Jan Morris is wrong

By | Category: Travel rumblings

To celebrate her 90th birthday, Michael Palin interviewed Morris at her North Wales home about her life as a writer and journalist which was shown last night on BBC2’s Artsnight. The interview is still available to watch for another 29 days by clicking here.

gondalas in venice

Venice today – much revived compared to when Jan Morris first saw it

During the interview, Morris said that she disliked being called a travel writer and considered that she wasn’t one because she didn’t write about the journey only the places that she reached and explored. Palin didn’t disagree with this comment either from politeness or because he believed it.

Coming from one of the most well-known and well-read literary writers about travel it behoves one of us travel hacks to take up the cudgels with Morris and point out clearly and emphatically that she is wrong.

The journey is a small part of what most travel writers are concerned. It is the destination that appeals and it is the destination that people want to read about. Most readers have no inclination to read about a four, eight or even a twenty-four hour plane journey unless the plane is a particular draw to the journey such as if you could fly in a space rocket or Concorde.  A train journey is largely only interesting because of where it travels through or because it is hauled by Flying Scotsman or a well-known train.  The original mystery of the Orient Express was because it took you to the edge of the orient and the Red Lizard in southern Tunisia meanders through a desert landscape that few can ever hope to see any other way than on a train.

Grand Canal in Trieste

Modern Trieste – their Grand Canal

Admittedly, Morris had her first literary break by accompanying the 1953 successful bid to conquer Everest. The telling of that story in a newspaper described the journey, people’s feelings and the hardship, a hardship that made even Morris wonder whether she could go on. About fifty or so books followed and I count over half of these as being travel books including three about Venice and another on the neighbouring city of Trieste where both she and my father were based towards the very end of WWII.  Both of them were clearly smitten by the two places; Morris writes lovingly of each of them and my father passed his fondness of them to me.

If encouraging people to travel and to see what exited a visitor is not what a travel writer does then I don’t understand their purpose in writing.

Not a travel writer? Rubbish. She’s one of the best.

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