Writer Jan Morris, who died recently at 94, is best known for the many travel books she wrote about destinations as varied as New York and London, Venice and Oxford, Hong Kong and Sydney.
But Morris was also an inspired homebody. As pandemic worries have kept so many at home in Louisiana and elsewhere, her best legacy might be the insights she left us about the joys of staying put.
She loved going places, of course, which is how she’d ended up as a travel writer. But her most memorable writing, it seems to me, was about her home in Wales. She had a love for it that struck me as almost intuitive — the same kind of affection that many Louisianans have for their own region. To read what Morris wrote about her home was invariably to understand my own a bit better.
There was no contradiction, really, in such a globe-trotting writer being so fond of the house where she returned at the conclusion of each odyssey. It’s in going away, after all, that we often come to best appreciate what we have once the trip is over.
“Friends sometimes think excessive the pleasure I get from my house in North Wales … I love it above all inanimate objects, and above a good many animate ones, too,” Morris wrote. “I love it incessantly. When I am at home I wander around its rooms gloatingly; when I am away I lie in my hotel dreaming of it.”
Morris had sworn off writing any more books after bringing out one in 2014, but then “In My Mind’s Eye,” a collection of her journal entries, appeared in 2019. By that time, age and declining health were keeping her mostly at home. Even so, as I discovered when I reviewed “In My Mind’s Eye" for The Wall Street Journal, Morris was still finding life interesting.
She took pleasure in routine, walking a thousand paces up and down the lane near her house, breaking the monotony by humming or whistling a tune to keep step. She enjoyed, too, finding familiar books on her shelf. “I dearly love the feel and intimate presence of my books, the look of them, the smell of them and, above all, their lingering associations,” she told readers.
“Thinking Again,” another assortment of her journal entries, is out this month. In this posthumous collection, Morris notes a familiar wonder: “A glorious day today, and the splendid old sycamore that presides over our yard and garden looks quite particularly benign and self-satisfied. I’m grateful to it, as always, because for me the pleasure of the plant life of our domain comes chiefly from its shades and contrasts.”
When life forces you to stay home, the lessons Jan Morris left behind are simple, yet profound: Exercise. Take joy in small things. Do useful work. And stop to notice the view.