‘She wrote with gusto and a touch of magic’

She made this seem natural, almost incidental. But she was seeking, I think, to make contact with somebody who had never known her as a man. She was, in a sense, being reborn. A few months later, lunching together in the Randolph Hotel in Oxford (another of her cherished cities), I asked her tentatively why she had undergone this ordeal. She gave her soft laugh. “Because I’m a show-off! I’m Welsh!”

Her identification with Wales (via her father) was another passion: an image of Wales that reflected something of her own nature: a Celtic fluency with words, the whiff of subversion and separateness. “Not just a country on the map, or even in the mind,” she wrote, “it is a country of the heart, and all of us have some small country there.” Her study The Matter of Wales was written, like most of her books, as a woman, but she repudiated any suggestion this transformation had changed her prose. Years later, when I interviewed her before an audience of avid fans, someone asked her whether her change of gender had affected the way she travelled. She replied with her occasional spikiness: “That’s the 50th time I’ve been asked that question!”

Someone else piped up: “Has it changed your writing style?”

“And that’s the 100th time I’ve been asked that!”

Rebecca West tersely lamented that Morris had become less interesting as a woman than she’d been as a man. But Morris was insistent she was the same person, the same writer. And her sense of personal continuity was enforced above all by her wife, Elizabeth, whom she had married in 1949, and who had borne her five children. They stayed loyal to each other, and the union continued. By law, they were divorced after Morris’s change of gender, but they remarried as women by civil law in 2008. Years later, at lunch on a hotel terrace in Portmeirion, she told me, with her airy laugh: “I wanted to make an honest woman of her!”

The last time I met Morris, sitting in the book-lined room of the low, stone-built house in north-west Wales, her home for 30 years, was the year before she died. Elizabeth was suffering from advanced dementia. Morris’s habitual buoyancy and mischief remained – the optimism that had accompanied her journeys across genders and continents – but she was also sad and frustrated.

Elizabeth, in a sense, had predeceased her, and Morris was now regretting her own domestic intolerance. But already, long before, she had prepared their stone epitaph, to be placed above their mingled ashes on an island in the nearby Dwyfor river: “Here are two friends…at the end of one life.”

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