The Many Lives of Jan Morris

But the remark comes with such a disarming smile and so much charm. “In My Mind’s Eye” — a collection of mini-essays, written one per day over the course of many months — reveals that her writing is just as elegant and erudite, and her mind just as supple, playful, curious, rigorous, humorous and surprising as ever.

The essays range wildly, touching on, among other things, the superiority of her car; the beauty of Welsh rainbows; the felicity of the word “anathema”; the question of whether absolute truth in recollection is possible; the madness of contemporary politics; and the transcendent mundanity of family life.

She also writes about importance of kindness, to each other and to nature. When she sees a bug in the house, Morris ushers it to safety; when she inadvertently kills a woodlouse, as she recounts in a scene in the book, she apologizes.

“That’s the very last thing I wanted to do to an old friend,” she says to the dead woodlouse, as it disappears down the drain.

“It’s so simple, and everyone agrees with it,” she says at lunch, of being kind. “If you could make it the basis for all society, how lovely it would be.”

Morris is a handsome woman, tall and formidable, wearing a butter-yellow coat over a pair of trousers and sweater. She is impatient with questions about transgender politics, possibly because she made peace with her own decisions so long ago. Having reached her age and lived for equal amounts of time as a man and as a woman, she says, the transition she made so long ago somehow feels less relevant.

“I’ve never believed it to be quite as important as everyone made it out to be,” she said. “I believe in the soul and the spirit more than the body.”

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