, taking a first job at seventeen with the Western Daily Press. The end of the war saw her in the army, posted as an intelligence officer to Italy, Palestine and Egypt. In Venice, she operated the motor boats on the canals and pottered around the lagoons, which cast a spell. Her later book on Venice became her most successful travel book.

In 1949, recently back in England, Morris met Elizabeth Tuckniss, the daughter of a Ceylon tea planter; they married the same year. After a degree at Oxford, where Morris edited Cherwell, she took a job at The Times. It was a golden age for journalism and up to

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