by Jan Morris

Paperback, 2005




New York : New York Review Books, [2005]


As one of Britain's best and most loved travel writers, Jan Morris has led an extraordinary life. Perhaps her most remarkable work is this grippingly honest account of her ten-year transition from man to woman - its pains and joys, its frustrations and discoveries. On first publication in 1974, the book generated enormous interest and curiosity around the world, and was subsequently chosen by The Times as one of the '100 Key Books of Our Time'. Including a new introduction, this re-issue marks a return to that particular journey. 'Certainly the best first-hand account ever written by a traveller across the boundaries of sex.' Daily Mail

Media reviews

Still, a comparison to later works suggests that Morris is perhaps withholding more than just the details of sex. It's almost as though Morris has traveled to some gorgeous jungle and waxed on about the landscape, the flora and fauna, the waterfalls, a chirp of a bird, but has forgotten all about the people. And maybe the parallel stays intact here: armchair travel, after all, is not travel itself, and the place in question is never quite at the hands of the reader. In Conundrum, Morris says several times that she imagines her condition as mystical or spiritual, and perhaps what all this irksome withholding is intended to do is retain, amid the candor, some of that mystery for herself.
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Both as a man and as a woman the author has always had a remarkable capacity for sexual sublimation, feeling an estheticized "lust" for cities, for landscapes, for sights, sounds and smells. While she says that orgasm is "possible," one gets the impression that sex does not interest her, though she is still in her 40's. Obviously, what is an ideal solution for her would not appeal to everyone. "Conundrum" suggest that identity is more important than sex and few reasonable people would argue with this. But even granting that it must be an enormous relief, as well as a positive pleasure, to break through to a clear sense of long-suppressed self, one experiences at this point in the book a feeling of anticlimax.

User reviews

LibraryThing member thorold
Very interesting as an account of Jan Morris's experience of going through a sex-change in the 1970s, but perhaps a bit too dated in its attitudes to be much more than a document of a particular period in the development of attitudes to sex and gender (understandably enough, given that Morris grew up between the wars and comes from a firmly upper middle-class background).… (more)
LibraryThing member sriemann
I have to push down the urge to now run out and buy every single book that Jan Morris has written. She writes travel books, and also wrote a three part work on the history of the British Empire. This is a travel book... of her journey through the search for her Identity. It is written so, so well. She is sincere without ever being close to schmaltzy. You can feel as you read that she delved deep into her past psyche and really, really worked to make her feelings describable, even tangible. That's difficult to do even with 'normal' feelings - and she's gone back through to her male past (which must have been difficult to remember since she had been living and thinking and feeling for years in a much more feminine manner) to describe feelings. I also appreciated it for what it is - her story of her journey, not a history of a group, or a medical description - it does not apply to anyone except her, and she does not try to force it to apply to anyone else but herself. (which I really wish more people would do nowadays) She says in the introduction to this newer edition that transsexuals have appeared as this kind of person and that, or in other words, matching the diversity of the rest of the world. Although she comments only on other transsexuals as the diverse group that they are, her work to describe her inner struggles with clarity helps anyone who reads it realize the inner forces at work for all transsexuals.… (more)
LibraryThing member gbelik
Jan Morris is one of my favorite travel writers and I love his trilogy about India so I was interested to read this memoir. Here he talks about his personal journey from James to Jan, with honesty and elegance.
LibraryThing member SigmundFraud
Conundrum by Jan Morris is a fascinating story of how James Morris became Jan Morris. James since he was four years old felt he was a girl yet he grew up as a male and served in the British Armed Services. He was a writer of note, married, had five children, looked male but knew that he was really female. At around age 45 he went to Casablanca for a sex change operation that was successful and lived successfully as a woman. It is interesting to see how she perceives the way she is treated differently as a woman by society than as a man. Whether that is accurate or only her perception is not easy to say. The book is well written. She is accomplished writer and wrote a trilogy on the Victorian Empire. The first two volumes written as a man and the final volume as a woman. This is a sensitive book, touching and well worth reading.… (more)
LibraryThing member CarltonC
Written in 1974 as a description of her life and steps to transsexual change, this is an illuminating autobiography.

She quotes from Cecil Day Lewis’ The Volunteer near the end:
Tell them in England, if they ask
What brought us to these wars,
To this plateau beneath the night’s
Grave manifold of stars –

It was not fraud or foolishness,
Glory, revenge, or pay:
We came because our open eyes
Could see no other way.

Others have written that it is dated, but it is autobiography and necessarily reflects life as the author found it, from her perspective.

I happened to be reading her collection of vignettes, Contact!, at the same time and noticed a number of scenes extracted and modified in the later work.… (more)




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