Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings

by Emily Carr
ISBN: 1550548964

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A Review of: Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journals of Emily Carr and Other Writings
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, is a reprinting of the 1941 edition of Carr's Klee Wyck, complements Opposite Contraries because it moves beyond only reprinting the segments omitted from later editions of the book to restoring it to its original state. Finely introduced by Kathryn Bridge, the Manager of Access Services at BCARS, Klee Wyck is a collection of twenty-one stories that trace Carr's journeys as an artist through various Native villages and their totem poles. In the first edition, Carr's sympathies are clearly allied with Natives. She expresses contempt for missionaries, resentment for the manner in which they treated Natives and indignation with the practice of uprooting children from their families and sending them to residential schools. Bridge elucidates the history of the publication of Klee Wyck, from its original printing of 2,500 copies, to its subsequent publication in the United States the following year (by Farrar & Rinehart), to the edition in 1951, which was published by Clarke, Irwin and Company. This latter edition was the one substantially altered from its original, although the company did not publicly acknowledge this action.
Spurred on by Dr. Gerta Moray, an art historian and specialist on Carr, Bridge "undertook a close comparison of the current paperback version and the original first edition" when she realized that all subsequent editions of Klee Wyck conformed to the 1951 version, not the original. The reasons for tampering with Carr's original text, as Bridge's research shows, related to the fact that the 1951 edition was to be included as part of Clarke, Irwin's "Canadian Classics" series of publications, which were being circulated in educational systems across the country. The editor at Clarke, Irwin at that time argued that members of the teaching profession might be offended by Carr's politics: as a result, "almost every derogatory adjective or descriptor concerning missionaries at Ucluelet and other places [and] observations concerning their negative reactions to First Nations beliefs," among others, were removed. According to Bridge, the purpose in reprinting the complete Klee Wyck is to reread it "within the context of today's social attitudes and a knowledge of historical events [because it] allows us to evaluate Carr in a new light." The new edition of Klee Wyck is indeed timely, demonstrating that Carr's attitudes towards Natives were far more precocious than that of her contemporaries.

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