Review

A Writer's House in Wales

by Jan Morris

Read an Excerpt



A delightful little gem of a book --- a paean to Wales and the
author's Welsh home --- written by one of the English language's
most beloved travel writers. Morris, the progeny of a Welsh father
and an English mother, takes us on a picturesque, highly
impressionistic journey through Trefan Morys, her home located
between the sea and the mountains in the rural northwest corner of
Wales.

A "house tour" sounds like an awful idea for a book --- akin,
perhaps, to being forced to watch home movies of your neighbor's
trip to South Dakota. But Morris makes the concept work with her
finely crafted prose and her brilliant sense of history, and she
opens the book with a brief description of Welsh history.
Unsurprisingly, Wales has had to struggle mightily to preserve its
culture from the hegemony of everything English. The last
independent Welsh king, Llywelyn ap Gruffudd, was killed by
England's King Edward I in 1282. Wales has been under the yoke of
its "overbearing" English neighbor ever since.

Despite its underdog history, Morris tells us, Wales has proudly
maintained its unique cultural identity. Welsh is a language of
poets, and Morris quotes freely from Welsh legends and poems. Wales
also has a tradition of hospitality, of informality, and
toleration. Morris tells us that when she got a sex change
operation 30 years ago, her Welsh neighbors accepted it without
comment. We get humorous, revealing glimpses of the postman (who
leaves the mail on the kitchen table), the local doctor (who goes
fishing before making house calls), and an array of farmers and
craftsmen that Morris encounters in her daily life.

After considering Welsh culture and hospitality, Morris takes us on
a tour of her home. She describes the kitchen and the central role
the kitchen plays in Welsh families. She speaks of Ibsen, her cat,
and all the animals around the house: "Mice scrabble above the
ceilings at dead of night. Squirrels slide down the roof. Bees have
often swarmed in the walls[.]" Morris takes us to her garden and
then leads us up to her large library of 6,000-7,000 books. She
lets us know how she got her favorite books and how much they mean
to her. She's also collected an amazing array of pamphlets,
brochures, maps, guidebooks, and various travel memorabilia from
decades of traveling around the globe.

Morris is a skilled guide and a master storyteller. Throughout, her
tone is friendly, familiar --- she treats the reader like a friend
she's invited to her home. It's a sensuous journey, filled with
sights and sounds and smells and tastes (Morris champions the
delights of Welsh cooking). For fans of Morris, those interested in
Wales, and devotees of country living, this finely crafted little
book will more than satisfy.

Reviewed by Chuck Leddy on January 24, 2011

A Writer's House in Wales
by Jan Morris

  • Publication Date: January 1, 2002
  • Genres: Nonfiction, Travel
  • Hardcover: 168 pages
  • Publisher: National Geographic
  • ISBN-10: 0792265238
  • ISBN-13: 9780792265238