Through an exploration of her country home in Wales, acclaimed travel writer Jan Morris discovers the heart of her fascinating country and what it means to be Welsh. Trefan Morys, Morris's home between the sea and mountains of the remote northwest corner of Wales, is the 18th-century stable block of her former family house nearby. Surrounding it are the fields and outbuildings, the mud, sheep, and cattle of a working Welsh farm.
She regards this modest building not only as a reflection of herself and her life, but also as epitomizing the small and complex country of Wales, which has defied the world for centuries to preserve its own identity. Morris brilliantly meditates on the beams and stone walls of the house, its jumbled contents, its sounds and smells, its memories and inhabitants, and finally discovers the profoundest meanings of Welshness.
About 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.
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really had no idea what I was going to get out of this book, and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised. Being something of an Anglophile, I know far less about the rest of the UK. I've spend very little time there (though I used to live on the English side of the Welsh border), and much of it remains a mystery to me. This little volume did a nice job of giving a snapshot of the Welsh countryside. This book has no real narrative or plot. It is, as it sounds, a writer musing about her house in Wales, looking at how it fits in to Welsh history and into the countryside that surrounds it. The reader gets a good dose of Welsh culture. This is not the sort of book that can be read in one sitting. I read a few pages every night, and though the volume is short, it took me awhile to finish. Though the author is writing about her home, this is very much travel writing, in that it allows the reader to escape to a totally different place, and experience part of that world. For me, this was a rambling, amusing, and pleasant way to pass some time.
In this book, Morris uses her house, Trefan Morys, as a jumping-off point for digressions about Wales and the Welsh. While it is well-written and does contain interesting information about Wales, I did not particularly enjoy the book. The book wanders from topic to topic without direction, and her conceited tone put me off from the start. For example, she says that she loves having visitors at her home so much that she practically drags passers-by in for a cup of tea, but she would never stay with friends while traveling because they would bother her; she describes her neighbors as all "very good people" in the same way that mothers tell you their children are brilliant, but without the motherly excuse; she raves about how great the Welsh language is and how beautiful Welsh poetry is, but then says that her Welsh "is too simple" to appreciate this (so how can she know it's so great?); and she writes that only she "can really assess the true beauty of these rooms" in her house (so why bother telling us about them?). I did enjoy her description of her library and her troubles with organizing it, and I imagine that passage would resonate with other LTers as well.