The Unexpurgated Carr
- Susan Crean (Author)
Opposite Contraries: The Unknown Journal of Emily Carr and Other Writings. Douglas & McIntyre (purchase at Amazon.ca)
Reviewed by Linda M. Morra
In Opposite Contraries, Susan Crean has departed markedly from her biographical book, The Laughing One: A Journey to Emily Carr (HarperCollins 2001), which was nominated for a Governor-General’s Award. Rather than focussing on her life, Crean devotes her attention to Carr’s writing endeavours: she has undertaken the labourious task of transcribing and making available to the public most of what had remained unpublished by Carr. Part of this task involves determining what excisions were made to her journals before they were published for the first time by Clarke, Irwin & Company in 1966, twenty-one years after Carr’s death. These previously unpublished journal entries and fragments from what came to be Hundreds and Thousands comprise the first section of the book. For this part alone, academics and researchers will hail Crean for her contribution to the extant published record on Carr. Comparing the published journal entries to Carr’s “scribblers,” Crean posits that what was removed may have been done so to avoid repetition but also because some passages were likely deemed inappropriate at the time: those passages “detailing angst about her family,” or “her scathing remarks about people’s looks and behaviour,” or “spicy comments on the sexual politics of her day.”
The book also contains another two sections. The second part of the book contains two public lectures Carr delivered (“Lecture on Totems” and “A People’s Gallery”), her statement, titled “Autobiography,” about her own life as an artist for an exhibit of her paintings, and the parts expurgated from Klee Wyck after the first edition. Perhaps most important are these excerpts to Klee Wyck, a restored edition of which Douglas & McIntyre is also releasing shortly. Crean speculates that the excisions were made to accommodate the primary readers (school children) but were more plausibly motived by racism: the removed stories “reflect back on Carr’s own time [. . .but also] on the editors who came along afterward.” The restored excerpts demonstrate Carr’s sensitivity to and defence of First Nations persons: for example, she protested volubly against the Residential Schools for First Nations children. Such passages are significant because they will in effect reshape the critical perception of her life and work.
The third part of the book, “Carr’s correspondence,” is a sampling of her letters to Ira Dilworth in addition to those to Carr from Sophie and Jimmy Frank. Dilworth, Carr’s editor, was enormously influential as an advisor and support in the last year’s of Carr’s life, as the letters Crean selects demonstrate. Sophie Frank was, as Crean claims, the “only indigenous artist with whom Carr had an ongoing relationship.” That Klee Wyck was dedicated to Sophie and that Carr kept her letters suggests the importance of this woman’s function in her life. Carr’s previously unpublished work in conjunction with these letters show dimensions to her personality and life that readers will find engaging and revealing.
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MLA: Morra, Linda M. The Unexpurgated Carr. canlit.ca. Canadian Literature, 8 Dec. 2011. Web. 24 May 2013.
This review originally appeared in Canadian Literature #183 (Winter 2004), Writers Talking. (pg. 114 - 115)
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