A Writer's House in Wales

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Through an exploration of her country home in Wales, acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris discovers the heart of her fascinating country, which had defied the world for centuries to preserve its unique identity.

Trefan Morys, Jan Morris’s home between the sea and the mountains in the remote northwest corner of Wales, is the 18th-century stable block of her former family house nearby. In A Writer’s House in Wales, Morris brilliantly meditates on the beams and stone walls of the ...

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A Writer's House in Wales

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Through an exploration of her country home in Wales, acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris discovers the heart of her fascinating country, which had defied the world for centuries to preserve its unique identity.

Trefan Morys, Jan Morris’s home between the sea and the mountains in the remote northwest corner of Wales, is the 18th-century stable block of her former family house nearby. In A Writer’s House in Wales, Morris brilliantly meditates on the beams and stone walls of the house, its sounds and smells, its memories and its inhabitants, and finally discovers the profoundest meanings of Welshness.

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Editorial Reviews

From Barnes & Noble
Jan Morris's volume is part of the National Geographic Directions series, which invites renowned literary figures to turn their talents toward travel writing. In A Writer's House in Wales, Morris explores her Welsh identity through her experiences of the dramatic landscape of northern Wales.
From The Critics
In the inaugural volume of a new National Geographic series of literary travel memoirs, the renowned travel writer walks us through Trefan Morys, her stone-walled home in the remote northwest corner of Wales. Originally constructed as a stable block for livestock, this transformed eighteenth-century home comes alive through Morris' masterful description and hospitable tone. Whether offering tea, introducing us to her cat, Ibsen, or leading us to a door that looks out on mountains where Stone Age people once built a village, the author treats us as she would a friend or neighbor. Though the Welsh have been subject to English domination since 1282, Morris, sprinkling lines of Welsh poetry throughout her book, demonstrates how the language and culture, like the house itself, have survived. While some may find this book smugly bourgeois, most will enjoy Morris' moving testament to a house so alive that it has its own name.
—James Schiff
Publishers Weekly
With simple elegance and grace, renowned travel writer Morris (Pax Britannica) reflects on her home in Wales, its beautiful setting and the nature of being Welsh. First in a series of literary travel memoirs, this slim and charming volume offers a crisp account of the turbulent history of the Welsh and their battle to maintain their language and culture in the shadow of their more powerful neighbor. Weaving in some Welsh poetry and lore along the way, Morris leads readers on a winding road ("didn't I say we were long-winded?") to her home. "We called the building Trefan Morys, partly after the estate, partly after the Welsh spelling of my surname; and so it was I told you to be patient! that this modest old structure, built for livestock, became instead a Writer's House in Wales." Morris delivers a jaunty tour in lively, lighthearted prose. From the scent of burning wood to the bilingual weathervane atop the cupola, readers are transported by rich, romantic detail and the author's warmth. Sweetened with her observations on the architecture, countryside, neighbors, the past and the future of her country, this little book is a satisfying brew. Trefan Morys is vividly and lovingly described: the cat Ibsen, the book tower, the "untidy yard," the mystical woods surrounding the property. Via her home, her writing and her beloved Wales, Morris defiantly preserves her identity in the face of a rapid-fire communications culture. The book is humble yet astute, homespun yet profound. (Jan.) Forecast: Fans of Morris will be thrilled to have another small volume to add to their collection, especially since she claimed that the publication of this year's Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere (Forecasts,Aug. 20) was to be her last. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
Morris is an esteemed journalist, historian, and author of over 40 books, including The World of Venice and The Matter of Wales. In her latest effort, which launches this new series of travel memoirs, she writes about Trefan Morys, her country home in a remote corner of Wales. Starting at her house, Morris wanders lovingly through the history of Wales as well as her own life, and discusses how the two have combined to create the structure and atmosphere that she calls home. She walks the reader through the house, retelling the thoughts, sensations, and smells she has experienced there. When describing the kitchen, for example, she starts with physical details, then discusses the history and present nature of Welsh hospitality and food, and ends by detailing the smells of a lunch she would offer to a visitor. The historical explanations and glimpses into Welsh culture are masterfully woven into the narrative and include fascinating details, such as the recipe for sgotyn, a dish composed of bread, boiling water, and salt and pepper. This beautifully written and absorbing book is recommended for all libraries. [Forthcoming books in this series include Rubert Hughes revisiting Barcelona, W.S. Merwin writing on Provence, and more. Ed.] Alison Hopkins, Queens Borough P.L., New York Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Novelist, biographer, and travel-writer Morris (Trieste and the Meaning of Nowhere, p. 1006, etc.) describes her rustic Welsh home and endeavors to define and celebrate Welsh history, geography, personalities, and Weltanschauung. Morris has lived for years in what was once a stone stable in a remote area of the remote principality of Wales. She and her partner Elizabeth (the woman Morris married years ago when she was James Morris) converted the building into a cozy home cum library that houses some 8,000 volumes and provides Morris with the resources for her writing and the stability she craves. She calls the house Trefan Morys (partly for the name of the estate to which the building once belonged, partly for the Welsh spelling of her surname). In four swift chapters, Morris composes a love-letter to Wales and to the people who live there-and, of course, to her own home. She writes passionately about the rugged landscape and its sturdy inhabitants and rues the steady incursions of "the dross of television and advertising, drugs, crime, general dumbing-down and sheer ordinariness." She celebrates the centrality of the kitchen in Welsh homes and culture and praises her neighbors for their reliability and tolerance (she says that they simply pretend her 1972 sex-change operation never happened). Morris teaches us about the meaning of traditional Welsh symbols (the red dragon), about the significance of historical figures (Lloyd George pops in and out like an indecisive guest), and even speculates that America's Mandan Indians have Welsh ancestry. She does not miss many opportunities to credit the Welsh-but she does miss two: She mentions Lawrence of Arabia without noting he was bornin Wales and tells us a bit about Porthmadog without commenting on the nearby Great Embankment that enthralled Percy Bysshe Shelley. Morris is at her best when she examines how Wales has grounded her writing and has at the same time helped her appreciate the mysteries and marvels of the world. Occasionally predictable, often lyrical, always intriguing. (1 map, not seen)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780792265238
  • Publisher: National Geographic Society
  • Publication date: 1/28/2002
  • Series: National Geographic Directions Series
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 1,005,998
  • Product dimensions: 5.60 (w) x 8.27 (h) x 0.80 (d)

Meet the Author

Journalist, historian, and travel writer, Jan Morris is the renowned author of more than forty books. Her work ranges from such classics as Pax Britannica, The World of Venice, Hong Kong, and The Matter of Wales to the masterly essays published in Journeys, Destinations, and Among the Cities. She has also written a novel, Last Letters from Hav. An Honorary Litt.D. of the University of Wales and Glamorgan, a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature, and a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE), she lives in Wales. 
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Read an Excerpt

Trefan Morys is the name of my house in Wales, and I'll tell you frankly, to me much the most interesting thing about it is the fact that it is in Wales. I am emotionally in thrall to Welshness, and for me Trefan Morys is a summation, a metaphor, a paradigm, a microcosm, an exemplar, a multum in parvo, a demonstration, a solidification, an essence, a regular epitome of all that I love about my country. Whatever becomes of Wales, however its character is whittled away down the generations, I hope my small house will always stand in tribute to what has been best in it.

Do you know where Wales is? Most people in the world have no idea. It is a peninsula standing at the heart of the British Isles, on the western flank of England facing Ireland. It is some 200 miles long from north to south and never more than seventy miles wide, and it is known in its own language as Cymru, signifying a comradeship or comity. Wales is part of the United Kingdom, all too often thought by foreigners to be synonymous with England itself, but its people form one of those ancient minority nations, from the powerful Catalans to the infinitesimal Karims, who have miraculously contrived to maintain their identities, to one degree or another, through the infinite convolutions of European history. They are all subject to the political domination of some greater State, but they remain determinedly themselves, and generally hope to stay that way within the framework of a uniting Europe.

Such quixotic survivals suit me. I want no pomp or circumstance, and would much rather be a poet than a President (unless, like Abraham Lincoln, I could be both at the same time). Small may not always be Beautiful, as a mantra of the 1970s used to claim, but for my tastes it is usually more interesting than Large, and little nations are more appealing than great powers. In 1981 the titular Prince of Wales, who has almost nothing to do with the country, and possesses no house in Wales, was married amidst worldwide sycophancy to the future Princess Diana, at Westminster Abbey in London. It was to be a vast display of traditional ostentation, with horses, trumpets, coped ecclesiastics, armed guards, royal standards and all the paraphernalia of consequence, the whole to be transmitted by television throughout the world. I thought it exceedingly vulgar (besides being romantically unconvincing), and with a small band of like-minded patriots decided to celebrate instead an anniversary of our own that fell on the same day. Exactly 900 years before, the Welsh princes Trahaearn ap Caradog and Rhys ap Tewdwr had fought a battle on a mountain called Mynydd Carn, and that's what we chose to commemorate -- an obscure substitute perhaps for a televised royal wedding at Westminster, but at least an occasion of our own. We stumbled up that very mountain in a persistent drizzle, and while the entire universe gaped at the splendors in the abbey far away, we huddled there in our raincoats congratulating ourselves upon celebrating a private passion rather than a public exhibition.

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