Klee Wyck

by Emily Carr
ISBN: 1553650255

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A Review of: Klee Wyck
by Linda Morra

A friend recently quipped that the only reason for Emily Carr's continued success as an artist in Canada is because we have nothing else of genuine quality to offer. As an avid fan and literary scholar who specializes in her work, I expressed my astonishment and countered that the recent acquisition of one of her paintings, "Quiet", by a private collector for over a million dollars at an auction must surely serve as evidence of her worth-or, at minimum, her growing popularity. If that sale did not affirm either her status or popularity as an artist, the publication of four books between 2003 and 2004 that revolve around or were written by Carr herself, at the very least attests to the fact that the allure of her paintings extends well beyond them to her personality and her writing. She herself was an extraordinarily intriguing person, making sketching trips out to the more remote areas of the West Coast and to the Native villages while most women were preoccupied by domestic or religious concerns: the sheer number of her biographies that have proliferated, approximately ten, suggests how fascinating she remains as an individual. If the quality of her work may be disputed, this interest registers that Carr is rapidly evolving as one of Canada's most central icons, resonant with political and social meaning, as she is also becoming an important source for our national mythology.
One of these four books, published by Douglas & McIntyre, was written by Carr herself. Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings, edited by Susan Crean, includes such unpublished materials as journal entries and fragments that were omitted from Hundreds and Thousands when it was posthumously published in 1966; two public lectures; a small selection of Carr's copious letters (approximately 250) to Ira Dilworth, her editor and the British Columbia Regional Director for CBC Radio; and the text that had been expurgated from Klee Wyck. Crean's expertise on Carr derives from her previous research for The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr (2001), which was nominated for the Governor-General's Award. In the process of writing that book, Crean recognized that the archival documents related to Carr, which had been instrumental to her research, "ought to be made accessible, that [they] should be put on the public record," and so she returned to the Carr papers held in the British Columbia Archives and Records Service (BCARS), Victoria, for this purpose. As she sees it, Opposite Contraries "completes the personal record as Carr herself bequeathed it"-aside from "caches of material" that include her correspondence with Dilworth-and, in conjunction with all other of Carr's books, "represents the voice of the artist narrating her own life." In so doing, in gathering up such a large segment of the Carr archive and bringing it to the public's attention, she has allowed for a more fully realized portrait of Carr and done both her public and her scholars a great service. As importantly, she gestures towards the kind of political and social climate which was behind the decisions to remove such passages as those that reflected some of her racial and political attitudes and her frustrations with family members.

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