This is a companion piece to my blog on Jan Morris. You can read the post on Jan Morris here: 👇
Elizabeth is largely missing from Jan’s narrative except as a kind of muse, or a midwife to the birth of James’ reinvention as “Jan”. This started life as a twitter thread but, since Morris passed on, there have been more critical assessments of Jan Morris’s legacy, it seemed, therefore, timely to get this in blog form.
Jan Morrris dedicates his book, Conundrum, to his wife and one of his sons. He claims that his marriage was a successful one despite the perception that it ought not to have worked. We don’t have a firsthand account, by Elizabeth, to counterbalance Jan’s dominant narrative. We do know that Morris spent long periods away from the North Wales home, where Elizabeth devoted her time to bringing up their brood. Jan Morris also claims the marriage had a “divine inspiration”.
Here is a revealing observation about the fantasies of himself as a virile, male lover, whilst consummating this divine marriage: Could this be Morris acknowledging his self-love of himself as an image of Elizabeth embodied in his post “trans” embodiment as a woman?
Morris claimed that he deferred his “transition” until he could be sure that Elizabeth was fulfilled as a mother. This doesn’t quite square with his earlier account that he became a father as the next best alternative to becoming a “mother” himself. Morris also concedes that he was not much of a father figure except as the adventurous, paternal role model.
In his later incarnation Morris saw himself in the role of a kind but interfering aunt to his children. His re-invention as Elizabeth’s sister-in-law saw his wife condemned to a sexless marriage; something that he publicly proclaimed.
Morris then recasts his relationship to his wife as if it were always a marriage brought about by their similarities and he is keen to claim that they were similar in their physical appearance right at the inception of their relationship. Like brother and sister.
Morris says they were perfectly attuned to one another and shared the same thoughts.
This claim is well worth reading alongside some of the accounts of wives trapped in relationships with men who identify as a woman who turns out to be not unlike their wives. There are enough similarities in the accounts to at least question whether Elizabeth’s experience shares some characteristics with these women.
This is how Morris describes their travels abroad. Jan enjoying the flirtatious men they met along the way.
Of course the couple are now re-imagined as a couple of girlfriends and Jan finding the attentions of men ridiculously flattering.
Jan revels in being patronised as a “woman” but he does betray an element of competition with Elizabeth which he reveals, in this aside, which suggests that Elizabeth is recast in the “male role” of the payer of restaurant bills.
Honest reviews of Jan Morris’s book do note the absence of Elizabeth’s voice and the fact we only see the story from the man’s perspective. Since this comment, to Germaine Green’s coverage, 👇 Suki has written a longer form piece as the child of a male “transitioner”.
Morris also claimed that his wife accepted a new “open” relationship.
Sadly we are now unlikely to hear Elizabeth’s story unless any account is uncovered after her death. She is, I believe, still living, as I write, but suffering from senile dementia. Whilst alive Morris seemed to attract little constructive criticism of his account of a life post “transition”. After his death his daughter offered a more critical assessment of his role in her life.
Jan seemed determined to get the last word on what Elizabeth’s life meant. He saw it as a shared life, of one life. Here is him talking about their eternal resting space which Jan took care of before his death. Even in death Elizabeth is subsumed into her husband’s identity with no life of her own worthy of memory.
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