“Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris” by Derek Johns— Quite a Wait Yet

Johns, Derek. “Ariel: A Literary Life of Jan Morris”, Faber and Faber, 2018.

Quite a Wait Yet

Amos Lassen

We will have to wait until this coming June to read about Jan Morris , one of the great British writers of the post-war era. Morris was a soldier, a journalist, a writer about places, elegist of the British Empire, novelist. She has developed a distinctive prose style that is elegant, fastidious, supple, and sometimes deliciously gaudy. For many readers she is best known for her candid memoir “Conundrum” in which described the gender reassignment operation she underwent in 1972.

As James Morris she was the journalist who brought back the story of the conquest of Everest in 1953 and who discovered incontrovertible evidence of British involvement in the Suez Crisis of 1956. Rebecca West says that Morris is the finest prose stylist of her time, and her essays span the entire urban world. Her many books include a classic on Venice, a 1,600 page history of the British Empire, and a homage to what is perhaps her favorite city, Trieste. Her writings on Wales represent the most thorough literary investigation of that mysterious land.

Derek Johns was Jan Morris’s literary agent for twenty years. and “Ariel” is not a conventional biography. Instead it is something of an appreciation of the work and life of someone who besides being a delightful writer is also a generous, affectionate, witty and irreverent friend. “Ariel” is to be published to coincide with Morris’ 90th birthday.

Writer Derek Johns quotes copiously from Morris’s wonderful writing as well as analyzes her style and we are reminded what a wonderful journalist we have had in Morris. ‘Ariel” is as much an anthology of excerpts from Morris’s writings as it is a literary life of an author whose writings should be celebrated and enjoyed.