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A Writer's House in Wales (National Geographic Directions) [Hardcover]

Jan Morris
4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
RRP: 11.80
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Book Description

Feb 2001 National Geographic Directions
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.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 192 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic Books (Feb 2001)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0792265238
  • ISBN-13: 978-0792265238
  • Product Dimensions: 2 x 13 x 20.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 203,779 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Product Description

From the Back Cover

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, 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. Surrounding it are the fields and outbuildings, the mud, sheep and cattle of a working Welsh farm.

Morris regards this modest building not only as a reflection of herself and her life, but also as epitomising the small and complex country of Wales, which has defied the world for centuries to preserve its own identity. In A Writer's House in Wales, 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

Jan Morris has written more than 20 books about her travels around the world. Among them are works on the British Empire, Oxford, Hong Kong, Sydney, Manhattan, and Wales. She resides in Wales.

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4.8 out of 5 stars
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A small and remarkable household 28 July 2013
By Acorn
Format:Hardcover
Jan Morris is a prolific author, though probably best known for her travel literature. Her works have an understated, sometimes detached quality that for me never quite captures the essence of a place, but they are well written and thoroughly researched. In this short but neatly structured book she focuses on her house, Trefan Morys, in the north of Wales. It sits in the Pennant Valley where the river Dwyfor runs from the mountains of Snowdonia to Cardigan Bay. The original large house nearby, Plas Trefan, was built in the 12th century then greatly renovated and extended in the 18th century, but by the early 20th century it had fallen into disrepair. Morris converted the outbuildings of Plas Trefan, and christened the new abode Trefan Morys.

Although she was born in Somerset, England, Morris had a Welsh father and she identifies as Welsh. One of her children who writes poetry in Welsh lives nearby. Morris says that she lives in a `Wales of the mind' and is taken by the landscape, the brooding mountains and fickle weather, the deep dark and lovely woods that separate her house from the Dwyfor River, and the trees, plants and animals that surround her dwelling and form an important backdrop to her writing life.

While she enjoys her dual English-Welsh heritage, she admires the tenacity of Welsh culture and the ways of Welsh people, even if her views are tinged with more than a little romanticism. Though she has only a basic grasp of Welsh, she senses the richness of the language, its amenability to poetry and being read aloud, and the way that it has survived - indeed, revived - despite sustained attacks from successive English governments through the education system.
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5 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A writer's House in Wales 2 Feb 2006
By jane
Format:Hardcover
What a gem of a book. Jan manages to pull you into her world, and inform you at the same time. If you are planning a tip to Wales, read this, you'll get an idea of our history without reading a dry book. Funny and engaging. The full descriptions of her home are wonderful, and I wish I could visit to see for myself.
Highly recommended, you don't have to be Welsh to pick this up. Although if you are Welsh, you will learn a thing or too...I did!
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3 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Welcome home... 6 Jan 2011
By Kurt Messick HALL OF FAME
Format:Hardcover
When I lived in London, I used to escape a few weekends a month; one of my most frequent travels was to Wales. I grew to love the Wye Valley Walk, Tintern Abbey, Chepstow, St. David's, and points south. Unfortunately, I didn't make it north nearly as much, but those times I did gave me an even deeper experience of the country, almost as if the further one got from the center of the English, the more the Celtic spirit came alive. Jan Morris' small book (small in format and in actual word-count, not in impact) gives me a greater appreciation for the places where I've been, and a deep longing to return now with fresh insights and new intentions of what to see, and what to sense.

Jan Morris is a well-known writer on various topics to do with travel, literature, culture and history. Her eloquence is brought to a high pitch in this slim volume meant perhaps to whet the appetite for those who would travel, as the text is part of a National Geographic series. However, one travels not just to a place and not just to a time, but to a new venue of the spirits. Morris describes the spirits that live in the wood of the house, along the path, in the river, and in the hills. `I like to think of Trefan woods as a haven for all wild and lonely creatures.... Because of course there are ghosts around Trefan Morys - ghosts of uchelwyr, ghosts of farmhands, ghosts of poets, of poachers, of birds and wild beasts and cattle hauled from the mire. I often see figures walking down my back lane who are not there at all, like mirages, and who gradually resolve themselves into no more than shadows.'

The country and countryside is featured, but the highlight is the house itself, and perhaps primary to the old creaking house full of spirits and character is the kitchen. Quoting G.M.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Winter's House in Wales 6 Jun 2013
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Always a pleasure to read anything by Jan Morris. This one's different not being about her travels to foreign and far off places.
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Amazon.com: 4.0 out of 5 stars  12 reviews
24 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars East, west, home's best 12 Jun 2002
By Andrew S. Rogers - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
In her writing career, Jan Morris has wrestled with centuries of history, mighty empires, great cities, historic expeditions, timeless cultures, and much more. And yet, for her entry in this series of 'travel' books, she leads us into one of the most magical and affecting places of all ... her own home.
This is an informal, light-hearted, and quick read (just two sessions in my Writer's Hammock in Seattle). And yet, it's also deeply moving. Morris describes all the facets of her converted stables -- a house in Wales, a Welsh house, a writer's house, and finally, a writer's house in Wales -- while meditating on life, death, history, culture, and the nature of friendship and hospitality. There's a lot packed between these covers!
As a book person myself, I responded most strongly to Morris' tour of her library -- a space chock full of art, music, and, of course, books. 'I have never counted the books in my own library,' she writes, 'but I would guess there are seven or eight thousand here, packed tight in their long white bookshelves, upstairs and down. I love them all, whatever their subject, whatever their condition, whatever their size. I love walking among them, stroking their spines. I love sitting on a sofa amongst them, contemplating them. I love the feel of them between my fingers, and I love the smell of them...' (pp. 101-2). She waxes just as lyrical about her kitchen, the stones of the exterior walls, the exposed wooden beams overhead ('marinated, so to speak, in age and hauled up here to my house to bless us all, like incense in a church' [p. 43]), the smell of smoke in the air, the view of the sea, even the poachers who steal onto her land to fish from her stretch of the river.
This book is like a hymnal. And while Jan Morris fans may be the readers most immediately attracted to it, anyone who responds strongly to a sense of place and a writer's connectedness to it will savor the hospitality and companionship of a warm and welcoming person in an equally welcoming home.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Pack the Suitcase. We're off to Wales. 24 April 2002
By John Knight - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jan Morris is a superb travel writer. She's been everywhere--Manhattan, Australia, Venice, Candada, Trieste, etc. etc.--and brings an open-minded, generous view to places near and far. After declaring last year that she was done writing, out she comes with "A Writer's House in Wales" a love poem to her own corner of the world.
Wales is rocky, hilly, wild and smack up against the Atlaantic. Its people, among the oldest of Britain's many peoples, hve clung to their language, their rocky shores, their magic for centuries against the many Saxon, Norman, and English incursions. One hopes they can withstand the latest onslaught of modern "culture".
Morris waxes eloquently about her centuries old house--once a stable--which she preserves. It is strangely modular from the heart of the house downstairs kitchen where neighbors stop to gossip and the postman drops in to leave the mail (once catching Morris descending her stairs in the buff!) to the entirely separate library and study where she does her work.
The house is delightful. The grounds overgrown and magical. Morris worships--at least metaphorically--the ancient god Pan and the book reflects that: a sensuality and sensibility that are natural, druidical and incredibly appealing. This is a quick delightful read, wherein you gain insights into a wonnderful land and a unique individual. Take the trip!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Trefor Morys: at home with Jan Morris in North Wales 18 Dec 2007
By John L Murphy - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
I assume the famous writers commissioned or invited by National Geographic had a severe limit on how much they could wax eloquently upon their workaday retreats-- what a profession that allows them to live as if on holiday while making a living. Unlike many of those listed in the "Literary Travel Series," Jan Morris tells of her native land. Her ability to convey the rugged appeal of the landscape, the barbed intricacy of its language, and the gruff welcome of its inhabitants makes this brief account brisk, vivid, and accessible.

She takes us, after a quick summary (you can read her "[The Matter of] Wales: Epic Views of a Small Country" for splendid, if somewhat impassioned, detail) of the nation's history, into her home, Trefor Morys, near the River Dwyfor, between the Cardigan Bay and Snowdon/ Yr Wyddfa, not far from the home not only of poet R.S. Thomas but of the chimerical red dragon fighting the white Saxon dragon in the vision of Merlin. Morris tells, efficiently and powerfully, of the appeal of mountain fastnesses, flowing tributaries, and rain-soaked slate. She captures the smells and the woods around the converted 18c stable house she shares with her partner, and where they live surrounded by mementoes of their children. One small disappointment: I do wish, given the revelations of "Conundrum" in the 1970s about her sex-change, that Morris had given more domestic context for what must have been a fascinating family to raise given such conditions, but she, except for a casual aside to the operation, remains reticent. Three decades on, a further update on her situation in this domestic haven would have been a welcome addition to this restrained, carefully composed memoir-of-sorts.

As is her right: the tour takes us into the kitchen, the book-lined workroom, and then the forested glades. In its damp, overgrown, cozy, and ramshackle state, Trefor Morys (complete with ancient Rolls Royce about which I'd have liked to know more too) stands as a reification of Morris' love for her land. She tells of the gravestone she and Elizabeth will share: "Yma mae dwy ffrind, Jan & Elizabeth Morris, Ar derfyn un bywyd." Here are two friends---at the end of one life. Also, as she imagines their spirits haunting the manse as much as any before them have, she writes another text for the house itself. "Rhwng Daear y Testan a Nef a Gwrthrych/ Mae Ty yr Awdures, yn Gwenn, fel Cyslltair." "Between Earth the Subject and Heaven the Object Stands the House of the Writer, Smiling, as a Conjunction." What an tribute to a house and its writer! Morris, certainly one of our best travel writers, has in one of what may be her last of thirty (her count) or forty (blurb) or so books, given her witty and engaging salute to a house that, even if we cannot sign its guest-book as thousands seem to have been lucky enough to do, we can visit and imagine from afar on another armchair adventure in her fluid and measured prose style.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Revisiting a favorite place. 20 Jan 2014
By linda hansen - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was a gift to my friend who returns to Wales every year if possible. She was thrilled and remarked that it captures life in Wales perfectly.
4.0 out of 5 stars An endearing glimpse into a remarkable household 24 Sep 2013
By Acorn - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Kindle Edition|Verified Purchase
Jan Morris is a prolific author, though probably best known for her travel literature. Her works have an understated, sometimes detached quality that for me never quite captures the essence of a place, but they are well written and thoroughly researched. In this short but neatly structured book she focuses on her house, Trefan Morys, in the north of Wales. It sits in the Pennant Valley where the river Dwyfor runs from the mountains of Snowdonia to Cardigan Bay. The original large house nearby, Plas Trefan, was built in the 12th century then greatly renovated and extended in the 18th century, but by the early 20th century it had fallen into disrepair. Morris converted the outbuildings of Plas Trefan, and christened the new abode Trefan Morys.

Although she was born in Somerset, England, Morris had a Welsh father and she identifies as Welsh. One of her children who writes poetry in Welsh lives nearby. Morris says that she lives in a `Wales of the mind' and is taken by the landscape, the brooding mountains and fickle weather, the deep dark and lovely woods that separate her house from the Dwyfor River, and the trees, plants and animals that surround her dwelling and form an important backdrop to her writing life.

While she enjoys her dual English-Welsh heritage, she admires the tenacity of Welsh culture and the ways of Welsh people, even if her views are tinged with more than a little romanticism. Though she has only a basic grasp of Welsh, she senses the richness of the language, its amenability to poetry and being read aloud, and the way that it has survived - indeed, revived - despite sustained attacks from successive English governments through the education system.

The two central chapters take us through the house itself, first into the kitchen which Morris sees as the hearth. Tea, bread and cake, those staples of Welsh hospitality, are offered to visitors and Morris likes to entertain, even if she shies away from staying or dining in other people's homes. She has formed an attachment to the local community and many of them spend time at the kitchen table here. During the summer holidays the place rings with the voices of visiting grandchildren.

In the subsequent chapter we move to the two floors of the house given over to Morris's work - writing. She has an enormous library, most of it arranged thematically but with an unsorted tower of books glowering like a dark Welsh mountain upstairs. There is a sofa, a wood-burning stove and a desk, and Morris has produced over thirty books in this room. She loves the feel and smell of books and the thrill of browsing, but also has collections of model ships, maps, travel guides and pamphlets from her extensive travels. This part of the house is a mix of memory, inspiration and meditation and is clearly dear to Morris's heart.

The final part of the book focuses on the mystical dimension of the house and its surroundings. She feels an ancient presence here and the spirit of the god Pan. There are also ghosts, apparitions moving down the nearby lane at night and the pervasive sadness of a female spectre - the 18th century woman who lost her fortune in Plas Trefan.

Jan Morris was born a man and in 1949 married Elizabeth, who still lives in Trefan Morys. Morris underwent surgery in 1972 to become a woman and consequently she and Elizabeth had to divorce. Despite the change of sex, the old gender roles have obviously remained firmly in place. Elizabeth does the cleaning, cooking and gardening, and keeps the house in order. Jan is the breadwinner, often away on travels, and still has a fondness for hard whiskey and fast, flashy cars. Their domestic life is a salutary reminder of the need to think about sex and gender as quite different things.

Morris is now well into her eighties and in a touching passage towards the end of the book she recounts how she and Elizabeth have chosen a small islet in the river to be the spot where their ashes will be scattered after death. Morris has already written some lines that have been engraved on stone in anticipation:
Here are two friends,
Jan and Elizabeth Morris,
At the end of one life
Friends? It seems far too inadequate a word to describe their relationship. However, six years after this book was published, Jan and Elizabeth entered into a civil partnership, the closest thing to marriage then legally available in the United Kingdom. I wondered whether Morris has since altered the epitaph.

This book is part of National Geographic's Directions series, where authors write about a place of personal significance. I only discovered the series recently so this is the first volume I have read. Morris writes about her house like a slightly dotty great aunt showing you around and reminiscing about the meanings and connections of place. The style might not be everyone's cup of tea, but it gives you an endearing glimpse into a small and remarkable household.
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